Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Makes Sense Of Internet Commentary, His Cousin’s Controversy, And The Good Life –July 2017

Hey Penny,

Glad to see your technology hiatus is continuing to reward you with happiness. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about the Amusing Ourselves To Death book, when you have time. 

I think modern technology is mostly AMAZING — after all, I just received a new iPhone from T-mobile that I can use to text for free internationally! But I also know technology can suck away your time and your life if you don’t follow the 4 Commandments.


You wrote your happiness report before July 14th (also French independence day, as it were), and I’m wondering how that day impacted your happiness level. It was the day your guest post aired on the widely read Making Sense Of Cents blog. You detailed your journey, which you’ve done before on this blog: in your origin story as well as in your posts on giving to charity and receiving food support. The Making Sense article was an amalgamation.

Some of the comments were nice and some were … well … pas sympathique. Not nice.

Mon dieu. I enjoy interacting with comments most of the time, but I don’t think anyone would say that the internet comment sections are a shining example of technology benefiting humanity.

I was thinking about why some commenters were unhappy with your article. Here are the two main charges, simplified:

  1. They think it’s unfair that you receive government assistance, based on how you are spending your money.
  2. They don’t like the way that you think about it: Thoreau and the Art of Asking and all that. 

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We’re not hillbillies, but we are cousins! Click on image to view this awesome book on Amazon.

I find it funny that some commenters questioned me for defending you. Was I supposed to turn on my own cousin?? I felt like Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy, ready to start kicking butt!

Here were my basic responses to their unhappiness.

Response to Charge #1: People get riled up about taxes. As you know, I pay LOADS of taxes. And the idea is that we want our tax money to go to exactly what we think are the highest priorities and best programs. When they see that you, Penny, receive government money, well then there’s anger. Unfair! You’re a regular ol’ blogger! You need to spend less and work harder!

Now I’m not an expert on taxes, but I can comfortably say that food assistance is not the big national tax scandal to be worried about. It’s peanuts (perhaps literally!) compared to the national debt and other such obligations that have little social benefit.

The fact is that you receive food support because you qualify for food support. We can argue about the system and how fair it is, but it makes no sense for you to turn down this support. It’s for food, and it’s completely separate from how you spend the rest of your money. It wouldn’t do an ounce of good to anyone for you to turn it down, which you’ve said you’re eager to do as your income grows.

People don’t normally consider the idea of rejecting government benefits when they do their own taxes. I’d venture that most people who receive the standard deduction are not refusing their refund checks for the good of the system, because they can afford to. I’d love to hear from someone who has done this.

As for how you spend your money …

This part is ironic for me to defend because, as you know, we don’t agree on how to spend money at all. You’re way TOO FRUGAL and TOO GENEROUS! One of your biggest line items every month is charity! Also, you are paying back your student loans at a ridiculously fast rate considering your income.

So, I wasn’t actually trying to defend every specific choice. Mostly I defended you because the attacks got personal, which leads me to the second complaint from commenters.

Response to Charge #2: People want you to think and feel differently about receiving food support.

You wrote that at first you felt embarrassed about receiving food support. And then you talked about how your outlook has changed, how you want people to understand this process, and how in the future you’d like to give more and take less.

This is just my observation, but I don’t think some people want you to come to terms with receiving support. They would like you to keep feeling embarrassed for as long as it takes to support yourself. They want you to feel a certain way.

This, I thought, was rather unfair. People’s feelings are complex, and as we’ve discussed a lot on this blog, there isn’t a straight line between money and feelings.

I’ve experienced this in reverse as a high income earner in an age of income inequality. A RICH GUY! HOARDING THE AMERICAN DREAM! Based on my income, some would say I should continually feel lucky, grateful, and humble, or else I’m just a greedy materialistic a-hole.

This is just not how people work. We don’t have static emotions based on our income levels. Some days I feel incredibly lucky — I love my job and I’m healthy. Some days I’m irritated about traffic or annoying errands. Other days I’m overjoyed because I’m going on vacation. And this week I’ve been anxious about my kids’ behavior at summer camp.

The fact is, I don’t walk around thinking, “Wow, I’m so grateful to be earning six figures, I guess I shouldn’t worry about my boys starting a fight with other kids at camp.” Life doesn’t work that way.


All of this made me consider my happiness level for the past month. Initially I thought I’d rate it low, like 3.5 smileys out of 5, which is not good for me. The main reason: It’s summer camp season.

My twin boys are high energy. That’s an understatement. They make other high energy kids seem mild mannered. As twins, they don’t take many breaks because they always have a willing partner to egg them on. They run around and talk and yell and laugh and fight and play from 6am to 8pm every single day. Their favorite game, besides Uno, is to be chased. That’s the game — we chase them. There’s my cardio regimen right there.

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Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Figures Out How To Score A 5.5 Out Of 5 (In Certain Categories) in May 2017

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Hey Penny,

I think this is my 4th happiness report, and I was wondering something to myself. Have I learned anything about happiness, or “the good life” as I prefer to call it, by simply thinking and writing about it? My scores, as you will see, are fairly constant. Am I being too generous with myself when it comes to scoring?

