The Best Reason To Retire Early: Years Of Greater Happiness

I've finally discovered the best reason to retire early. A longer steady-state period of happiness. It has taken me 10 years of fake retirement to come up with this epiphany because I had to experience the process myself.

In the past, I've written that early retirement isn't all sunshine and rainbows. I went through plenty of struggles trying to find meaning and purpose during my first two years post traditional work.

On my financial independence journey, I've also encountered plenty of miserable rich people. They've got F You Money out the wazoo. Yet, they're like black clouds of bitterness because they're always comparing themselves to those with more.

No matter how much money we have, ultimately, we want to feel happier. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I can confidently tell you retiring early makes you happier. Let's dig into why!

Traditional Happiness By Age Chart

In a recent weekly newsletter, I included a chart about life satisfaction or happiness by age by the American Time Use survey. Notice the reasons why happiness rises and falls throughout our lifetime.

Life satisfaction or happiness by age - best reason to retire early is greater happiness

I didn't pay much attention to the chart in the past because I was too young and inexperienced to care. I had my whole life ahead of me without too much responsibility or despair.

But now that I've lived for 45 years, I see the meaning of the chart so clearly now. Life satisfaction improves for most people once their lives become simpler and more secure.

Age 57 Is The Beginning Of A Rebound In Happiness

Look how significant happiness increases around 57 all the way up to age 72. What happens for the average person starting around age 57?

Your kids are out of the house or almost out of the house so you have or anticipate to have more freedom. You no longer have to work or work as much because you've had 35+ years of saving and investing. You're only two-and-a-half years away from being able to tap your 401(k) penalty-free, which provides mental relief. Further, your responsibility for taking care of your parents may, sadly, no longer be necessary.

Hence, the best reason to retire earlier is to accelerate when your happiness curve starts to rebound! Instead of going through a 30-year plateau of happiness between ages 30 – 57, what if you could retire at the ideal age of 45?

If you did, your happiness curve would likely slope upward sooner and plateau at “peak satisfaction” for almost 20 years longer! To do so, you would have to give up the pursuit of making maximum money. But in exchange, you might receive something priceless.

The New Happiness By Age Chart For Early Retirees

Let me redraw the happiness curve below in red for those who retire at age 45, or 20 years before the traditional retirement age of 65.

The Best Reason To Retire Early: 20 Years Of Greater Happiness

The traditional retiree feels a boost in happiness starting around age 57, or eight years earlier than age 65. Therefore, the 45-year-old retiree may start feeling a rebound in happiness perhaps starting as early as age 37.

However, I suspect the boost in happiness starts after 40 due to the need for more financial security, kids still at home, less years of misery at work, and many more years until tax-advantaged accounts can be available penalty-free.

The early retiree then experiences peak levels of happiness from ages 55-to-75 until their health starts to fade. Early retirees may also experience a greater level of happiness during the end of life due to having less regret.

In other words, the early retiree gets to experience three benefits:

  • An earlier rebound in happiness
  • A higher peak level of happiness
  • A longer steady-state level of happiness

How much would you pay for all these benefits? I guess the answer partially depends on how miserable you are in the first place. For me, the answer is millions of dollars.

Reviewing My Happiness By Age

Logically, most of you will agree that having enough money to retire earlier should bring about greater levels of happiness. Being able to do what you want when you're younger and healthier rocks. So is not having to interact with people you do not like.

However, it's worth reviewing our happiness by age to see whether the above charts make sense. Given I write everything based on firsthand experience, this will be an insightful exercise for me.

Let's just be careful about revisionist history when we reflect. Over time, we might make bad things seem less bad or much worse than they really are! Understand your biases.

Happiness Between Ages 10 – 15: A Golden Period (9/10)

When I was in middle school, I was extremely happy because I had lots of friends. There was no pressure to do well at the International School of Kuala Lumpur because grades didn't matter until high school.

My friends and I would skateboard for hours after school and then talk on landline phones after eating dinner. I don't remember having to do much homework at all.

At age 12, I also got my first girlfriend. Valerie was the coolest girl in the 7th grade and somehow I lucked out. But I was too immature to make the relationship last. So I moved on to Nicola and then to Melissa, from Garden International School.

Happiness Between Ages 16 – 22: The Pit Of Uncertainty (3-to-8/10)

The pressure to do well in high school was immense. Coming to America from Malaysia for high school wasn't an easy transition. A lot of the kids had been friends with each other since elementary school.

I ended up getting in trouble many times because I hung out with a neglected crowd of misfits. We shoplifted, prank-called, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and got into fights. In retrospect, the public high school environment in McLean, Virginia was a suboptimal fit.

Both my parents had day jobs and wouldn't get back until 6 pm or so. By then, they were too tired to spend much time with me. Maybe if they had more flexible hours, I wouldn't haven't been up to no good between the hours of 2:30 pm – 6 pm.

Feeling Of Hopelessness

After getting in big trouble the summer before college, my happiness dropped to a 3 for three months because I felt like I had no future. During college, I kept wondering what was the point of studying so hard if I wouldn't be able to get a job after graduation.

But college was a freaking blast! From the friends I met to the parties, to the freedom, to studying abroad in China in 1997, college was an incredible four years of joy.

I also met my wife in college senior year, which turned out to be a wonderful blessing.

