What Makes You Happy Interview No.2 : 101 Ways To Find Happiness

Welcome to the second in an interview series about happiness. You can check out interview #1 for a breakdown of what this series is about but in simple terms, it’s about happiness and what it means to people.  Happiness can be complicated but it’s always something we’re looking to achieve. In addition, we all have different definitions and I set out to find out what those might be for others. 

Today, we’re talking with my friend Adam from Minafi!

What makes you happy with Adam from Minafi

Adam, welcome and thanks for participating. As always, I’ll start with an easy one. Tell us about yourself.

Hey hey! I’m Adam and help millennials learn how to invest over at minafi.com.

I’m 36, married with a cute dog, living in Salt Lake City now after growing up in Florida.

I got introduced to investing back when I was 23 and mom passed away unexpectedly. I did everything I could to learn how to responsibly handle the $100k she left me – which led down a path of learning everything I could about money to not be taken advantage of by the many unscrupulous characters out there.

For over a decade I’ve been a web developer working at startups and growing companies. I love working on the web and being able to imagine something and turn that idea into reality. I’ve taught a bunch of programming classes online for Code School (now Pluralsight) and find sharing knowledge is one of the best ways to learn more myself.

When I’m not working, a perfect day for me starts with waking up and having coffee with my wife, before heading out for hike while listening to an audio book. Afterwards, I’d recharge with some In-n-out burger, relax a bit then write some on my blog.

Sorry to hear about your mother although it sounds like you took a difficult time and turned it into a growth opportunity so kudos on that. 

I’m on board with your perfect day idea although I’m not a coffee drinker. Also Shake Shack guy myself as we don’t have In-N-Out in my neck of the woods. In addition, I think a perfect day is a great segue to our main topic. Tell me, what does happiness mean to you?

What I love is an ongoing balance between challenges and time to recuperate with play and relaxation. Some days may mean more of one than the other, but any given day I enjoy a little of both. 

By challenges I mean things that go a little outside my comfort zone and help me grow. This could be exercise, learning something new,working on a personal project or anything I’m putting effort into improving. One of my favorite things is to challenge myself to create something. This could range from a decoration for the house, to a plan for a trip to programming an entire website.

Challenges can even be at work (and should be)! Being paid to learn and grow in your career is an amazing way to stay interested. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to work in places where I kept challenging myself to learn new things and put those back into practice. It’s an addicting and motivating cycle.

Play and relaxation on the other hand, are everything else. Play is a conversation – playing a video game, a board game, exploring a city, going for a hike, even exercising can be play if you’re doing it right. Relaxation is one-sided rest, which would be watching TV or browsing Reddit(which I admit I spend entirely too much time on).

Happiness for me is a balance between these two that shifts based on what I need.

Adam, that’s a great way of looking at it; I do agree that balance is hugely important in life. It’s also great to see that you found a job that can be part of that balance with a role that challenges you and excites you. The key part of that is the ability to grow in that role and not get bored. Above all, I found that I was definitely less happy in roles where I stagnated and wasn’t learning. 

It sounds like you’re definitely on the way to finding happiness or even being there. Do you think that’s accurate?

Some days I do better at this than others. I don’t think of this as an achievable place, but more of a mindset that helps guide happiness. If I find myself being pulled too much to the consumption side, I’ll often write in a journal for a bit about things I’m most interested in doing. Every time this will motivate me into action to challenge myself with something new.

Very interesting and something I often think about myself. Happiness is definitely a state of mind that is possibly better defined as contentment with a path towards happy times. 

Tell me about your journey. Do you feel like you’re where you want to be right now?

From a financial perspective I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’m on the verge of financial independence, and have done so without being overly frugal. We live in an apartment and spend way too money at Whole Foods – two things that many money optimizers would roll their eyes at.

Rather than approaching life with a money-first approach, I set a list of 101 goals for myself in this life. This list is a challenge to myself to think big and focus on what I want out of life first, and think about money second. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work in high paying jobs that has made this less of a trade off than it would be if we made less income.

It definitely sounds like you’re in a good spot right now. However, it’s also clear you understand how lucky you are to be where you are and appreciate all you’ve got and that’s good to see. 

I took a look at your goals and was impressed. There’s certainly a lot of lofty goals there. I did notice a focus on lifelong learning and improving as well as reading a lot of books. Tell me about the books or articles that helped you along this journey.

I’m obsessed with listening to audio books. I listen to around 75 books a year, leaning towards science fiction, fantasy, self-improvement and memoirs.

The book that got me started down this financial path was The Bogleheads Guide to Investing, an amazing introduction to low-cost, diversified, index fund investing. The topics from that book are timeless and the cornerstone of how I think the vast majority of people should invest.

After learning how to invest back around 2009, I started down this journey to build wealth. Around 2012 Mr. Money Mustache posted his now famous Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement post. I knew how to invest at that point, but that article gave me a goal on how much I needed. I think without this target in mind, I wouldn’t have challenged myself to save more and spend less.

MMM’s article inspired me to create An Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence. This is the post I wanted to read when I started down this whole FIRE journey.

