The Secret To Happiness… And Why It Has Nothing To Do With Money

Discover How A Simple Daily Habit Can Create More Happiness Than Achieving Financial Freedom

Key Ideas

  1. The unexpected reason financial freedom causes unhappiness – and how to avoid it.
  2. The best way to enjoy freedom now regardless of your financial situation.
  3. Includes a free, printable checklist to take daily action.

You don’t have to be rich to be happy. Cliche maybe, but also true.

The secret to happiness is well within your reach.

It is a state of mind and completely within your control regardless of your financial situation.

Don’t make the same mistake I made and wait until you gain financial freedom to learn these lessons. You can have happiness right now regardless of your finances or what’s going on in your life because happiness is a choice.

Below I share my personal story explaining the painful process I went through to learn these lessons about money and happiness — and the secret to happiness — so that you can hopefully avoid repeating my mistakes.

Then I will provide you with step-by-step instructions showing you how to achieve personal freedom right now regardless of your financial situation.

Let’s get started…

The secret to happiness and why it has nothing to do with money

How Financial Freedom Forces You to Learn the Truth About Money and Happiness

There is a seldom spoken, little secret about financial freedom that I will let you in on. It is counter-intuitive and illustrates an essential principle about money and happiness.

Here it is: when you achieve financial freedom your life suddenly changes from pre-determined to self-determined.

The surprising affect of this is you are suddenly stripped of all excuses for why your life might be less than ideal. You instantly become solely responsible for your happiness with no excuses allowed.

To understand how this works and why it’s important, let’s first look at the reality faced by most people living the work-a-day existence.

Their lives are largely pre-determined. They spend the bulk of their time working to earn the money necessary to build a better lifestyle. The little time that remains is quickly swallowed up by family, errands and other personal needs.

Very little free time remains to create your unique life destiny, and very little creative thought is required to live out your lifetime. You work 40 hours (or more) per week for 40 years and try to have a little fun with what little time remains.

It’s pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Society wrote the script and nearly everyone follows it.

However, once you achieve financial freedom all that changes. Suddenly 2,000 hours a year previously spent on work related issues is yours to do with as you please. Your days have zero pre-determined structure.

Your time becomes an open canvas for you to paint the life of your dreams upon.

Let me repeat this because it is very important: one of the little-discussed aspects of attaining financial freedom is how your life changes from pre-determined to self-determined.

You don’t get to follow the default script imposed by society because financial freedom obliterates the script and leaves a void in its place.

For some people the adventure this situation presents along with the “burden” of responsibility is exciting, but for many others it’s frightening. You become self-responsible for your day, your life, and most importantly… your happiness.

All the excuses are gone.

You no longer have the excuse of a job and a nasty little boss to blame your unhappiness on. You no longer have your days automatically filled with everything to do so that you never have to think for yourself, deal with your personal issues, or constructively plan your life.

With financial freedom all those excuses are gone, many of your day-to-day responsibilities are gone, and you must re-create yourself and your life.

For some people that becomes a tremendous and unexpected burden. It happens to new retirees every day and it  happened to me in 1997 when I sold the hedge fund business and had enough money to retire.

My plan was to marry my long-time girlfriend (currently my long-time wife) and take a six month honeymoon by traveling around Europe and the Middle-East with nothing more than a backpack and a credit card.

Then It Was All Downhill From There Once The Unexpected Reality Struck…

I was on top of the world. I had achieved financial freedom, found love, and was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I was young, healthy, and had my whole life in front of me. It should have been nirvana — and it was for a brief period of time.

Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can poverty.
– Leo Rosten

I made the classic mistake I see so many of my financial coaching clients make — and that you are likely making as well. I projected my value for personal freedom onto money.

I naively labored under the delusion that if I could just attain financial freedom, I would be personally free as well. I falsely believed that once I no longer had to work I would enter the pro-leisure circuit of life where every day would be filled with fun activities, friends, and one continuous holiday.

I was wrong. It doesn’t work that way.