Happiness Between Ages 23 – 34: Enormous Stress And Excitement (4-to-8/10)

My four years of worry about not being employable disappeared once I landed a job in NYC. It only paid a $40,000 base salary, which was equivalent to earning $23,000 in Dallas at the time. But going up to the 49th floor at 1 New York Plaza every 5:30 am was exhilarating.

The stress was immense and I disliked one of my bosses, whom I called Evil English. But I sucked it up because I was employed at a top investment bank. If I could just hang on for at least 10 years, I knew I would have many more options.

The stress returned in 2001 when I overheard I was not going to be offered a third-year analyst position. Thankfully, I landed on my feet at a competing firm in San Francisco.

Moving to San Francisco in 2001 provided another jolt of excitement. I only knew a couple of people, so everything was new. I still remember driving to Golden Gate Park and banging on drums while the heavy aroma of marijuana lingered in the air.

Here are the top 10 financial moves to make to reduce stress and anxiety. Some are easy, while others are hard. The more of these financial moves you accomplish, the happier you'll be.

Finally Experienced True Work Fear

My career was on the up and up until the 2008 global financial crisis began. Right before the crisis, my happiness was around an 8 due to a promotion and great pay. Then fear set in because I had bought a house at the end of 2004 with a ~$1.2 million mortgage.

If I had gotten laid off, I might have been done for. All my liquid savings had gone into the 20 percent down payment and it would have been difficult to keep paying a ~$6,000 monthly mortgage. My happiness declined to about a 4 due to so much worry.

The global financial crisis was a huge wake-up call to right-size my risk exposure. I started telling myself that if I could just regain all that I had lost, I would leave the finance world behind. So I did in 2012.

Leaving banking with a severance package felt like I had won the lottery. With a rebound in my net worth, a severance check, and Financial Samurai, I became excited about my future once more.

Happiness Between Ages 35 – 40: The Golden Years (8-9/10)

Although I no longer had a six-figure income, my happiness went from about a 6 right before I left my job to a 8 during my first year of early retirement. It felt incredible to have full control over my time. No longer did I have multiple bosses telling me what to do. It was also nice to no longer have client requests.

The surge in happiness felt like I had taken a magical elixir. The magical elixir permanently shifted my happiness curve upwards. I might have even gotten to a 10/10 in happiness for several weeks. But such supreme happiness didn’t last.

For the first six months after work, I was also uncertain whether I had made the right move. Leaving a well-paying career at age 34 was unconventional. Some might say stupid. Hence, the anxiety of the unknown kept my happiness below a 9.

As time went on, I settled into my new life as a writer. I'd say my happiness averaged an 8 from age 34-40, which is the shift up in happiness I had projected in the chart.

When my son was born in April 2017, my happiness shot to a 10. For three years, we had tried to conceive. So we appreciated his birth even more.

Happiness Between Ages 41 – 45: The Silver Years (3-7/10)

Although having a baby provides incredible joy, raising a baby is also the hardest thing I have ever done. And my wife did the majority of the work!

From the sleepless nights to the constant fear of injury or death during the first three years of a child's life, raising children is not for the uncommitted.

There were many times when my happiness sunk to a 3/10 due to exhaustion, arguments, the lack of free time, rejections from my children, and worry.

Before our son was born, my wife and I would never argue. But after he was born, we probably argued at least once a week because we were both so exhausted and always around each other.

One of my frustrations was sometimes feeling like no matter how hard I tried as a full-time dad, it didn't seem like enough. I was regularly committing 40+ hours a week to childcare while also keeping up my writing cadence on Financial Samurai.

But taking care of a baby/toddler actually requires 168 hours a week, especially if your kids are bad sleepers like ours were. Constant exhaustion and worry are no good for happiness.

I even sold an important rental property in 2017 to free up more time for fatherhood. The property was supposed to be a huge part of our retirement plan. At the time, I felt like a quitter because I knew the property still had upside.

Regular Frustration As A Father

Due to regular rebuffs from my son, there were many times I considered going back to work since I felt inadequate as a father. I wished more people would talk about dad-guilt as well.

I figured, if I wasn't cutting it as a stay-at-home dad, I might as well utilize my time to earn more money. It was as if evolution was shouting at me to go out and earn!

But going back to work would feel like admitting defeat both as a father and as a FIRE founder. I was determined for both my wife and I to remain stay-at-home parents until our son went to school full-time.

More Responsibility And A Pandemic Ages 42-45

The birth of our daughter in December 2019 was another 10/10 moment. Getting pregnant a second time was much easier. And our daughter's was also smooth sailing.

I remember going to the lounge next to our birthing room at 6 am to get a drink and veg out a bit. Ten minutes later I get a text saying, “You better come back quick, she's coming!”

As veteran parents, we no longer felt a constant anxiety like we did as first-time parents. The confidence felt great. Unfortunately, our plans of sending our son to preschool while we spent more time with our daughter went to crap once the pandemic began on March 18, 2020.

We pulled our son from preschool for 18 months and went into Mama Bear and Papa Bear mode to protect our kids from an invisible enemy. I also stepped up my entrepreneurial endeavors online since I wasn't going back to work.

In retrospect, being able to spend 24 hours a day with both children in 2020 and most of 2021 was a blessing. It showed us how much pressure we could take as parents. Our family also became closer.

