Happiness or Money: What I Did in an Either/Or Situation

Over on Men with Pens, they’ve been discussing starting a freelance business without any money. Meanwhile, earlier this week I received an email from someone who asked me if I was one of those who could follow my dreams because I’d already made my million(s) in Internet Marketing (or some such thing) and could therefore basically retire while I pursued my dreams.

The short answer

Ha! Hardly!

The slightly longer version

When I sold my house, I paid off my debts, then divided what was left into two portions, one half to give me a year without needing to work, and the other half to go into my retirement savings.

I stretched the year of not working six months further by spending a few months working for room and board through the Help Exchange program.

Then after running through all my money, I got myself a part time job teaching English and have since been looking at ways to bring other money in while still having enough time/energy to write my fiction (which is my someday dream). Some months have been good, other months (such as last month) I’ve earned 80 euros.

Fortunately, I have a boyfriend who is willing to help support me (although the last time I started a business I had the equity in my house fulfill the same role). My only other advantage over some others is not having children or other dependents.

So what?

Because my passion for writing and my love for living in Europe (and of Raul) are stronger than my desire for money, when I left Canada I decided that I would make it work, no matter the money situation.

Yes, I might be poor and yes, I worry some months about paying rent and eating, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Although I’d love to have both money and happiness when faced with an either/or situation, I have always chosen and always will choose happiness over money.

The money will come eventually.

Someday Lessons:

  • Money must always be a consideration but it should never be an excuse not to follow a dream.
  • If you are pursuing money but are unhappy now, to fund happiness later, how do you know you’ll actually find that happiness?

P.S. And to help that money come, I’ve put a price back on the workshop – but guess what? You get to pick the price. Go check it out!

Tagged , , ,

34 thoughts on “Happiness or Money: What I Did in an Either/Or Situation

  1. Karen Putz says:

    The suburban lifestyle and having three kids does limit some of what I think I can do because there’s always a bill somewhere that seems to eat up the checks that come in or there’s a kid activity that gets attended to first.

    Finding extra money is always hard but there’s always ways– cutting back, putting aside a little bit at a time or finding ways to make more money so you can do the things you look forward to doing.

    Karen Putz´s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday–A Special Wall in my Office

  2. Brett Legree says:

    Hold on to this one, Alex.

    “I have always chosen and always will choose happiness over money.

    The money will come eventually.”

    It will help to guide you.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..summer’s end.

  3. I have always said firmly that I could live in a cardboard box – as long as I had happiness and love.

    I’m glad you’ve found both, Alex.

  4. Bravo, Alex! Bravo!

    I remember the look of total shock on my ex-boss’ face when I explained that I wouldn’t take the change in job they were giving me unless it really suited me. He mentioned having to pay the mortage. My reply? “I can always sell the house.” It just didn’t compute for him!

    Being able to afford a house comes second to being able to enjoy my life. Not exactly rocket science – and I can do rocket science 😉

    James | Dancing Geek´s last blog post..Time’s a ticking on this one…

  5. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue this year, what with having taken on a couple of projects that have brought me a lot of misery. I’ve learned a lot, and I won’t give the clients anything less than my best — but it’s definitely changing where I plan to take my work in the future.

    Money is important, especially with dependents, but I guarantee that they like a happy mom better than a stressed mom.

    Erin Hartshorn´s last blog post..lone election post (tongue-in-cheek)

  6. ARGH total Catch-22 for me. A house and boat make me happy; very happy. I choose the house and the boat. The current job that pays for the house and the boat does not make me happy (other than the fact that it pays for the house and the boat). I could a) give up the house and the boat in order to get alower paying job … but while I would have job satisfaction, in my personal life I would be unhappy or b) keep the house and the boat (and the personal life happiness that goes along with it) and be unhappy at work.

    Is this wanting my cake and eating it too? I don’t think so. I just need to figure out how to be happy at work, and still afford the house and boat to be happy at home.

    Besides the obvious, but dubious, solution of buying lottery tickets, I haven’t figured this one out yet.

    Urban Panther´s last blog post..Fiction Friday – Broken Star

  7. @UP – LOL. I don’t think it’s a contradiction, it’s just different to some of us is all. My sister is definitely in your camp. She will do work that isn’t completely her thing if it means she can have the money that supports the things she does want. It’s not bad, it’s just about what makes you happy.