Hey thanks for sharing that interactive guide; it’s pretty cool! Let’s get back to that happiness discussion. Tell me about some things you thought would give you a big boost in that area but turned out to be disappointing. 

I am an only child. That meant that when my mom passed away, I inherited a lifetime of stuff. The process of sifting through everything accumulated over decades left me wanting a much more simple life with fewer possessions. This had a profound impact on my consumption habits going forward: from opting out of freebies at conferences, to buying fewer clothes, to seeing how few things I needed. 

As a side effect of this, we no longer needed the space of a house. That led us to find a smaller place to live which has made us much happier.

It’s interesting to hear how little many of us actually need to be content. We’re still in an apartment myself but we might be opposites in that we need a bit more space so my wife can have room for some of her hobbies like painting.

How about the flip side of the prior question.  What are some things you didn’t expect much of but got a lot more.

Journaling is a habit I never thought much of. It’s a deeply personal habit to write about what you have experienced, what you’re thinking or what you want out of life. There’s something different about it when I write those thoughts down as compared to when I’m only thinking them in my head. The thoughts become clearer, I explore alternate routes and I ask myself more questions.

Very introspective of you Adam! I know I certainly sometimes use this blog as an idea board and writing things down does have an impact on your thought process. It’s neat that you go beyond that and write on your own in a personal journey as well.

On Minafi, your blog, since we’re on that subject, money is an important subject so how much of an impact do you think money has on a person’s happiness. 

On my blog I do write about money quite a bit. Minafi focuses on financial independence through investing, minimalism & mindfulness. Money to me is an enabler of time. When you’re earning money and saving it, you’re actually earning time for yourself later. Money and time are going to give you space to do what you want – but you’ll still need dreams, challenges and goals to fill that space. That’s where mindfulness comes in for me. Being mindful about what you want out of life, being mindful of how it makes you feel and how you impact others and the world.

It’s interesting that you mention mindfulness and I found myself thinking of that more these days. I think a lot of people find themselves being more aware of the experiences occurring in the present moment as they get older.  Even before you mentioned it, I had that word in my mind reading your earlier answers.

It definitely seems like you’re in a good spot now. How much of that was hard work and are there any things you want to change going forward?

I’ve been very fortunate with money, but part of that has been the result of working 60+ hour weeks through out my 20s while also being at the right place at the right time. This has left me very close to reaching my own financial independence number, which is somewhere around $2 million.

One way I’d like to challenge myself is to be MORE frugal. Many expenses we have could be reduced with a bit of substitution or planning. Bulk meal planning for the week from Costco instead of eating out, travel hacking instead of buying full-price airline tickets, dog sitting with friends rather than boarding – all can chip away at our spending without lowering our happiness. 

Let’s talk about those expenses. We could all spend less on certain things but I also want to find out what people spend money on that they value. You mentioned minimalism earlier thus it seems like you prefer to spend on experiences over things.

Our spending on experiences has grown drastically over the years – probably too much. We used to travel once or twice a year total, but this year we’ve traveled internationally twice and domestically 6 times.

That adds up fast! Just this year we spent $15,000 on our honeymoon, significantly lowering our savings rate for the year. It was a once in a lifetime trip and we don’t regret it one bit. 

We plan to continue spending on experiences without a doubt. I think that travel is a skill like any other. As you get better at is you’ll learn more about what makes you happy. That allows you to focus your money on that and enjoy those trips more while spending less. I’m very much enjoying practicing and getting better.

That sounds like an awesome honeymoon. I definitely understand spending quite a bit on that special vacation. However, it took me a while to get there. We recently got back from our honeymoon to Hawaii and it was an amazing experience. Now, I think I’m hooked on good travel! Our expenses were pretty high too and the savings rate suffered but it was totally worth it. 

Adam, thanks for the time and the great interview. Before we finish, what’s some advice you can offer my readers who are still searching for something they haven’t found?

Pursuing personal happiness involves a willingness to change. If something isn’t working for you or making you happy, work to find away to change it. That could mean having a heart to heart talk with a spouse, talking with a manager about career plans or figuring out the next step in our journey through life.

One exercise I highly suggest you try is making a list of 101 things you want to know, have, do or be. Not 15 things, not 50 things but 101 things. Group similar things together and see what stands out. You may be surprised how much you care about a specific topic!

You guys heard the man; it’s time to make some lists! Now is the perfect time to commit to making changes and setting some long term goals for the new year. I’m sure most of us have at least 101 things or goals we can work on. In fact, most of those goals can be a step toward in making a happier and healthier you!

Adam, thank you for taking the time to share you store and give your take on happiness and how minimalism and some hard work helps you get there. Furthermore, it’s important to focus on the things that bring happiness. For example, it’s travel for Adam and setting long term goals to work towards while learning and growing as you age. There’s definitely an understanding of where you want to go and knowing that some sacrifices need to be made to get there. 

That’s it for interview #2 but there’s more to come. Above all, I want to thank Adam but I also want to thank you all for reading and urge you to check out Adam’s awesome blog. Also, I want to ask you to reach you if you have a story to share and want to participate in the interview series. 

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