Happiness Today At 46: 7/10

Today, I'm happier because the pandemic is over and my daughter is four. Based on experience with my son, between 3-3.5 is when my anxiety declined about him hurting himself. I'm also getting more frequent shows of affection by her.

My son is happy going to school every day, which is the most a parent could hope for. I experienced so much trouble since elementary school that I'm hypersensitive about bullies and bad school environments today.

My daughter is also going to school three times a week. It was a difficult transition for the first month. But now she is usually happy to attend. Now it's about keeping them both healthy enough to go to school given all the viruses going around.

With more free time on Tuesday and Thursday, my wife and I go play pickleball for two hours. Finally, we discovered a sport we can easily play together and have a lot of fun. But her enthusiasm is waning.

Most picklers we see are in their 60s or older. Their children are adults and they seem free from worry. While on the pickleball court, it feels like I've transported 20 years ahead while still having the fitness of a 45-year-old. It almost feels like cheating.

So perhaps the best reason to retire early is to gain this unfair competitive advantage to do more fun physical activities before your health fades. It's harder to drive a race car when you're 70 because it's harder to bend your knees!

Diversify Your Sources Of Happiness

If my family is healthy and happy and I'm healthy, I am always at an 8 or higher on the happiness scale. Because I only work on Financial Samurai for 15-20 hours a week, a lot of my time is spent with family.

However, relying only on my children for happiness is dangerous because inevitably, something bad will happen to them. And when something does I will feel crushed. Hence, having a variety of purposes is important to maintaining a high level of happiness.

Since 2020, I have found new satisfaction in being a published author with Buy This, Not That. The book is a happiness injector every time I see a copy at home, in the library, or at the bookstore.

Interestingly, after BTNT became a WSJ bestseller, my elevated excitement only lasted for a couple of weeks. I soon experienced a trough of sorrow because I had lost a purpose I had worked on for years. Therefore, happiness takes continuous work and diversification.

Buy This Not That Book Reviews

Having a variety of purposes will create a stronger baseline level of happiness.

Today, my purposes are:

  • Being a present father, husband, and son
  • Keep Financial Samurai going until 2042
  • Win a 4.0 pickleball tournament
  • Write another great personal finance book
  • Raise awareness and fight for people with disabilities
  • Boost liquidity again

I took advantage of a decline in home prices in San Francisco and upgraded to a true forever home in 4Q 2023. As a result, I'm more stressed financially than normal because I used most of my taxable investments to buy the home with cash. Hence, I've got to go back to consulting to earn extra income for the next year to replenish my liquidity. As a result, my happiness ticked down from 8 to 7.

Good-Enough Happiness Is A 7.25 Or 8

Just as being a good-enough investor will likely make you richer than expected, having good-enough happiness will likely provide you with a more fulfilling lifestyle than expected.

The search for ultimate happiness is elusive because it never lasts for very long. No matter how good or bad the situation, we revert back to our steady state of happiness range. So yes, I believe there is a genetic component to our happiness predisposition.

Once you get to a 10, it's unsustainable because achieving happiness is limitless. The same goes for reaching an income or a net worth goal. Once you get there, there's always more money to make.

If you can maintain a 7 or 8 out of 10 on the happiness scale, I think you're in the sweet spot. Overall, you're pretty happy, but you're not deliriously happy. As a result, you've got enough “happiness upside” left to give you something to strive for.

Once you're at a 9 or 10 on the happiness scale, there's mostly downside. The downside is why many athletes smartly retire once they've won it all. If you go out on top, you'll always be remembered for being a winner.

Instead, it's the pursuit of happiness that is the most fun. It's the challenge of taking on a new challenge and mastering it. Do hard things and happiness will come!

Progress: My One-Word Definition Of Happiness

Happiness is going from a 25 handicap to a 10 handicap in golf. Once your handicap is under a 10, playing golf starts feeling like a burden because you have to get on the green in regulation each time.

Happiness is going from being a self-published ebook author to a national bestselling author. It's thrilling to create something from nothing.

Happiness is about committing the next 16 weekends to teaching your child how to ride a bike. When you finally let go and he realizes he's riding on his own, that is supreme happiness!

So long as we are making progress in whatever it is we find important, we'll experience happiness. As soon as we start regressing, we may need to work harder or find a new endeavor to pursue.

Feeling happy is priceless. If you're miserable at your job, then retiring earlier or taking on a better job for less pay is absolutely worth it. Please don't stay stuck in a miserable relationship either.

If something is keeping you down, make a positive change. Nobody else will change for you.

Readers, what do you think is the best reason to retire early? How much money would you be willing to pay to increase your happiness level by one or two points for 10-20 years? Did you experience greater happiness after you retired?

Related posts about happiness:

Solving The Happiness Conundrum In Five Moves Or Less

The Unhappiest Cities In America Based On A New Wealth Ratio

Your X-Factor Is The Key To Being Happy, Rich, And Free

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60 thoughts on “The Best Reason To Retire Early: Years Of Greater Happiness”

  1. My happiness is not linked to money, fame, or status – as alluring as they might be. It is directly connected to the ability to be useful, to do work in service to others.