    Of course, if the job actually makes you unhappy, then it may be worth working on that. But if it is a non-event (at least most of the time, cause everyone has sucky days occasionally) then I think the question is just does it suit you?

  8. steph says:

    My question: Why does it have to be either or?

    Like Panther, some external things make me very happy. Seriously. They really, really do. I am genuinely happiest in my life now because of our house. I put a lot of stock in where I live, in creature comforts, even though I’m more or less a minimalist and don’t like to have a lot of stuff (I value a few good things rather than lots of things.) Having money also makes me very happy, while not having it…well, I get quite cranky. I have big dreams that require money and I am unhappy to know I can’t do these things, which are not even for myself, because I have no money. It’s what drives me now to try and get ahead. To rid myself of limiting beliefs—and to find work with meaning and purpose. I want both money and to do something fulfilling.

    Although I love my family dearly and deeply appreciate being loved, I could not live in a box and be happy, even with these things. Have not. I am heartily grateful for them, certainly, but find it extremely challenging to constantly fight with needing better circumstances and to be comfortable and make others comfortable. And not to undermine it by any means, but I want to have more to give, much much more, than love.

    steph´s last blog post..What I Know for Sure, No. 2

  9. @James/Dancing – job is sucky every day. So, it can be a struggle. Still trying to figure out what to, and trust in the Universe.

    @Steph – yes, the house allows the Lion and I to do what makes us happy: entertain, garden, build things, etc. The boat is our sanctuary. So we choose the house and boat and associated expenses. Interestingly, Marc and I talked about Alex’s life, and if we didn’t have children, we would like live the exact same lifestyle. But, we do have children (and they certainly make us happy) so we choose the house and boat instead. And that takes money.

    This is a really interesting topic, which could be discussed in far more depth.

    Urban Panther´s last blog post..Fiction Friday – Broken Star

  10. Brett Legree says:


    I’ll go 50-50 with you on the lottery tickets to get us both out of our respective Factories…

    Our jobs pay the bills but honestly I’d take a sizable pay cut in the name of happiness. If I play my cards right, I may be able to do it and not have too much change on the home front.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..summer’s end.

  11. Karen JL says:

    Yes, this is a very personal thing. I’m not very materialistic either, but I certainly don’t think I’d be very happy if I was totally broke. That would stress me out. If I’m stressed, I wouldn’t be very happy.

    That being said, I haven’t worked in 5 months while trying to break away from my previous way of working. I saved money, so I’m (trying) not to be stressed about it. I need money to do the things in life that make me happy, but I’d like to love the work while I’m making it.

    Just like I’d rather be alone than be in a crappy relationship (been there, done that, in a great relationship now). I want to enjoy what I do *and* make some decent cash. But not for *stuff*…for freedom. 🙂

    Karen JL´s last blog post..Is Blogiversary Even A Word?

  12. steph says:

    “I want to enjoy what I do *and* make some decent cash. But not for *stuff*…for freedom.”


  13. Robin says:

    Hi there Alex

    Your story is very similar to mine. I left the paying job and ended up living with very little money (in my case, for lots of years) – but I was investigating new things and was happy! (I noticed I often felt happiest when I had no money, because I couldn’t afford cake and I got healthier)

    Then the money did eventually come, and it rolls in now from old writing projects and I don’t have to do anything and I am supporting my relatively new partner so he can have a chance to find his new direction. That was a mouthful!

    Robin´s last blog post..How To Find Happiness

  14. Alex Fayle says:

    Life is a series of choices, and years ago you chose the child route which means certain things (especially if you choose to add in the suburban lifestyle). So radical changes are significantly more difficult.

    However, there are ways of figuring out the small changes that you can make to ensure happiness and the lifestyle you want (and the workshop is one of those ways).

    Until I wrote that, I hadn’t thought about it really. So often I look at others my age (my siblings come to mind) and see how much more secure they are financially and think “maybe I should have gone their route” but then I cringe because that would so not be me… 😉

    @James (MwP)
    I more or less lived out of my car last year and as long as I had Raul by my side, I could easily do that again.

    @James (DG)
    When I made the decision to sell the house, I had a fit of tears because I was giving up being an adult. I’d had this idea that to be an adult, one needed to own a home, be married and/or have kids. I was giving up the only thing that made me an adult. Then I realized how awesome that was!

    I know exactly how you feel there Erin. When you’re offered work that you don’t really want but it’s money and money is supposed to be a good thing, especially when there are kids involved, but I think you’re right that a happy mom is better than a stressed mom.

