Recently Chris Desatoff, a fellow Internet marketer, asked me a barrage of questions in an email. I figured it was worthy of answering in a post and calling it an official interview. So here it is, based on his exact questions to me:
What has Patrick Meninga learned about happiness and gratitude through this wacky adventure these past few years — and especially these past few weeks? Is he learning to find happiness at the day job he once loathed?
So here is the back story for those who are interested: I quit my day job during August of 2011. I started back to work (at the same company no less!) on November of 2014.
So the question is, what did I learn from all of this, and did I find a path to happiness in my return to 40 hours/week office work?
A couple of points here.
One is this: Before I quit my day job, I was so sure that the freedom from work would be the great ticket to happiness that I longed for. I thought that having all of my days free would be the one thing that I needed to make me happy.
You can guess (probably) what I learned from this experiment: Quitting your day job is not an instant ticket to happiness. People hear that, and deep down they secretly believe that such wisdom does not apply to them.
Let me repeat this critical point: We all secretly believe that if we were granted the million dollars and could walk away from our day job that we would instantly be happy forever and ever. Every person who works for a living believes this to some degree. We all suffer from the same delusion.
But leisure time does not make us happy. You may work 40 hours per week (or somewhat more or less than that) so right now you have no perspective. All you know is that you work hard and get too little money for it. And you have no free time. Or very little time to yourself. You want more. You are starving for early retirement, for the million dollar jackpot. This is the only perspective that you know about.
Bill Gates knows about another perspective. He knows what it feels like to not have to worry about money, about paying the bills. And guess what? He still works. And I have to quote him again, because it is so brilliant and insightful. He said: “I have to tell you, having billions of dollars is nice and all, but in the end…..it is still the same cheeseburger.”
And he is right of course. But when you are struggling with everyday life AND employment, you are starved for what you think is “freedom.” You think that a million dollars and a life of leisure would make you happy. And you secretly think that Bill Gates must have been rich for too long, and he has forgotten what it is like to have to slave away for 40 plus hours each week.
Well, you are wrong in that. We all suffer from the same delusion. That we would be free, that we would be happy, if only we had all the money in the world and all the free time in the world.
It’s just not true.
I know this, because I tested it out. I gained perspective that I used to lack. I worked freelance for 6 hours each week. I am not exaggerating here, I actually used an egg timer. I put in exactly six hours each week and I was creating a full time paycheck. That is not exactly retired, but it should have made me happier, right?
Nope. Didn’t work. That is not the ticket to happiness.
I wish I could tell you the great secret to what DOES make you happy, but I am still on a journey myself. I only know what I learned from working 3 years of only a six hour work week–that increased leisure time doesn’t increase your overall happiness.
Will he return to entrepreneurship again down the road? What wisdom has he picked up along the way to help him find contentment and joy in his life?
Now this is the crazy part. This question proves to me that I still suffer from the delusion that I described above!
I am currently working 40 hours per week again. I also still do freelance work for roughly 3 hours per week as well. And sometimes I feel drained from that, just like any worker might feel at times. And in those moments I think to myself: “Maybe I should try to start another business, or come up with some new income streams,” or whatever.
In other words, I still notice that I have those moments where I long for “freedom.” And it is always when work is the hardest, or is draining me of energy.
But I think I have a tiny bit more wisdom now in that I can realize today that free money or automated income streams are not the secret to happiness. There is more to life than leisure. There is more to happiness than leisure time and plenty of money.
If I do return to entrepreneurship it will be for a reason other than to satisfy the delusion. If I want to break free from day job tyranny, the quickest path at this point (for me in particular) is not to risk starting a business. In fact, it would be very easy for me to escape from day jobs through Jacob’s plan at Early Retirement Extreme. So I would just need to tighten up on frugality and maybe put in another 2 or 3 years of really hard work. That would be plenty to set me “free” permanently.
But I know today that this is not the kind of life that I want for myself. As horrible as it may sound, I am going to admit this potentially ugly truth out loud, I am going to own it: I want more consumption. I want to spend, I want to travel, I want to enjoy life with my fiance, and I don’t want to worry about watching every penny. That is a form of freedom as well. And if I have to put in 40 hours each week at the treatment center (where I am back working now) then so be it.
You can be free from a day job if you like, but at what price? You can’t indulge, have fun, travel, and so on….unless you watch every single penny. So in reality, you can still do all of that stuff on the cheap, but it takes a lot more energy, cutting corners, making sacrifices, and so on.
I am not saying that you need to be spendy or frivolous to be happy. But every person has to find that line for themselves. When I wrote “Day Jobs Suck” I thought that this line, for me, was living on $7,000/year and eating pasta in a can every day, and consequently doing every little work. I was wrong. I would rather work 40 hours and spend money like the average American. I know that sounds terrible to some but that is my own truth, the honest truth, it is what I learned about myself. I don’t want a life of frugality and 6 hour work weeks. I prefer a life of consumerism and 40 hour work weeks. That said, I am by no means a spendthrift now. My monthly living expenses are still pretty modest at this point.
Is anything still missing? Will something always be missing? Or is that all a myth?
I’m still on a journey. I know today that I am not a guru. I tried to play one in the past but those days are over. I hope I did not mislead anyone too badly. I think everyone has to achieve their goals in order to realize that “happiness was right under their nose all along.” If you never make it to that goal, if you never achieve that 4 hour work week or that life of leisure, then you will go on suffering from the delusion that the goal will make you happy. And it won’t. Reaching any single goal will never create permanent happiness. And yet that is the delusion that we suffer from.
The truth is that we need to learn to enjoy the process. To live in the moment, to find delight in everyday life. If I ever had any wisdom, that’s it. Beyond that it was all just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I’m sorry. And yet I am relieved too, to be able to enjoy the process again, to delight in the every day. To find purpose and meaning in the mundane. To celebrate existence.
Has the seed of happiness been there all along?
Yes, it has. And it is for you too. But we still might have to reach certain goals in order to look back and realize that we had the seed all along.
We have to wake up to the fact that we don’t need to achieve anything or do anything specific in order to enjoy happiness and peace right now in this very moment. A bit hippy dippy, I know….but that doesn’t make it untrue.
Thanks again Chris for the questions. You rock dude.