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Happiness is an Early Retirement


Science has studied happiness. Here are 10 things you can do to be happier, most of which will be much easier done as an early retiree.

What is happiness?

Linus told Charlie Brown that Happiness is a Warm Blanket… better…

Mr. Money Mustache says that Happiness is the Only Logical Pursuit… I like that!

The best definition from the Merriam Webster online dictionary is 2a: a state of well-being and contentment. Sounds about right.

Happiness is indeed a pursuit or a state of mind that we would all like for ourselves and the people around us. Many books have been written on the topic, and many blog posts, too. As a type of scientist, I like to see evidence based in science.

My wife kindly shared a post with me that combined happiness, science, and action items to increase happiness. As I read the 10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science, I realized how much simpler these things will be when I am retired. I encourage you to read the original article, and the referenced studies if you wish. Here, I will present the 10 items and discuss how an early retirement will make happiness more easily achievable for me.

Exercise more.

I firmly believe that fitness is a key component of a quality, long-lasting retirement, which I’ve written about before. The problem is, exercise is the first thing to be dismissed when life’s schedule gets crowded with other activities.

When I retire, I envision having a fitness routine built in to my daily schedule. I’ll have time to mix it up. Jogging some days, strength training on other days, an occasional bike ride or evening kayak. As it is now, I try to squeeze in as much as I can into an hour or so on random days when I find the time.

Me on a ski

Sleep more.

I love sleep!

I hate 0515 alarms, which is the time mine goes off every workday. I despise even earlier wake-up calls, and the pager doesn’t discriminate between a.m. and p.m. Twenty percent of the days of my life, I go to sleep knowing that there’s a decent chance I’ll be waking up and going to work long before the sun comes up, and perhaps before I've even fallen asleep.

After I retire, there will be no more 0100 labor epidurals, 0300 appendectomies, or 0515 alarm clocks for me. I’ll be able to maintain a healthier, more consistent sleep schedule. Just the thought of a consistent good night’s sleep makes me happier.

Move closer to work.

Long commutes and the stress of driving in traffic take a toll. They also take time out of our lives every workday, and can be awfully expensive when you factor in the wear and tear on your vehicle, and the cost of gasoline and routine maintenance.

The original post recommends moving closer to work to reduce the cost and hassle, but I’m going to retire early and outright eliminate them. Bonus happiness points!

Spend time with friends and family.

Last weekend, I was invited, along with my parents, to visit my brother who lives a couple hours away. I had wanted to spend some time getting work done around the house and do some writing, but I chose to do the family thing. We had a good time, enjoyed some expertly smoked pork shoulder, shared some growlers of curated beers, and did a little fishing on a big lake.

Not our fishing boat

I made the right decision, but right now, there are only so many hours and weekends I have free. In an early retirement, I don’t think I’ll have to hem or haw before accepting invitations to spend more time with family and friends.

Go outside.

I’m pretty indoorsy these days, and the entirety of my workday occurs indoors in a place devoid of windows. I do like to be outdoors, though. I’m all about camping, hiking, bicycling, canoeing, walking the dog, and horsing around with the kids.

A substantial percentage of the forty-plus hours I currently spend indoors wondering what it’s like outside will be spent outdoors when I retire. I look forward to fresh air.

I can’t see

Help others.

Well, helping others get through surgery safely and as comfortably as possible is my job description, so I may not be boosting my happiness a whole lot in this department. I will say, though, that I will be much better able to volunteer my time than I am now.

The post also describes how spending on others creates happiness, as does spending on experiences over things, two habits I practice and preach.

Practice smiling.

I’m a pretty happy person. My boys make me smile every day, and most of my favorite movies are comedies. I even smile a lot at work, especially when I’m visiting with patients and their families. I’d like to think that I’ll find more reasons to smile when I’m away from work, but I’m going to have to call this one a draw.

I’m kinda smiling

Plan a trip — but don’t take one.

This recommendation is based on the fact that the planning and anticipation of an event can bring as much or more pleasure than the event itself. I learned this the hard way when I read several guide books cover to cover before my first Disney World trip as a teenager. The actual vacation was fun, but I had set the bar quite high, and knew what to expect on every ride in every park.

When I’m retired early, I’ll get the best of both worlds. I’ll be able to plan vacations and events, will have more time to plan well, and will also have the time to take the trips. We travel a decent amount now, but with everything else happening in our lives, the trips really sneak up on us, and I’m planning and booking things last-minute. I long for the ability to slow travel with my family.


My experience with meditation can be summed up in zero words. I have exactly no experience with meditation, but my radiologist friend, the Happy Philosopher, hasn’t written about his experiences with meditation and how it has helped him.

I’ll add meditation to the list of new things I’d like to try in early retirement, along with learning an instrument, a second language, pilates, fat biking…

Practice gratitude.

Here’s another habit that doesn’t need to wait for an early retirement. I like to think that I practice gratitude, but I’m not sure I express it as effectively or as often as I’d like. Recommendations are to take note of three things you are grateful for each day, or to write three letters of gratitude in three weeks.

That reminds me; I need to send a thank-you letter to our friends who hosted us out in northern California. I’ve been meaning to do it, but I haven’t found the time. Someday I’ll have more time to practice gratitude, and the whole gamut of happiness boosting activities.

In early retirement.

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