  15. Alex Fayle says:

    As I said above to Karen P – life is a series of choices. You’ve decided what lifestyle you want and given the skill set you have you are living with the consequences of those choices. You are, however, taking steps to improve things.

    Another option is to take the Spanish view on work: It’s work. You don’t have to be fulfilled by it. You just need to do it so that you can enjoy the rest of your life.

    It doesn’t have to be an either/or. In fact, for many many people it’s an and. Unfortunately in my case, choosing happiness means pursuing fiction writing, which is not the most lucrative career choice. If being a stockbroker made me happy, I could have made lots of money (until this past year 😉 ).

    @Karen JL
    Good for you for taking the time to discover exactly what you want. Many people don’t do that and live in a sort of unhappy comfort without quite knowing what’s wrong.

    @Steph (again)
    So, what choices can you make to have both? What are you willing to do work-wise to give you the money to give you freedom?

    Oh yay! What a success story! Hearing things that like make me very happy because I know it’s possible to have both!

  16. DiscoveredJoys says:

    Hi Guys.

    From a different viewpoint… I spent 33 years in a cubicle farm. Sometimes the job was sucky, but mostly (especially the last 20 years or so) it was fine. During that time I got married and had kids, bought a house (actually 4, one after the other). All of this was aimed at providing a good home for me and mine. My kids are now grown up, left home and starting their own lives. They are two fine young men. Me and my wife are very happy that we achieved this together – but it only really generated a lot of happiness once we had completed this phase of our lives.

    I have now taken early retirement, as has my wife. We are not worried about money because our jobs had good pensions, and we always lived a modest life-style. We are now exploring our happiness options, and to be truthful, still working out what to do. Good fun finding out, though.

    The point of this tale is to say that we did accept that we would wait for the good times… and for us, it worked. I guess all I can say is that we made our plans and toiled away, believing that Our Ship Would Come In on schedule, rather than waiting for an unplanned ship arrival.

    Our choices won’t suit everyone – the world is a different place now – but sometimes you have to do what you need to do before you can do what you want.

  17. Brett Legree says:


    I know what you mean. Then again, financial security can be an illusion, depending on how life plays out.

    I see how DiscoveredJoys approached it and this is/was the accepted way to do it. If it works out, it can be okay for some folks.

    My personal choice is *not* to put my deepest desires on hold until I retire, because I believe that we can have both, depending on what we want.

    I have seen far too many people try to hitch a ride on the Freedom 55 star only to lose it all in the end (too ill to do what they really want to do or sadly not even making it there due to cancer or something).

    When we went to New Zealand last year one thing on my “must-do” list was to go Zorbing. While I hope to be able to do that when I’m in my late 50’s, I cannot guarantee it. And then I look at my cousin, who did everything right and took the early retirement. She passed away from cancer not long after she got her “reward” for hard work.

    So I suppose it comes down to personal choice, yes – many people can and do “work the cube” and have long and happy retirements. I’m not saying that this is the wrong thing to do, just that it is not the right choice for me.

    I don’t even believe that, given the current state of things in the world demographically and financially, that there will *be* any money left over for traditional pensions to pay out. I have seen what my own government has been doing with pension funds here and I do not trust them as far as I can throw them.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..summer’s end.

  18. @DiscoveredJoys – I think that, at least in part, the difference is due to the time difference (not that I have any practical experience to base that assumption on). It just seems like that route was the most appropriate and supported one at the time and certainly I’ve seen my parents take that route.

    Nowadays it feels like many different routes are available *with* support and validation, thanks largely to the internet connecting people who are not physically local to you. If it weren’t for my connection with people across the globe I would almost certainly be living “in a sort of unhappy comfort without quite knowing what’s wrong”.

    I am massively grateful for having this, and am still amazed by people I meet who do not understand this amazing power! (I don’t mean you by this, but other offline friends).

    Re: “sometimes you have to do what you need to do before you can do what you want” – I find myself fighting this so much, but if I’m honest I do think that this is going to be true, sometimes.

    @Brett – re: pensions. Absolutely agree with this. Our dependence on big is breaking down. Pensions started to fall through a few years ago & we’ve just had banks disappear over night (thankfully I’m getting my savings back from Iceland’s fall). Small is the new big, diversification is not just for wall street and I honestly feel that this is a good thing. Passive income are the new pensions, perhaps?