      1. I’m a firefighter, treasurer of a senior center and a handyman around town when I’m off duty. I very much appreciate the service you provide in helping to strengthen the financial lives of strangers.

  2. When I retired at 60, I’d say the feeling was bittersweet. I was loosened from the stresses from my work, but I missed the camaraderie with my fellow workers. Now that I’ve been retired for about 1.5 years, I’ve developed somewhat of a routine, and made new friends along the way.

  3. Thank you for talking about the challenges of early parenthood. Especially for dads who stay at home.

  4. Sam, I think your chart and the point of your blog post are directionally correct and tend to match my own experience with (semi)early retirement, but I think it is missing an overlay based on happiness setpoint theory (set happiness levels people tend to gravitate to). A good intro article on the topic is here: I’d be curious if you had thoughts on how to revise by incorporating that in.

  5. Hello All,

    I like your articles SAM, but I haven’t understood as I’m Europen, that there was a sensitivity politic behind.

    Thank you still but this don’t interest me, because I know already this system in my UE country and the rich are obliged to hide to life normaly (with the big tax, etc).

    Good continuation, BB

  6. Ms. Conviviality

    I would say that I have been consistently hovering around a happiness level of 9 since I was 40. This was when I finally realized what I valued most in relationships, experiences, and material things. I either let people/things go that didn’t serve me and brought more of the happy things into my life. Prior to that, there were a few years where it stayed as low as 1. By the time I was 40, any time something made me unhappy, I asked myself “what is within my control that I can change?” and proceeded with those steps. Sometimes what you can control is very little. For instance, when dealing with a close relative with mental illness or death of a spouse. In those instances, I accepted that there was little I could do but at least I tried my best to help the relative or mourned the death but also told myself when it was time to move on. I do believe that my biggest source of happiness is my current husband who is so hilariously funny and thoughtful. Sometimes I get sad thinking about a time where he’ll no longer be by my side but then I remind myself that death is out of my control and continue to make the best of the time we have together. I think the only thing that will put me at a happiness level of 10 is to be financially free so that I can wake up and do whatever I please. While I’m in a good place with my career, there are still some days where I would rather just sleep in.

    1. Robert Ruschak

      What about the happiness index for George Soros and Warren Buffett ?

      What about happiness by marrying a millionaire and never have to go to work ?

      What about the happiness of no wars , inflation , dollar devaluation and seeing rainbows everyday. ?

  7. To me happiness levels don’t change much throughout your life. People that I known for years seem to be the same happiness level now as they were then. I don’t think working, being retired has anything to do with it. Look around, people don’t change that much. Be happy!

    1. Very interesting. Are you saying your happiness has been a flat line for as long as you can remember? If so, I wonder what is the secret and what your level of happiness is.

      I think the highs and lows are what make life very interesting.

    2. If 10 is your number for the highest happiness level I am a 10. Nothing else in my life will make me any happier. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is my goal. I choose happiness. Everyone has a different path. Follow your core beliefs. Spirituality and prayer play a key role in happiness.

  8. I think the constant focus on “retirement” and the “golden years” is misguided. People want to dream that everything will be great in retirement and that the goal of life is retirement. My father in law worked every day of his life.. until he was about to retire at 59, but he unfortunatly had a stroke and died at 57. He saved every day of his life and drove a late model lexus which was too small for him. Whats the point?? Retirement is not guaranteed, many people have a heart problem or joint problem and can’t really travel or move around as freely in their 60-70’s. I say live the best life you can now, save a good amount and plan for the future. If you make it to retirement and have health then you are blessed. If you dont make it to retirement then at least you enjoyed life while you had it.

    Make good memories now. Then you have already won. Worst case is you look back on your good memories in old age.

  9. Having just retired at 59….I would highly recommend it. We have a net worth of approximately $8MM and I now devote about 2 hours a day to investing/managing a portion of that money. I aimed to retire at 55 but an opportunity “too good to pass up” came along. I’m glad I worked as long as I did, but even happier I didn’t work a single day more. My happiness has almost always been in the 8-9 range and the feeling of being retired has pushed it to borderline 10. The trick, in my opinion, is save/invest along the way and enjoy life. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, make it incredible.

    1. Congrats on your retirement! What was that opportunity? That was too good to pass up at? How much more money did you make because of it? What do you plan to do with your $8 million?

      1. Had the opportunity to lead a small start-up. Over those final few years my NW grew by about $2MM. We have a disabled 27 year-old daughter and my focus is on her happiness and ensuring she’ll have a life of her 3 loves: airplanes, hotels and restaurants :)

  10. You missed a big factor for happiness in retiring early…and a wisdom elderly people seem to develop. The ability to remove oneself from toxic people, situations, and environments. That was a huge part of my happiness increase in retirement. My blood pressure is lower..I no longer grind my teeth or binge eat food over stress..I can better take care of my health. I can focus on what’s important to me and not have my mind filled reliving bad experiences with people during the workday until 3 am. I have no doubt I’ll live longer, healthier and happier. I am finally in full control of my life and that motivates me to take care of myself which leads to even more happiness. Everyone notices I’m happier! I knew people who worked much longer to get a second home or things like that. They hardly used the second home…they had no time. Meanwhile the stress of work took quality years off their life. Now I have been retired for two years…and I may start a self employed small business for the fun of it. But it will be a self employed business that I am passionate about. All the best Sam!! Keep writing. You certainly helped me on my path to early retirement and I’m thriving in it!