When I achieved financial freedom and quit working, the biggest realization I had was that I was the same guy. I had the same hang-ups and personal issues facing the same life I had before.

The only difference was now I had a lot more time to wallow in it, and no distractions or excuses from the presumed work-a-day life script to distract me from seeing the truth about my life.

What I realized was the goal all along had been personal freedom — not financial freedom — and the one thing I knew for certain was I had not achieved the goal. I was happy with financial freedom because it provided the time, money and flexibility to focus on personal freedom. (No complaints there.)

But I also realized that achieving financial freedom had done little more than lift the mask that hid the deeper issues. It had removed all the distractions and external things, like job and money issues, that I used to project my unhappiness onto.

It forced me to look inward and own full responsibility for my internal state of being because I could no longer project my problems outward on life’s circumstances.

In a nutshell, when you have the financial ability to arrange your life in any way you want, the one thing you lose is any excuse for aspects of your life that don’t measure up.

Financial freedom removes the facade by eliminating the excuses.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t slip into depression or anything like that. I just wanted to know how to enjoy each and every day of my life — no excuses allowed — regardless of the circumstances of the day. I didn’t want to have another unhappy day ever again.

This set me on a journey of personal growth in pursuit of that elusive animal known as happiness.

While I’m still a little shy of reaching that lofty objective, I have made significant progress toward the goal and I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. One of my discoveries I would like to share with you here. It’s what I call my “Daily Happiness Accountability.”

Secret to Happiness Quote 1 Image

Daily Happiness Accountability

The essence of the daily happiness accountability is that your happiness is a product of your thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less.

This may sound goofy to some of my hard-nosed finance readers, but it’s timeless wisdom that really works. Hang in there while I explain.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts, therefore guard accordingly; and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue, and reasonable nature.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

To get myself in the correct frame of mind every day, I created a “cheat sheet” that can be read in less than a minute. This cheat sheet serves as a sort of Cliff Notes version of the greatest wisdom on the subject of personal freedom. You can read it each morning and evening to slowly but surely re-train your mind for happiness.

It doesn’t matter what occurs during your day or how many things go wrong. You can still experience happiness. All it takes is the correct frame of mind.

Your daily practice is to read the following brief list of thoughts at least once per day so that you re-focus your mind on personal happiness. After a month of practice, you should notice tangible results. After 90 days of habitual practice, you should have internalized much of the thinking pattern.

Best of all, it costs you nothing. You risk nothing, and nobody can sell you anything. It isn’t even complicated.

From an investment perspective, that’s a no-brainer proposition. It offers huge potential reward yet costs nothing and has no risk. The only price you pay is the work it takes to put into practice with enough persistence to notice the difference.

Remember, your happiness is a state of mind. You don’t have to be rich, and you don’t have to wait until you reach some level of achievement in the future.

You can have happiness right now.

Learn from my mistake. Don’t wait to become rich to figure this stuff out. Financial freedom is important and worthwhile, but the real game is personal freedom and happiness.

That’s what will make the biggest difference in the quality of your life.

Below are some of my favorite thoughts to re-read each day that redirect my brain toward choosing happiness. I emphasized certain quotes to give a quick mini-reminder when I’m in a rush:

Choose Happiness as The Priority for the Day

  • Most people seek happiness as a by-product of their achievements, actions and other things they do throughout the day. This makes their happiness dependent upon what happens during their day. I can make happiness a direct choice without any dependency.
  • MY HAPPINESS DOES NOT REQUIRE FAVORABLE EVENTS, INTERACTIONS, OR ANY PARTICULAR STIMULUS. I can just choose happiness at any given moment, no matter what’s going on and for absolutely no other reason than to just be happy.
  • Suffering today in an effort to earn greater success and income for tomorrow so that I can relax and feel secure at some future date is insane. I can embrace the adventure that is my work. I do what I can each day without stress but with creativity and joy, and trust the results will be meaningful.
  • I can pursue all my goals from a happy place today. My internal state of being doesn’t depend on external events that I believe will make me happy at some unknown future.
  • There’s no reason to limit happiness to the dessert in life. It can be the whole meal.
  • Happiness is an option and misery is an option. They are both choices you can apply to the same day’s events. Which option do you choose?

