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.