    1. Paper Tiger

      Beav, everything you said applies to my experience as well. Getting away from the stress and toxicity associated with work has been the biggest lift to my satisfaction in retirement.

  11. It’s interesting to see that in your happiness chart, the peak of happiness comes around 10 years after retiring (or fake retiring). Sounds like you are right at the 10 year mark, which explains your high happiness score. As for me, I hit the 7th year of fake retirement this Summer. I feel like I’m already at an 8/10 already. Plus my fake retirement job is a dream job for me (10 – 15 hrs a week and 95% autonomy). So I think I’ll stick with my 8/10 score until I fully retire in 3-6 years.

    Question – Why did you choose the year 2042 to fully retire (end FS)? Just curious.

    1. Good observation on 10 years after retiring to feel peak happiness.

      I chose 2042 because that is the estimated year my daughter will graduate college (22 years old).

      The idea is to keep a small family business going as an insurance policy just in case she can’t get a job. Feels like a nice goal to have. The world can be harsh. Besides, I enjoy what I do.

      1. I’m not much of an entrepreneur, (I’m a career man) but one thing I do admire about you guys is that you can provide your children with “career insurance”. I think that’s pretty cool.

  12. Jim Johnson

    Happiness is about committing the next 16 weekends to teaching your child how to ride a bike…..Easy start with balance bikes than on to training wheels on kids bikes. Last take off the training wheels go to a grassy park with a slight slope down hill. They will fall a few times but it wont hurt as the grass keeps them going slow and protects their falls.. Had 6 kids and no broken bones while biking!

    1. Glad there were no broken bones! I didn’t go with training wheels. After eight sessions of me, holding him, he was able to ride on his own. It was such a great moment. I can’t wait to do the same for my daughter.

  13. Thanks for sharing your epiphany. It’s good to remind oneself of what it’s all about every once in a while, thanks for doing that for me today.

    I am reminded by a quote from the great Leonard Nimoy “ A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” For me this fits well with your thoughts about good enough happiness; that the goal to strive for is satisfaction and contentment, and to just let the perfect moments of happiness happen when they do.

  14. Susan from LA

    For younger retirees like me, I would guess most see a bump to 8 or 9 for a few months to a year to de-stress then go into the next year or two feeling a little depressed (5-6/10) for losing your identity and purpose. There is definitely guilt of no longer contributing to society. Although I don’t know why I thought I was contributing to society while working and making money.

    I was beating myself up for being too privileged and not giving my time and effort to worthy causes. Now I have decided I will just work on improving myself first before anything else. There are so many things I like to learn that I didn’t have time to before. Now I can. Once I decided that being a little selfish for self-care is not a major sin, my happiness level has gone back up to an 8.

    1. Good to hear you were back up to an eight. One or two years of 5-6 or six is a long time.

      I feel all of us will rationally end up, doing things that give us more purpose and meaning and joy. Some longer than others.

      We can’t forget there are plenty of people right in our neighborhood that could use some help. So volunteering to help people wherever they need help is a good start when one is feeling lost.

    2. “Although I don’t know why I thought I was contributing to society while working and making money.”

      Why did you think they were giving you money to do what you did?”

    3. After retiring in my early 40s, somewhat unexpectedly, and the 8 month “I’m free” world tour, I also felt a strong need to find my life purpose that would not interfere with my newfound freedom whether it was exercising, volunteering, consulting, etc. Whatever I did needed to not conflict with my young kids’s after school school activities.

      It took me about 3 years to find a groove. It is not my life’s purpose but it fills the time. I invested in a portfolio of apartments and work about 20 hours per week. I volunteer/coach. As a side benefit my net worth has increased many fold since retirement which was exciting.

      Once the kids are out of the house I might give another run at finding my life’s purpose.

  15. One of the best reasons to retire early is to go out on a high note (to steal a storyline from Seinfeld). I left at the tail end of what I referred to as the golden years of my industry. Little did I know the pandemic would hit and crash the golden years faster than I predicted. When companies cut budgets and staff, the luxury/unnecessary departments tend to get cut first. Thankfully, the golden years included dodging all of those cuts previously as the people in power decided it was worth keeping the facilities I worked in. Lately, however, I’m seeing layoffs hit these teams. I even heard that the manager of the second job I landed in the industry would have been laid off if he hadn’t retired a few months before. A good friend’s dad worked for a nationwide insurance company his whole career. When his family suggested he retire, he’d respond saying, “I’m making the most money I ever have and have the least amount of responsibility I’ve ever had. I think I’ll stay longer.” Eventually he got a ‘pink slip’ and that was the end of his career. No lead up, enjoyable anticipation, or retirement party. Just, “Thanks, bye.” At this point in my life I think I’d be ok with a layoff notice, but it would always sting a little (or a lot) thinking about all I gave that hardly anyone noticed and getting shown the door instead of leaving on my own terms. How much would I be willing to pay? Tough question given the market swings but my departure likely cost me around $1MM based on my original thought on how long I intended to stay at my last job.
    That last job was, in fact, my dream job but the corporate politics & bureaucracy and the slow pace of getting the simplest of tasks done wore down my patience. Being in a flawed ‘meritocracy’ where too much weight of my performance was linked to too many others that cared less or thought they knew how to do my job better than me was not a recipe for happiness so I had to leave the environment. It was at least a year of contemplative reflection to realize it was the right decision and accepting the cost, whether it was $1MM or something else.

