Stumbling Over Statistics And Studies In Stumbling On Happiness

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Book-loving blogger-cousins Penny and Rich review Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.


I’m intrigued by this idea that imagining our future selves, or the future overall, generally doesn’t work. So, Gilbert claims, the best thing to do is to ask others because people more or less reliably report their own happiness in the present.

When Mrs. Rich read this book a few years ago, it really stuck with us that humans are not good at predicting / imagining what their future selves will want. So, we try to be careful when making decisions that will lock us into certain circumstances in 10 or 20 years.

For example, this is why we’ve questioned the conventional wisdom of buying a house in the suburbs. Can I really say that I’ll want that place at age 60? So much so that I’ll spend half a million dollars to get it? People we know who moved out there were happier in the city and are not as happy in the suburbs and hate their commute. And, people say a long commute is the worst thing in the history of man, basically. So, there’s no reason to think we’d be happy buying a house out there based on our current lives (we’re happy renters) or our friends’ experiences.

What do you make of the part about having kids? Gilbert says people gloss over how kids make them miserable. Well, I won’t dispute that kids are hard, and there are some unhappy days. But i was thinking about the basic assumption here, and a basic assumption underlying a lot of this “science of happiness,” that the ultimate goal of life is, in fact, happiness. Maybe i will agree that happiness is one goal, but happiness is not the entire point of life or what gives life meaning.

Survival, for example, is another goal.

To get mushy, love is probably a better indication of what gives life meaning, more so than happiness. This is why people will sacrifice happiness for love. Happiness is a goal, but love is a more important consideration. This is true in my experience, too. Loving my kids outweighs being happy with my kids.

Actually, browsing around the interwebs, I think there’s another term that does justice to what I’m looking for in existence, and that is The Good Life. The idea of The Good Life encompasses happiness as well as virtue, love, authenticity, dignity, well-being, morality and so on.

I think people make some dumb choices chasing happiness.

They leave marriages because they’re not happy in that moment. They leave jobs because they’re not happy paying their dues. They use happiness as a justification for selfishness or silliness.

Continue reading “Stumbling Over Statistics And Studies In Stumbling On Happiness”

The Helicopter Parenting Paying For College FINAL SHOWDOWN (or, Part 3)

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Our beloved cousin-bloggers, Penny and Rich, have been bickering over whether or not Rich’s “legacy plan” to pay for his kids’ college is just a form of helicopter parenting.

In Part 1 of this Blogchat Debate CAGE MATCH, they discussed controlling vs. planning, manual labor, learning for the sake of learning, and the value of a degree.

In Part 2 of this awkward family debate, they discussed learning in and out of the college system, autonomy, and if someone can make these choices at age 18.

And NOW, the final showdown …

RICH is in blue, and PENNY is in red.  


wouldn’t it be great for you to have received college support? you wrote eloquently about receiving food support, and your mom helping you obtain a mortgage, but why wouldn’t this also be true, even more so, of your parents or family helping you earlier in life as you’re figuring out college and career and what you want to do with your life?

This is a great question! I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and here is why I am still not on board with funding our kids education. It comes down to indebtedness and control. Isn’t that the whole argument against government support? Because when people rely on the government for support then the government can control them?

I don’t feel particularly indebted to the government (in getting our food support), but let’s compare this to the scholarship that we get for the private school that we send our kids to. We definitely feel indebted to them there. My husband and I have talked about how after the kids move on from that school, we still plan on donating money there. 1) We like the school and it’s mission and we want to support it, and 2) We want to make up the money that they gave to us.

With this indebtedness, I also feel like I don’t have the right to have much a voice at the school. I feel grateful just that they let us be there, and, although I do agree with the majority of the stuff that the school does, I don’t feel like I would have the right to voice my opinion if I didn’t, since we’re not paying full price to be there.

And while we can be grateful for the support that we receive, I think that comparison can be made to funding our kids’ college education as well. I want to make sure that their voice is the one they’re following. I want to make sure they feel like they’re in complete control (as part of that whole autonomy thing that I talked about).

