Getting Rich, Following that Dream, Being Happy

I found a question/response thread on Hacker News to be quite interesting. The question was “how did your life change after FU money”. FU money being a term for enough money that you have complete freedom to not work.

Paul Graham’s response I felt particularly rang true, and is something to think about. Paul Graham earned his FU money from cofounding Viaweb which later sold to Yahoo.

One thing you learn when you get rich, though, is how few of your problems were caused by not being rich. When you can do whatever you want, you get a variant of the terror induced by the proverbial blank page. There are a lot of people who think the thing stopping them from writing that great novel they plan to write is the fact that their job takes up all their time. In fact what’s stopping 99% of them is that writing novels is hard. When the job goes away, they see how hard.

It sort of goes with the whole cliche that money can’t buy happiness, but it also provides some good insight for people who might see their job as an excuse not to do whatever they really want to do.

Now, it also reminded me of TED talk by Dan Gilbert on Happiness which I thought was particularly revealing. I’ve linked to the relevant moment here (14minutes, 22seconds in).

Gilbert describes a study which proves that “choice” is actually detrimental to happiness. And what provides more choice or freedom than a huge windfall (“FU money” so to speak).

Gilbert describes a study at a university. Students take a photography class and at the end have 2 framed photos of their favorite work. They are split into two groups. 1) Pick a photo, and you’re stuck with it 2) Pick a photo, but if you change your mind you can swap it out for the other one within 4 days.

Turns out the people who have a choice about their photo are less satisfied with their photo even after the 4 days is up. By simply having that choice, they are ultimately less “happy”. So, people tend to be happier when they have no choice presented to them.

I feel like this applies to those who find themselves with complete freedom in their lives. Choice means you have to actively make a decision, and generates questions of doubt about decisions you make. In many ways, not having the decision is a simpler, albeit naive existence.

Now you may ask me if I’m happy. While I didn’t have a huge windfall, I do earn enough that I don’t have to work at a real job. So, I am doing what I choose to do, not what I have to. As a matter of fact, I am very happy, but I did think about these very issues alot when I first earned my freedom. Issues that I’d never really thought of before.

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4 Responses to Getting Rich, Following that Dream, Being Happy

  1. amroc says:

    Really interesting article, as someone who is (hopefully) early on the path to freedom, it’s an enlightening read. I’m a games developer going fulltime making iPhone games, and so far I’m making enough to get by.

    I’ve seen that TED talk before, and even doing what I want now, properly, for the first time in my life, I’ve noticed the additional work required just making decisions that I never had to before. This is in other spectrums too, not just the decisions to do with work, but also social life. When in employment, it’s almost like a lot of your social life is taken care of, you develop friends at work because work forces you to socialise, you don’t have a choice in it.

    As a lone developer I’ve found the freedom to choose who I want to socialise with, although a great thing, also requires an extra degree of discipline and decision making. With colleagues from work it was easy to go to the pub after, or meet up on a certain day, it was more just going with the flow.

    Anyway, very interesting to hear how the freedom from having FU money doesn’t necessarily make you more productive (I think in my case it would make me less, and hence less happy). I know lots of people who need to read this article 😉


  2. I agree that choice can dictate happiness to an extent. But, I know I wouldn’t be a whole lot happier if I didn’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay my bills each month! Worrying about money and living pay check to pay check is something that brings my mood down all the time. I wish I had FU money… =P

  3. Sachin says:

    yes I completely agree with what you have said…but sometimes (or always) there comes “greed” in between that…and the whole cycle of this kind of life begins again….

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