    1. Thanks for putting a number on it. Even the best jobs are never ideal. Something always happens.

      This thing is always going to be there when one gets laid off. Even though I planned carefully for my layoff, it’s still strong when there was no retirement party. Do you want to feel special and feel like you contributed greatly. But if you retire early, those parties will likely never happen.

      But we move on and find our own community of friends and supporters. The transition can be rocking it, but we eventually find our way.

  16. I have to thank Obama for my retiring at 46 in 2013.

    I was in a high stress job, earning lots of money, but instead of feeling great…., I felt like I had become the number one enemy of the guy sitting in our president’s chair.

    The harder I worked, the more he blamed me for all the ills of the economy…. and talked constantly about how he wanted to tax me more…., Success became a bad thing in his vision for the country…. etc, etc….

    So you know what I did…?

    I quit! And it’s the best thing I ever did.

    And I can personally confirm (anecdotally) that your chart correctly captures the benefits of retiring younger….

    On a personal note, as you’ve written about before, I felt a tinge of guilt for ceasing to contribute to the economy at a such a young age…. But thanks to a Obama, all those silly thoughts went away….

      1. Funny you should ask that, because Trump’s election did actually give me hope that my fellow citizens changed their mind about using the government to confiscate from anyone having a successful moment….We even put together a business plan to launch another company….and had wealthy investors interested…

        But alas, my fellow Americans went on to pick Biden….So now, demands of “tax the rich”, wealth taxes, taxing unrealized capital gains, et al, are back in full force as people demand that others should pay for the their lives….

        So similar to you, I am surrendered to just take things easy and let people earn their own way without voting themselves into my wallet….

        P.S This IMHO is the biggest threat to our country, as I have many otherwise-ambitious friends who also just got tired of the tax-the-rich culture, and gave up…

        The above topic would make a fascinating post….but the popular press would crucify you if you wrote it…..

        P.P.S. Same thing happened to Rome, and all the rest of the great societies that fell when the populace determined they were “justified” to vote themselves a share of their neighbors efforts….

        1. Sam doesnt understand that conservative values helped him become wealthy. You are talking to a brick wall. He thinks Biden is actually good. He doesnt underatand that probably 90% of his readers disagree. It is a huge hole for Sam that he is oblivious to.

          1. Hi Andrew, feel free to point out some specifics about what I don’t understand. I’m not sure how this discussion became political. But I guess people always find a way to make it political if they want. It’s always nice to get some feedback from others on what they think I think.

            Feel free to also share something about yourself and how politics affect your behavior. Thanks!

            You may enjoy theses posts:

            Are there really people who work less than 40 hours a week and complain why they can’t get ahead?

            Socialism as a means to a brighter future

            1. Andrew is simply pointing out how you consistently fail to see that the “Tax the rich” culture perpetrated by the political left has consequences.

              If I am told I need to be punished (e.g. punitively taxed) for successfully earning a lot of money, it reduces my motivation to earn a lot of money.

              We tax things we don’t want, like like cigarettes, alcohol, etc…. So when you tax “success” you take away the incentive to be successful.

              The liberal mind set cannot seem to take this on board, because they desperately need those tax dollars to lure voters with giveaways (e.g. student loan forgiveness, stimulus checks, et al)…but taxing success is EXTREMELY un-motivating.

              And this de-motivating tax policy by Obama, Biden, Sanders, Warren, Pelosi, et al…. is part of the reason why people like me (and perhaps Andrew) just give up and retire early…..

              This is why “politics” is inseparable from discussing the early retirement movement you seem to want to write about….

              P.S. Hope this helps you understand how to NOT alienate a significant segment of the reader-population you wish to reach, in the future (even if you don’t like us).

              1. “We tax things we don’t want, like like cigarettes, alcohol, etc….”

                …and yet, none of these taxes have made much impact on consumption, have they? People that make a lot of money do it because they want to, some are even compelled to, so the dire future you project won’t happen.

                Worry more about the 20% of people that do 80%+ of all the actual work deciding that it’s not worth them playing anymore and opting out.

                1. Farmer's Daughter

                  I live in flyover country. Pretty sure my definition of work is different from yours. Did you mean 20% of people control 80%+ of the wealth? It’s frustrating for the regular folks with W-2 income to see shareholders and upper management getting richer while they see their benefits reduced and wages that doesn’t keep up with the cost of living. Kinda makes a guy want to opt out and not play anymore. Luckily, I’m self-employed so I get to take advantage of legal tax deductions that don’t always seem fair but save me a lot in taxes.

              2. Got it. Thanks for highlighting my blind spot. Didn’t realize that’s how my posts come across.

                For some reason, politics doesn’t really bother me. I just try focus on taking action for a more optimal life, no matter who is in office.

                I think one of the best times to retire is under a democratic president due to a larger safety net and potentially higher taxes. Not sure if it sits well with you. But it’s what I want to do.

        2. Sorry things have been so hard for you after retirement. Do you think a lot of the reason why you are depressed and get fired up about politics is due to genetics?