I don’t understand this at all 🙂

Do you really not understand? ///

Well, I don’t understand the diff bt your very eloquent giving and receiving point of view, and why wouldn’t that apply to you with your kids? So you’ll give to a charity so the kids in the charity can go to college or something? But not your own kids?

Continue reading “The Helicopter Parenting Paying For College FINAL SHOWDOWN (or, Part 3)”

Paris Hilton Is Full Of Knowledge and 18-Year-Olds Are Autonomous — The Paying for College Cage Match, Part 2

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Our beloved cousin-bloggers, Penny and Rich, have been bickering over whether or not Rich’s “legacy plan” to pay for his kids’ college is just a form of helicopter parenting.

In Part 1 of this Blogchat Debate CAGE MATCH, they discussed controlling vs. planning, manual labor, learning for the sake of learning, and the value of a degree.

And NOW, Round 2 …

RICH is in blue, and PENNY is in red.  


i liked what you said about how there’s so much to learn in the world, but … that sounds like me! i’m the one that wants them to see the world and experience new cultures and ski in france and eat fresh mackerel in ireland. there’s just so much for them to see and learn.

Well, if all it took to acquire knowledge about the world was to travel and have different experiences, Paris Hilton would be one of the most knowledgeable people out there. Life and learning and education is about more than just that, and I think a person can have that anywhere. But, yes, seeing different parts of the world is part of that as well.

Paris hilton c’mon now.

Hey, she’s travelled all over! Her and the Kardashians must be geniuses by now!

Hmmm. Well Paris did work on a farm one summer with Nicole Richie, right?

It seems you’re having it both ways. You’re saying it’s not all about school and not all about experiences or travel. It’s easy to poke holes in my efforts. I’m saying it’s about school AND experiences AND all that life has to offer. I’m trying to at least expose them to all, and you are seemingly saying it doesn’t matter if we expose them to anything. So what is it about for you?

I can’t really think of much to respond here. What is about for me?

Yes, I’d like to know 🙂

… Hmm… I guess I agree with you? ///

My approach is I want them to see everything, and sometimes I think maybe you are projecting the fact that you do not feel the need to see everything that your kids will also not be “attracted” to lots of stuff or experiences or whatever, but maybe they will.

I’m okay with that. I used to love to travel, just don’t feel like it so much anymore. I’d be happy to see my kids travel, they can if they want. I dunno. I’m mucking up this question.

/// Ok. Nah you’re not, you’re figuring it out. It all goes back to options for me. I want them to have options.

Okay, I think the thought I was trying to express with this statement was that there is so much to learn in the world, right?

You took that in terms of having worldly experiences. I guess what I meant, in terms of All That There Is To Learn In The World, was more in line with things like: how to till a garden, how to sit with a dying person, how to harvest honey from bees, how to tell time by looking at the position of the sun, how to soothe a crying baby, how to cook a really good souffle, how to photograph a birth. Things that aren’t taught in schools that a person might be inclined to learn, if only their life wasn’t so busy with learning that slice of the pie that they are supposed to learn for school.

well i learned to till a garden and still went to college. this doesn’t need to be either/or. it does seem you have a real distaste for the system of college. where does that come from?

Continue reading “Paris Hilton Is Full Of Knowledge and 18-Year-Olds Are Autonomous — The Paying for College Cage Match, Part 2”

College Savings Vs. Helicopter Parenting — An Awkward Blogchat Debate Cage Match!

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Penny and Rich, our beloved cousin-bloggers, do not see eye to eye on whether or not parents should pay for their kids’ college. In Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!, he asserted that higher education is the key to a family’s long term stability, and it creates a positive feedback loop for the future. 

Rich noted, as a bonus, that people with a high education level tend to marry other people with a high education level, they tend to have friends with high education levels, and they have kids who are more likely to attain high education levels. It’s a positive generational feedback loop.

Penny, on the other hand, Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting.  She opined that paying for a kid’s college education is one of the biggest forms of helicopter parenting out there, and Rich’s plan seemed a bit (how did she say this in a nice way?) … controlling.

She noted the importance of children developing autonomy, and thought paying for their own education encourages children to take responsibility for their own lives. If parents are funding their education, they are taking all of that away from them.