Let Go Of Judgments

  • Adopt an accepting attitude to all things and events in life.
  • Try to go the whole day without blaming, shaming or complaining. No negative thoughts.
  • See everyone as being on their own heroic journey through the trials and tribulations of life. We are all doing the best we can with what we know. If others do you wrong, then have compassion for the pain that motivated them to do wrong.
  • Develop a trust that everything in life is somehow for the best and accept that you will never know why or how.
  • Remember this great quote from Byron Katie: “There are three kinds of business in the world: your business, other people’s business, and God’s business.” I think of it this way: unhappiness always occurs when I stray from my business. I have no right being in God’s business because I don’t know the big picture. Anytime I’m in other people’s business, I’m in judgment which makes me unhappy. My business is where my happiness is. Everything else creates unhappiness.

Be Present


Be Grateful

  • Gratitude isn’t just about enjoying and appreciating. It’s a bigger idea about living in the blessing and wonder of an experience.
  • Train yourself to become sensitive and appreciative for all the miracles that occur for daily life to simply go on.
  • Notice how much time today is spent on thoughts of gratitude as opposed to thoughts about problems.
  • Happiness doesn’t mean you have more to be grateful for. It means you spend more time being grateful for what you already have.
  • Say or do something to make your gratitude visible and real.
  • Begin and end each day in active gratitude. As you lay down to sleep think of five things from the day to be grateful for. Before you get out of bed in the morning think of five things to be grateful for.
  • Gratitude is simply a choice to become aware of the good things that are already true in any given situation and become consciously thankful for them.

Create Strong Social Connection

  • The risk we associate with authenticity is illusory. The more we nurture our true selves, remove our masks, and allow uncensored expression, the more our relationships and surroundings will support our true selves.
  • Personal authenticity creates inner-outer harmony and greater connection with others.
  • Simplify your life and greet every person and situation with one face.
  • Quality relationships nurture. Quantity distracts.

Live With Contribution

  • Find at least one way each day to make another person happy. It could be as simple as a kind word, a personal acknowledgement, giving anonymously, or allowing someone in a rush to get ahead.
  • By giving happiness, you experience happiness.

Secret to Happiness Quote 2 Image

My suggestion is to print the points in this article and review the list daily for at least three months. Try to put these thoughts into practice as you go through your day.

This will force the thoughts into your brain so that you live them rather than just intellectualize them. They will become part of your daily existence.

On days when you don’t have enough time or need a quick refresher just scan for the bold and capitalized items on the list. These are the key principles.

Here’s a link to an MS-Word file containing just the checklist. You can print it, edit it, and tinker with it to suit your needs. No opt-in required or other tricks. Just enjoy.

I know this checklist has made a big difference in my life and hopefully it will do the same for you.

Happiness is found in the journey, not the destination. Don’t make the same mistake I did and wait until you achieve financial freedom to realize the importance and value of these ideas. Learn them now and begin enjoying the benefits today while you work toward financial freedom.

Finally, let me know what quotes or sayings you find particularly valuable in your own practice that I failed to include in this list. Add your favorites to the comments section below. There is always room for more wisdom so please share with us.

Here’s to your happiness!

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Donna Sako
Donna Sako

Yes, it can be. But I have found it easier as I practiced.


Hi Donna, I sure wish I had learned it at age 10. I'm still working on getting this in my bones. Challenging sometimes.

Donna Sako
Donna Sako

Somehow at age 10 I realized that happiness was a choice. When I changed how I reacted to things and began to see things in joy and gratitude. I am a very optimist person. I still use causion and common sense but I do not dwell in the negative. Your explaination was right on.


Hi Todd, thanks sincerely for sharing your experiences. Your key points in bold are now on my phone lock screen. I can't help but see this several times a day. Really helpful post.