          What are your children doing now and how are they struggling in this current difficult tax the rich environment you dislike?

          After I accumulated about $2 million, I actually stopped being as angry about politics and other things.

          I notice I am happier than less stressed in retirement.

          1. Perhaps reading through it a second or third time will help…?

            (Unless its a genetic thing….)

            1. “It just depresses me when I understand what this new snowball towards socialism will mean for our children and grandchildren” – Written by you.

              What are your children doing now and how are they struggling in this current difficult tax the rich environment you dislike? Or do you not have children?

              Just trying to understand what you are depressed about and why your children may be struggling if you are financially set.

              1. Allow me to say it more plainly, then:

                Socialism has failed in every country where it has been tried.

                As Sam explains on this very blog, socialism is “finally” getting entrenched in the US after several hundred years of successfully fighting it.

                I have travelled extensively to socialist countries. After the initial euphoric spending phase wears off, what comes next is just very depressing. (Hop on a plane to Venezuela to see your children’s future for yourself…)

                Incentives to earn money are destroyed as skillful politicians turn the masses against those who are most productive.

                Incentives to take from what others earn are applauded. It’s no longer a virtue to earn it yourself. “You didn’t build that”

                The spiral is nearly impossible to stop…So many examples, yet we barrel ahead anyway….

                I do not wish this fate on my children or grandchildren, and find the thought that we had the power to stop it, and didn’t, “depressing”.

                This is not to say, “I” am depressed. On the contrary, as explained, I am one of the last great benefactors of working during the final years that our country embraced capitalism. And it has put me in a wonderful place.

                But it was merely by luck of when I was born. Today’s children and grandchildren will not have it so good, and this saddens me, for their future.

                They will, in one way or another, spend their entire lives, paying down the $31.4T (and rapidly growing debt) our liberal policies of today, will inflict on them, forever….

                But hey, at least you, Sam and I are all doing great right now, huh?

                1. 1 – US is not a socialist country or even close to becoming one.
                  2 – I find it disingenuous your use of the dumpster fire known as Venezuela as your example. Shows you are just driven by fear….

    1. Apparently, 5,388,282 new businesses started in 2021 in the great patriotic US of A. This broke the previous record for new business applications in a year, 4,381,000 ; for mathematically challenged – its, 23% higher than any previous all-time-high record. And 2022 numbers also eclipsed that 4.3M record. It seems real Capitalism in-action here!

      And you waited 4 full-years in-vain with no action, only to complain someone didn’t get re-elected! Sleeping at the wheel, much !?

      Historically speaking – just about all great empires collapse – Romans collapsed after 400-some years of great generational success, not flounder in mere 4 years.

      What was the need for political rant related to this article anyway !? Sam, thanks for the Chart – great article ..

      1. All businesses are not created equal….Tons of little mom-n-pops r hiding in those numbers…. Perhaps trying to get set up for the next government giveaway …?

        So think about it this way….We’re $31.4T in debt as your president does everything in his power to spend us further into oblivion….

        And one day, all that reckless spending needs to be paid back…

        So who do you think the tax-the-rich crowd is going to demand pay for it….?

        And if you get caught with significant equity exposed to their greed, you will not be able to hide….Does this build confidence to put significant capital at risk?

        So as others have already said, you can’t talk about why people choose to give up and retire early without addressing the elephant in the room…..

        The one point I have conceded to Sam, is if u can’t beat ‘em, join em….

        It just depresses me when I understand what this new snowball towards socialism will mean for our children and grandchildren…

        We are not passing on a better world to them, but at least Sam got to earn his fortune before it was too late….

        1. Didn’t you get to your fortune before it was “too late” as well? I would say millions of people who’ve been saving and investing for the past 20+ years have been able to get their fortunes before it’s too late as well. And the children of these millions of people will have some financial cushion as well.

          Instead of feeling depressed, I’d feel thankful. Think about this positive. Our children will have easier lives and be richer thanks to our generation. Not bad!

          The top 10 happiest countries in the world are consistently from Europe. And they have security and a more kick back lifestyle.


          The Importance Of Feeling Consistently Uncomfortable For Personal Growth

          I’ve Seen The Future And It Looks So Bright

          1. I did get to earn my fortune in a capitalistic system…And I am eternally grateful that those who came before me resisted the urge to succumb to Socialism….(It just sounds so wonderful for everyone to get free stuff, in exchange for votes, doesn’t it…?)

            And yes, Europe is a bit ahead of us on the ride to financial oblivion….And I guess the economically oblivious over there are enjoying the party while they run up the credit card…..

            But it will end very badly, of course… what other outcome is possible?
            (Ever been to Venezuela to see first hand how Socialism works out in the end?)

            As for your children, why not pass them on a world where they can earn their own way, rather than get the inheritance scraps from mom-n-dad…?

            Why do they have to spend their entire careers just working to make the interest payments on all the debt we’re running up….?

            Anyway, relating all this specifically to the topic of your post…,

            “The best reason to retire early is…” to not be further exploited by the tax-the-rich crowd……It used to take me until the end of June each year, to get to actually keep the first dollar I “earned”….Not any more…

            Further, if I invest my hard-earned capital into another business, by the time it reaches success, I would be too exposed to avoid being forced to give the bulk of my efforts to the left….So on the sidelines, I sit….