Considering this wide divergence in views, our venerable blogger-cousins decided to hash this out in a virtual cage match, otherwise known as a blogchat debate. What you see below is their chat, possibly with poor grammar, improper capitalization, and strange slashes /// (which they used to keep track of thoughts for some reason).

Readers, think of yourselves as flies on the wall during an awkward family dinner, and feel free to chime in with comments. Now, into the cousin cage!

RICH is in blue, and PENNY is in red.  

Hi Penny! I’m here in blue ready and waiting. Just finished putting the kids to bed. They like a good espresso and a cigarette before turning in. They’re autonomous that way.

How are you?

I’m here! Yeah, this is weird.

Hi! Well isn’t this funny? So maybe the biggest difference off the bat is the idea of control vs. planning. Is this semantics or a real difference?


I don’t see my family legacy plan (in 3 easy steps!) as controlling as much as planning. I can’t control what they will do or what they will think, but i want to plan so they can do whatever they want to do up to their potential. This is about options.

Yes, you’re “planning”, but YOU’RE the one planning their lives, not them. That’s the part I have trouble with. And your “plan” seems a little bit too controlling for my tastes… down to the making sure that they attend college, to wanting to influence the type of person that they’ll marry.

Well according to child labor laws, they can’t work and save for college on their own just yet. They are 5. Hardy har.

I never said they could not choose their college or their course of study. If they have an incredible plan at age 18 for starting a business without going to college, I would strongly advise that a business degree would help. Because it would. 


Here’s an analogy. It’s like buying a car so your kid can get to school. You are not telling them what to do when they arrive, you are simply providing the means of travel. Sure, you could tell them to walk, but in practical terms that just doesn’t work, because walking 30 miles each day is cost prohibitive and limits their options. In practical terms, you’re holding them back.

As far as the type of person they’ll marry, if you mean marrying an educated person … uh, yeah, that would be nice. But I don’t see how this is any different from taking a kid to church or encouraging them to read books. 

And, I truly don’t understand how you equate “plan” with “control”. The opposite of a plan is not autonomy, the opposite of a plan is to be unprepared.

Okay, this is a long one. Where do I start?

Start at birth. ///


You said, “I never said they could not choose their course of study”… How would you feel about them wanting to go to a trade school or do manual labor? Become an electrician or carpenter or something? Would you steer them away from that? ///

It would be a challenge for them to convince me it was a good idea, but if it’s their idea and their passion, I’ll help them get on that path. But like, to me some of this is about health and well being. Manual labor takes a physical toll — I know, I grew up working on a farm. Other jobs can be worse. If my kids really wants to smoke cigarettes, I’m not going to just say hey it’s your life. ///

Continue reading “College Savings Vs. Helicopter Parenting — An Awkward Blogchat Debate Cage Match!”

Monthly Happiness Report: Penny Goes Full Debbie Downer in March 2017

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Dear Rich,

This month wasn’t a great month. I turned 40 and I threw a birthday party for myself. As I mentioned last month, I wasn’t looking forward to any of this. You would think that after 40 years I would know myself enough to know that I don’t like being the center of attention. But, no, I had to go and do it anyway, just to make myself feel like I was loved and special.

Bad idea.

It wasn’t very fun for me. I don’t like being the center of things. I should not have thrown a party solely in my honor.

I sent out invitations, like the Get In The Mail type of invitation, not just a stupid Facebook invite. This was a big deal to me. I invited 52 people. Only 17 came to my party. Some people got back to me and had legitimate reasons for not being able to make it, but 25 people didn’t even bother to respond whatsoever. (And the invitation did say “Please RSVP”.) That hurt my feelings.

In a way, I can kind of understand though. As my mama friends have had their kids go off to school, our once constant playgroups and interactions have kind of gone by the wayside. We don’t see each other anymore. I still love all these people, and would have greatly appreciated them coming to my birthday party, but there has been a loss of community and friendship there over the years. It’s not what it was five years ago.

(Also, it could be the fact that my birthday party involved playing laser tag, and some people just might not be into laser tag.)

It’s time for me to move on, and I’m kind of struggling with that. This whole birthday party thing has kind of been a wake up call. Instead of me focusing on the 17 wonderful friends who came to my party, all I can think of is the ones who weren’t there. I don’t like that I’m doing that. I wish I was better than that.