    James | Dancing Geek´s last blog post..Review: Comfort Queen’s "A Comfort Tele-Experience"

  19. Brett Legree says:

    @James|Dancing Geek,

    That’s a really great way of looking at it – passive income as the new pensions. I’m not sure I plan to retire anymore, if I ever did. I believe there will always be some work I’d love to do, that can bring in some income, and gives me great social interaction. I’m not the sort who wants to play golf all day anyway…

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..summer’s end.

  20. Retire??

    *falls off chair laughing*

    Seriously. I look at my future, and I know that I am probably going to be working to pay for my living expenses for the rest of my life. I don’t feel that there will ever be any such thing as retirement for my generation.

    Jaded, maybe, but better safe than sorry.

  21. Brett Legree says:

    @James (Chartrand),


    Brett Legree´s last blog post..summer’s end.

  22. DiscoveredJoys says:


    Exactly. Times were different then. Back then I was able to expect a job for life and a decent pension, and that enabled me and my wife to get on and have a family – which was our big immediate goal.

    I’ve often said that we lived in the UK ‘Golden Generation’. Too young to have experienced war, entitled to free education and free or low cost University education (but only for the top 5%), free health care (at the point of use), expected employment for life, a decent pension, and in at the birth of many world changing technologies.

    I have told my lads that, unlike my generation, they owe no loyalty to their employers (for they can expect none in return), and they must be prepared to build their own careers or lifestyles as no one else will.

    So yes, I salute the younger generation for the greater choices available. I agree that it is better to persue your dream rather than expect it to happen later. I also advise them to consider how important it is to them to have children. It’s something that can be very rewarding – but difficult to achieve later on. A very personal choice.

  23. I’m with you Alex, happiness and love have won out for me for over 10 years now. But I think choosing happiness over money has many different variations and means different things to different people. I chose a home for my kid away from my my beloved inner city, and stayed home with him and focused on my own creative pursuits rather than working hard as a well paid copywriter and trying to fit my son in around two parents with big careers. I could have stayed in the inner city if I had more money and I could do more traveling, but I’d feel that I was letting both Bunny and myself down. I know I couldn’t be a good mom like that. But other people, it may well be different for them. And besides, I can’t say I have chosen ‘no money’ because there’s plenty of people who can’t in any way make the choice I did because quite simply their partner does not earn enough.

    So, while I’m not rich, I think I can still say I have both money AND happiness, but the second is the non-negotiable.


  24. Friar says:

    Like Steph and Panther, I admit, I like some materialistic things.

    I spent a lot of time being broke as a grad student, then a few more years being laid-off and unemployed. Been there, done that. It sucks.

    I’m not so much into “Stuff” like the latest gadget or widget. Or newest car or latest kitchen renovations.

    But earning enough money to live in a modest house, clean, functional and well-built (not a filthy run-down rental like I used to do). To have a reliable car that I can depend on, to drive places and visit.

    Or that bit of extra money to take the occasional fishing trip or ski vacation. Which I look forward to all year, and I truly appreciate and enjoy.

    Not to mention, not having to worry about rent or food, that’s always easily taken care of. Speaking from experience, THAT alone reduces quite a bit of stress

    Sure, these aren’t necessarily the most important things in life, but they do make everday living a bit more pleasant, and in the long run, that DOES contribute to happiness, to some extent.

    But there’s also diminishing returns. There’s be a huge difference in standard of living going from $20K to $50K. But maybe not that much going from $100K to $130K.

    All things being equal though, (same job, same health, same friends, etc), with more money, I think people WOULD be happier.

    And if you didn’t want the extra money, just go back to your old way of life, and donate the extra to charity.

  25. Have to say, I’m loving this thread – happiness and/or money debate is a big one for me at the mo.

    Re: retirement. My partner is old school, he wants security, a job for x years and a pension to retire on (so he’s a teacher, since government pay is the only place where that’s even remotely possible and even then I have serious doubts about the pension part). I want work that I enjoy and can feel proud of and never want to retire (I’d just be bored – golf? ick!), I want to be able to keep creating value for the world (and receiving what I need in return) until I leave it. Hence I’m looking for a ‘non-traditional’ way of doing things.

    Re: or vs and. I think it’s less of an ‘or’ situation and more about priorities. My priority is to be happy and then to seek money to support that. I know others where money is the top goal and then use the money to be happy. Both can work and be healthy, both can fail and be unhealthy.