            As for, it will be interesting to see if you change your thoughts on “ignoring politics” (yeah right!) once the full force of what the left’s tax machine has in store for you…

            For instance, since your cost-basis is probably near zero, whatever valuation you currently claim, will all be exposed to their plans for taxing unrealized capital gains (every year)…And if they can’t make that liberal-nirvana happen soon enough, they’re gaining steam on their plans for an annual “wealth tax” – yummy!

            And even if you sell, you won’t be able to hide because they’ll get you in the form of realized capital gains…

            And if you think you’ll be able to pass it tax free onto your children….? Not so fast….Where do you think they’re headed with the estate tax thresholds for a country that racks up $40T or $50T in debt…?

            Anyway, as others have said, you seem to have a blind spot to all this….Not sure if it’s because you live in SF, or perhaps you secretly do see it, but you just like to get people like me riled up (more page views anyone…..?)

        2. Totally hear you on Debt – who is going to pay (pay-back) for it !?
          Reading from online article (thebalancemoney) — just realized nearly $2 trillion annual debt has been added to deficit since 2017 — highest ever !!

          Hope GDP and Revenues grows faster than the debt (and inflation/egg-flation softens this blow further).

          How are you protecting your hard-cherished assets from the fangs of inflation/egg-flation !?

        3. “your President”…, we did not get to $31.4T in debt under just one Party – it took both.

          2016 $19,573
          2017 $20,245
          2018 $21,516
          2019 $22,719
          2020 $27,748
          2021 $29,617
          2022 $30,824

          If we want to improve this situation, we need everyone involved by 1) stop blaming each other, 2) put everything on the table, and 3) start compromising.

  17. Very cool chart! Makes a lot of sense to me that retiring early would bring more years of happiness. I also think retiring before the traditional age if you have the means is a great way to hedge on having more happiness.

    The reason I say this is because both of my parents retired around traditional age but have had all sorts of health ailments. So because of that, their curves aren’t like the chart. If I were to draw them, I’d say they rose only slightly after retirement due to no more stress of their jobs, but then plateaued and have been declining for a while. Every time I talk to them for the past 10 years or so, all I hear is complaining non stop about this and that with their health and other stuff.

    So being able to enjoy life and have flexibility with your schedule at an earlier age while you’re healthy and strong physically and mentally is rather priceless.

    1. Yes, that is the challenge. Retire early enough so that you can enjoy your life without too many health problems. People really need to highlight this challenge. I am experiencing growing health issues myself that were not existent 10 years ago.

      As a result, I am playing as much tennis and Pickleball as possible, because I feel my body will, for one day fail. But then, the more I play, the quicker my body breaks down. What a catch 22.

  18. Your early retirement happiness chart is interesting, from my experience (retired at 38 – 2 years ago) and from what I’ve seen other people talk about online after retirement there’s a few ways happiness during early retirement can go.

    2 years before retirement my happiness didn’t go up. I was close, but not close enough that I could feel the stress melt away. Too early to just walk away (even though in hindsight I could have walked away and done something less stressful since it was more about letting my investments do the work rather than me).

    1 year before my retirement my stress levels decreased significantly. That was where I basically thought I could walk away from my paycheck at any time, but just to be safe I was doing a trial run on living off of non-paycheck money to make sure my plan was solid. One more year syndrome basically. But I didn’t force myself to “grind” like I used to, it made me feel more confident and calm at work knowing I was secure.

    Immediately after retiring there was a 6 month or so decompression which was obviously better than working, at first it just felt like a long vacation where I wasn’t traveling. It took a while to get past the point where I felt like I needed to be doing something related to work. After the decompression period I feel like a lot of people, myself included, start to grasp that the community that you spent your working days with is not coming back. You may not have liked the stress or some of the people, but you also don’t get the camaraderie that you used to have with coworkers. I feel like this is a crucial period for early retirees. Their happiness can either go up to an 8 or back down to a 7 as they find out what to do next. I myself started working with animals and a bunch of other similar minded volunteers. I found new communities to be a part of eventually. Before that I was a little lost and meaning in my days was starting to dwindle a bit. What I’ve seen a lot of other early retirees talk about is not having that meaning after work disappears and they go back to that despair of not not feeling like their life is productive at all.

    People talk about retiring to something rather than from something. While I do see the importance of that, I didn’t have my next step planned out exactly when I retired. I had ideas of what I wanted to do (work with animals), but I didn’t have the time to try them. I also think that a lot of other people don’t have the bandwidth to take on a bunch of new hobbies while working, at least not the hobbies that take up maybe 20 hours a week. You also can never really know how you like something until you try it.

    For me, I guess I am another case of failed early retirement. My volunteering with animals turned into a 3 month part time job with wildlife. Spending my mornings feeding racoons, raptors, opossums and squirrels was so fulfilling that now I’m going to do that full time for a year then re-evaluate what I want to do next. Perhaps I can’t follow your early retiree happiness chart then since I’m going back to work.

    1. Working with animals sounds stress-reducing! 15-20 hours of doing something you love is about right, even before I had kids. Any longer and the marginal benefit starts declining IMO.

      Do you have a partner and kids? I’ve found family can easily soak up 100% of my time.

      If not, then it’s all about finding and befriending that community with shared interests. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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