My rating for this month is:

Only 2 out of 5 🙁

Continue reading “Monthly Happiness Report: Penny Goes Full Debbie Downer in March 2017”

Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Increases His Brain Waves By 0.0125 In March 2017

Yes, this is my kitten. Older now but still cute.

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It’s mid-month and that means it’s time to evaluate, and “scientifically” track, our happiness levels!

Reminder: According to my philosophy, I think life is about balance in 3 areas: Relationships, Personal Growth, and Freedom. These areas, for me, all need attention. Additionally, I’ve added the category Health because if you’re not healthy physically and non-physically (mentally, spiritually, etc), it’s hard to be happy.  

If you would ask me if I’m happier right now than I was in mid-February, I’d say yep, slightly. I was happy then and a little more happy now. Gut reaction. And it turns out my self-polling data bears that out. Before I get to the data, it’s worth asking whether or not this is even a valid exercise. I mean, can we trust our own perceptions of happiness?

As it turns out, YES WE CAN.

In Stumbling on Happiness, a book we are going to review later this month, author Dan Gilbert talks about measuring happiness. He contends that self-claims are not only the best way to measure happiness, they are the only way to measure happiness. We can’t get into another person’s head aside from what that person tells us.

Even brain waves, which are literally inside a person’s head, are simply echoes of self-claims, because the only reason we know a certain brain wave = happiness is because the person with the brain claimed to be happy while the wave was active.

Ergo, here are my own completely valid measurements:

An increase of 0.0125! Can’t really make smileys to reflect that slight difference.

I think 4 is my baseline, so this is good. Here are some highlights from each category …

Continue reading “Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Increases His Brain Waves By 0.0125 In March 2017”

Why Penny Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting

Alert: Parent is airborne.

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Dear Rich,

As you may have surmised by now, given our income and the amount of student loan debt we have, we don’t have the means to, nor do we plan on funding our children’s (and we have four of them) college education.

But, that’s a good thing. Because even if we could, we wouldn’t do it anyway.

Here’s why:

You know the term helicopter parenting, right? (Go Finance Yourself talked about it in a recent blog post, if you need to bring yourself up to speed.) Basically, it’s overseeing your kids, to the point where you’re like a helicopter hovering overhead, swooping in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. This style of parenting gives children very little independence, doesn’t allow for developing autonomy, and can do a real number on the kid’s confidence.

And I think that paying for a kid’s college education is one of the biggest forms of helicopter parenting out there.

Your whole “building a legacy” thing seems a bit (how do I say this in a nice way?)… controlling.

Developing independence and autonomy is one of the most important things in a person’s life. Paying for their own education encourages a child to take responsibility for their own lives, to do with it what they want, and to fully make it their own. If a parent is funding their education, they are taking all of that away from them.

Granted, I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be pretty sweet to have your college education paid for (believe me, I know, as we have $153,000 in student loan debt), but it does come at another price (loss of autonomy)… and that is a price that I would not want to pay.

Continue reading “Why Penny Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting”

Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!

Debt is not the legacy I’m aiming for.

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Your food support post got me thinking about how I feel about supporting myself, i.e. self-reliance. I think it’s fair that you receive help, that’s why it’s there, no shame in that. So what I’m about to say isn’t intended to contradict the idea of food support or project anything onto your situation, it’s just my own internal perspective.

Probably my number one goal in life is to ensure that I will not need food support and that no one in my family will ever need food support, for generations to come.

I’m not saying we need to be the Vanderbilts, wealthy beyond imagination and not needing to work. I’m talking about having a firm foundation for self-reliance, autonomy, and opportunity. It’s about being ahead of the curve financially rather than digging out of extreme debt or relying on the government.

The desire I have to provide this, as a parent, is a deep core value. Very deep. As in self-determination key to happiness philosophy of life center of the earth stick it on my grave stone deep.

Can I actually build a family legacy of self-reliance for generations? I think so — or at least I can get close with the next couple generations — if I can achieve three milestones.