Well, I don’t know if I’ve had any major breakthroughs, but I do have 2 realizations.

Realization 1: Thinking about happiness promotes intentional living. In other words, I think I’ve helped myself by thinking and writing about happiness, by setting aside time to ponder the good life. For example, I’ve been more intentional about hobbies and health as a direct result of identifying them as important categories.

Realization 2: The good life is more about maintenance than radical change. I don’t think I was expecting the consistency in my happiness scores, but I also can’t imagine the alternative. The alternative would be extreme happiness one month and depression the next. That doesn’t sound like me. So, I might be a bit generous with myself, but who cares? Would I be happier if I graded myself more strictly and became a manic-depressive?

That last point also tells me something about what to expect from life. I think there’s a human tendency to think that if one could just do something radically different, one would be happier. Maybe that’s true, but I doubt it. Well, I doubt it as a 41 year old with a happiness score of 4.63 out of 5. If I were scoring 1s or 2s, radical change would be called for. But to me, being close to 5 means I’m living the life I want to live and I wouldn’t change much.

Let’s look at the numbers:

I can score more than 5 on a 5 point scale in some categories. Yes I can.

Whoa, 4.88! Well, mid-April to mid-May was pretty unique.  We took a family vacation to Spain for 2 weeks, and my mom and your mom visited for a week, so the Freedom and Family scores were off the charts.

Continue reading “Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Figures Out How To Score A 5.5 Out Of 5 (In Certain Categories) in May 2017”

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”

Book Review: Tribe — Rich Digs The Modern Foxhole

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I really enjoyed reading Tribe, just as I’ve enjoyed all of Sebastian Junger’s books, especially War. If you haven’t read War yet, I HIGHLY recommend it. While you’re at it, watch the related video documentary Restrepo. Incredibly powerful.

The basic premise of Tribe, as I understand it, is this: Soldiers returning from war are haunted by the loss of their community (i.e. their combat unit) as well as their sense of purpose, and the modern world is often unable to fill these voids.

Let me say up front that I’d never dispute anyone’s experience. I know people who have served in war zones, and I won’t claim to understand what they went through over there and after returning home. So, any comments represent my thinking on certain concepts, using the book (and your post) as a launching pad.


You wrote: The self-determination theory… those three things are basically what you described in your Philosophy on Happiness. Is this where you got it from, or did you figure that out all by yourself?

Yep, I’m a big believer in self-determination theory, although I didn’t know what it was called. I’m not sure how I came to it, but studying theology / religion, reading books on happiness, talking with friends, and years of self-reflection got me there. When I looked back at my Philosophy of Happiness post, I noticed that I used different terms, but basically Junger and I (and Psychology Today) agree.

The Big 3

It’s all about being, doing, and connecting. On these points, I’m in the foxhole with Junger.

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Book Review: Tribe — Penny Wonders If The Wealthy Are Missing Out

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Dear Rich,

I couldn’t believe how in line this book (Tribe by Sebastian Junger) was to the topics we’ve been covering in this blog! Happiness, money, connection… it’s all in there.

Here’s a quote from the book:

A study found that conventional success in the legal profession had zero correlation with levels of happiness and well-being. The findings are in keeping with something called self-determination theory, which holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money, and status.

Bluntly put, modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones, and as a result, mental health issues refuse to decline with growing wealth.

The self-determination theory… those three things are basically what you described in your Philosophy on Happiness. Is this where you got it from, or did you figure that out all by yourself?

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Book Review: The Cozy Life — Penny Is A Hygge Expert

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Dear Rich,

I love that The Cozy Life has added a little bit of magic to your life! I have to say, when I was reading it, I was mostly patting myself on the back for already doing the majority of the things mentioned. I think it is a way of life that comes naturally to me. You could say I’m a hygge expert. It did inspire me to add glogg (mulled wine) to our Christmas celebration though. It’s those little comforts and special things in life that can add up to something transforming.

I think that hygge can come at any price point. It sounds like your expensive Greece vacation had a lot of it, but, then again, a less expensive excursion could have done the same thing. Money is not really the point.

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Book Review: The Cozy Life — Why Rich Puts Cinnamon in His Coffee

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Dear Penny,

I drink a lot of coffee. When I say a lot, I mean 2.5 cups minimum before 8am. That’s just a warm up for the day. Blame it on kids, work, habit, or addiction. I’m ok with it, because I love every sip. And I love my Le Creuset french press in Marseille blue.

So, I’m not exaggerating when I say that the book The Cozy Life has instantly and dramatically improved my existence. You see, I now add a pinch of cinnamon to my morning cup o’ joe. YES, CINNAMON!

The fragrance of cinnamon, especially in winter, epitomizes this Danish idea of hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) for me, evoking comfort, warmth, and and a touch of nostalgia. Think Christmas morning in comfy pajamas and pancakes on the stove. Think cookies and wine in front of the fireplace. Am I exaggerating? No. Cinnamon in my coffee does all this.

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