You're on the money here. The secret for me was definitely mindset. I learned the importance of gratitude and giving. It opened up doors for me. I realized how much happier I am and it had nothing to do with amassing tons of cash.


Really enjoyed article. There was one point I wondered how you did it: you said at any given moment you could just choose to be happy. In my experience, I can't will my emotions away in a healthy way - something has to change: I acknowledge it, focus on something else, I do something physical, etc.

Do you find that to be the case too? If so, what do you do to bring yourself back to happiness in the moment?

Financialmentor moderator

@CharlieBenkendorf One word - gratitude. Unhappiness results from focusing on the thing that violates my expectations to the exclusion of all that is good in my life. When I refocus my mind on all this good (through gratitude) and appreciate all that is truly amazing in the world around me then the sorrow vanishes. At least, that is my experience.


This is an amazingly insightful article. The idea that your state of mind determines your state of being really resonates with me. I can see how peoplepreoccupy themselves with making a living, but use this as a way to avoid the work they need to do on themselves. Thank you for pointing that out.


I truly appreciate this article, your perspective, and generosity. We will print up the list and read it daily. 


Something I think we all need to remind ourselves of everyday. Always looking for more opportunities to become better. Thanks for the article and information!

Financialmentor moderator

@Julien Levy Thanks for the quote correction. I love quotes, and I always run into this problem of original sourcing and exact language since there are so many closely related and paraphrased versions.


Hi Todd,

This is a fantastic article you have written.  It's refreshing to hear from someone who has as much to say about life as they do about money.I spent years procrastinating about becoming a financial planner, did all the study but couldn't cope with the industry once I realised about the "kickbacks". I must admit I found this time tough as I didn't know which path I should follow. I've now embarked on a finance blog in Australia and find the freedom to write exhilarating. I haven't found the writing as fluid as you have mastered over the years you have had your website running. 

Congratulations, I find blogs like yours inspiring.  Rob Bredin 

Financialmentor moderator

@yoursavings Thanks for your feedback Rob! All I can say is that I try my best every day and hopefully my writing gets better with practice.


I printed up the check list sheet, thank you for this article..Great stuff.


Thanks a lot for this! a few things that i really connected to : 

Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling  

Happiness is found in the journey, not the destination.  

happiness isn't something you experience, it's something you remember


And if you want some quotes and exercises that really changed my life:

"I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet" (heard it first from Robin Sharma i belief, reading this sentence alone always puts me in a grateful mindset )


- every day think of 3 things you're grateful for, new stuff every day..write them down...after a month you'll have 100 things you're grateful for infront of your eyes...

- there's a stoicm exercise to imagine everything you value as if its gone and vanished..that way you'll appreciate much more what you got...

- or when you around people you love imagine as if they'll die tomorrow and if its the last time you'll see you'll act than? (a bit harsh but very powerful)


Thanks for the wisdom Todd. This accords with my life experience too. But we need constant reminders, so much appreciated.

"There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will."  --Epictetus

"Your purpose is to be yourself....All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle.”  --Thich Nhat Hanh 


Another good article Todd. I really appreciate how you weave the psychology of money and happiness into some of your work. I don't know of any other website/person/group that serves it up this way, so job well done on filling this void with very useful information. 

My favorite "thought" from above is:

Be Present
I can't emphasize how much NOT living in the present moment has negatively impacted my life- it's easier said than done, but something I think everyone should should give a lot of thought to. It's almost impossible to be unhappy when you focus on the exact moment that you currently reside it. If we focused on "the moment" like we focus on a great book or television show, we'd be much happier individuals.

Financialmentor moderator

@Finishedat50 Thanks. I appreciate your feedback. Glad it was helpful. Yeah, I have several favorites as shown by the highlighting. It varies day-to-day depending on the situation.


There is no such thing as past or future. It is always NOW. When was it not NOW? NOW is all you ever have to work with. It was never, and never will be, anything other than NOW. So it's a huge waste of energy to regret the past or worry about the future. Instead, just be in the present moment, ever mindful of the true value and power of NOW.