This sounds like a dumb how-to list but I actually believe this:

  1. Avoid the worst-case scenario via estate planning.
  2. Save for retirement.
  3. Provide for the kids’ higher education.

Step 1: Avoid the worst-case.

Immediately after the twins were born, Mrs. Rich and I took the following actions:

  • Increased our life insurance.
  • Set up an estate plan, including the following:

— Family living trust with named successor trustees; financial power of attorney; medical power of attorney; designated guardians for our children; pour-over will.

We literally sat in a conference room with an estate lawyer and 2 newborns to set up our family trust. I don’t remember anyone crying, so the kids must’ve liked what they were hearing.

Continue reading “Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!”

Are Stocks In A Bubble? And Why Do Engineers Retire Early? — Rich’s Ramblings

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We interrupt our regular programming to bring you the first edition of Rich’s Ramblings!


It’s simply this: I might have thoughts, ideas, inklings that I want to share quickly, but I haven’t had the time to completely process them into full on professional blog posts. (Which is funny, because when did blogs become so professional?? They used to be for amateur novelists and family photos.) So, I’ll stick these 8 pound 6 ounce newborn baby ideas into Rich’s Ramblings.

That’s a Ricky Bobby reference.

What about Penny? Maybe she’ll have Penny’s Ponderings or some such. Or Penny For Her Thoughts. Up to her.

Last part of this preamble: I need to be able to write a ramble in one hour or less. Otherwise, it’s a post. Ok, go.

First a random thought and then on to my main topic.


It seems like half of all early retirement bloggers are engineers. Why? Is it because engineers are smart and like to design systems (including early retirement systems)? Or is it because engineering jobs are soul-crushing and need to be escaped? I really want to know before my kids get old enough to consider engineering. Thank you for any advice!

I can dislike stocks and still be cuddly.


This first ramble will, I’m sure, draw all sorts of ridicule and hate mail. It’s ok. I’m 41 years old with twin boys. I simply can’t be offended or humiliated. I’ve held a dirty diaper in one hand and a crying boy in the other at 30,000 feet with dozens of onlookers. And that’s a mild story.

Many personal finance bloggers have been asking themselves if stocks are in a bubble. It usually starts with “Stocks are definitely a bit frothy right here, I’m nervous,” and it usually ends with something like, “I’m sticking to my plan, stocks are for the long run, yadda yadda yadda, I’m really tired today.”

George Costanza reference.

But let’s analyze what we’re saying about stocks before we convince ourselves to stick with them. We — and by this I mean me and a bunch of market observers at this point — are saying it’s pretty obvious that stocks are either fully priced or overpriced. At the very least, we can say that stocks, on the whole, are not underpriced (which is the best time to buy them). If you think stocks are underpriced … agree to disagree. San Diego means Saint Diego.

Ron Burgundy reference.

Personally, I think we are in a bubble created by low interest rates, QE, and momentum. I also think many people agree with me but do not want to act on it. I’m not going to wow you with complicated math arguments. You can read those elsewhere (like here — Hussman Funds Weekly Market Comment). I’m just going to show you this chart, and if you think what’s happening right now is totally normal, that’s ok.

Bubble? What bubble? (Image credit: Yahoo Finance)

If you think the first 2 bubbles were obvious but this one is not, that’s ok. Saint Diego.


Continue reading “Are Stocks In A Bubble? And Why Do Engineers Retire Early? — Rich’s Ramblings”

Penny: On Being “Poor” And Receiving Help

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Dear Rich,

As you know, my family and I get food support. We’ve been getting it for about 8 years now, ever since my husband was in chiropractic school. We could have gotten it before then, when he was a Catholic elementary teacher making only $18,750 a year, but I hadn’t known it was available to us. I didn’t realize we were poor.

When we first started getting food support, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was kind of embarrassed by it. I felt like we were too good for it, like we were above it.

Now, I receive it with gratitude. I know that we are not any better or worse than anybody else getting it. I am no longer too proud. We are all just humans doing the best we can in this world, and I am happy and grateful for the help we get.

Could we get by without it? Yes.

Do we use what we save on food to help pay off our student loan debt? Yes.

Is that fair? I think so.

Continue reading “Penny: On Being “Poor” And Receiving Help”