    If you reject money without very careful thought, you can end up rejecting the idea of giving value to others (throwing the baby out with the bath water). Money is simply a tool to generalise bartering, and is not inherently good or evil.

    I personally choose happiness first because I know from experience that I can get easily distracted by the exercise of getting the money, and forget why I want it (to share value, to allow me freedom and security).

    I’m also lucky in that I have enough coming in to balance what is going out. I’m secure, safe and pretty comfortable so (to use a bit of popular psychology) My Maslow’s Pyramid has the bottom layers dealt with and I’m able to focus on layers higher up where happiness comes into play. If that changed for me, then perhaps happiness for me would be tied to the security angle of money, as others have mentioned above, and so then my priorities would seem inverted, even if they weren’t any different to me.

    I agree with Kelly that the distinction varies from person to person and situation to situation. Perhaps it’s about what the intention is behind the seeking of money? The mis-quote “money is the root of all evil” is (I think) supposed to be “the love of money is the root of all evil” and I would see that to be about losing the perspective/intention of what to do with the money and to simply amass it for it’s own sake, or for the sake of power, both of which lead the person actually giving their power away to others.

    I don’t want to write a whole post, but lots of thoughts to share – thanks all for yours.

  26. Well put and I knew your choice would be happiness when I first saw the title. Brett is so right on. The money comes from joyfully doing what you love.
    Get the happiness nailed and then there is room for the cash.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work´s last blog post..Experimenting For Fun and Profit

  27. Friar says:


    Just follow the Friar’s Retirement Plan:

    FREEDOM 85.

    A modest trailer, and one can of dog-food a day, (Whether I need it or not!)

    What more could anyone ask for? 🙂

    Friar´s last blog post..Moon Sketches

  28. Alex Fayle says:

    @Discovered Joy
    I think your way is what many people do – they make a choice to follow a more “traditional” path and enjoy themselves as much as possible along the way, but accept that “freedom” will come later. It’s something that many of us non-conforming types (said in a way that “conforming” isn’t a judgment, just a fact) forget and get all attitudy about.

    Exactly – CHOICE – everything we do is a choice. The trick is dealing with the consequences because often we’re not prepared for the consequences of our choices.

    @James (DG)
    What’s a pension? I’m almost 40 and have never had anything resembling a pension. The closest was a retirement savings plan co-contributed-to by me and by my employer for 4 years.

    The challenge for me with passive incomes is that so many of the options for passive income require people to spend spend spend on things that don’t seem (to me) to have much value and I’m not going to sell things just for the sake of selling.

    @James (MwP)
    I’m with you – I have no plans on retiring. I plan on dying with a pen in hand.

    @Discovered Joy
    What a great thing to have taught your sons: CHOICE. Hopefully they are doing well in their own ways…

    It’s like what Erin said the other day – a happy mom or a stressed mom? Hmmm…

    In the book Stumbling on Happiness, he talks about money is important to cover the basics and then after that it does very little to affect one’s happiness level. The interesting point being that “basics” means so many different things…

    @James (DG)
    So your retirement plan is to hang on to your partner and live off his teacher’s pension? 😉

    As I said to Friar, not having the basics met, however, does have an effect on happiness, even when the rest of your life is deliriously happy.


  29. Brett Legree says:


    For sure – if you are going to sell something, you have to believe in it.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..the game.

  30. steph says:

    “So, what choices can you make to have both? What are you willing to do work-wise to give you the money to give you freedom?”

    Excellent questions!

    I have absolutely no idea of the answers. Yet, anyway.

    steph´s last blog post..Perspective

  31. Alex Fayle says:

    I’m still working on that one too…

  32. panchitah says:

    Thank you. You have no idea how much I needed to read this.

  33. […] Happiness or Money: What I Did in an Either/Or Situation at Someday Syndrome […]

  34. Kelly says:

    Ahh! How did I miss this post? Thank goodness Amy pointed me over…

    Well, Alex,

    Happiness. Been dirt, dirt, dirt poor several times. It’s been a long short life. I don’t usually go so personal online, but lordy, I can tell you I care way more about hearts and minds than I do about wallets. (Not that I’ll object to leaving $ cares behind for good…)

    I love the post and your heartfelt choice. Well-said.



    Kelly´s last blog post..Inspiration Points: And the Armor Weighs a Ton, Too…

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: