What Really Makes Us Happy, and Why

Happy woman

“Whatever you do, make sure it makes you happy.” ~Unknown

Like many of us, I live paycheck to paycheck. Which is okay. We aren’t alone. CNN reported nearly 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

I want to give a quick shout out to all the hardworking folks out there who budget every week to see how much they can spend on groceries. We got this.

So back to that 76 percent number, for the sake of simple math that means that three out of every four people are living paycheck to paycheck, which sounds about right in my experience.

I guess I have rich friends, though, because they all have big savings accounts, houses, and nice cars.

Am I a little jealous? You bet. I am sitting over here hoping my car makes it another six months.

I drive a 2002 Acura RSX, with over 150,000 miles on it.

Some people might be thinking, there’s plenty of life left in that car; what are you talking about? This might be true, but it’s starting to give me problems, and not being a car guy, I’m left trying to figure out what is worth fixing and what can be put off and paid for at a later time. Not the most reassuring thoughts when commuting.

You might be thinking, oh great, another one of these “woe is me” posts. But bear with me; you might be surprised what I learned by the end of this.

More to the point, I have always wanted a truck, for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into right now.

So my plan was to start saving for one.

I started reading about ways to save money and put together a plan. Here are the quick highlights of what I did to save up enough for the down payment.

  • I called Comcast and cancelled my cable (saved $80/month)
  • I refinanced one of my credit cards (saved $20/month)
  • I opened a ROTH IRA and put $35 a month in there because I can make better returns than it sitting in savings, and it helps me not spend it frivolously ($35/month)
  • I started tracking my beer consumption and cut it way back ($30ish/month)
  • I cancelled my Audible subscription ($15/month)
  • I priced out my grocery budget and realized I could save money by ordering from a meal service ($20/month)
  • I started saving everything I could from each paycheck ($100+/month)

Total savings: $300/month

It took a while, but I was able to finally save up enough.

I was so pumped to start shopping for my new truck. (I had my heart set on a Toyota Tacoma 4×4.)

I started looking on AutoTrader, Craigslist, and, and would Google every dealership I drove by.

I even test drove one and had a huge smile on my face the entire time.

Dealers were calling and emailing me every day (which was annoying, but I secretly liked the attention). They were out there looking for the perfect truck, with my requirements and in my price range, just for me.

Then it happened. I got punched in the face with buyer’s remorse.

I started thinking, am I really going to spend $25,000+ on a truck just to fit in and be like my friends? Is this really the best purchase for me? Will buying this really make me happy in the long run?

I started getting nervous thinking about the downside of taking on more debt.

I started to calculate the difference in insurance, gas, etc., and got frustrated with my lack of thoughtfulness up until then.

To make sure I wasn’t just beating myself, I consulted with my dad on the topic. He gave me some great advice.

He said, “Son, there are going to be things in life that you just want but can’t really afford. If it makes you happy, go for it, because working hard your whole life and being unhappy isn’t worth it.”

That made me feel a little better. But my dad said something that really got me thinking. If you read between the lines, what he really said was “find what makes you happy and do that.”

So I sat down and started thinking about what would make me happy.

I thought about it for a couple of days and came to a big realization: The truck wasn’t going to bring me the happiness I ultimately wanted.

Saving money is what really made me happy.

Saving money is a powerful habit to create for yourself.

The reason why saving the money felt so good to me was because I proved to myself that I had the discipline, persistence, and knowledge to do what was necessary to save.

This may sound weird, but I was proud of myself for saving the money, not for being able to impress my friends with a new purchase, but for having the self-control and introspection to question what I really wanted.

I knew that saving money for my future would make me happier over the long run, so I decided to put off purchasing the Toyota Tacoma (sorry, dealership dude who is still calling me).

I thought about it long and hard and decided to fund my ROTH IRA with the truck down payment.

The big realization for me was that buying expensive items to fit in, in an attempt to buy happiness in the short term, wasn’t nearly as rewarding as saving for my future.

Maybe one day I will buy a truck, but that will only happen when I can take on the payment and everything else that goes with car ownership and be comfortable enough to keep saving money as well.

After reading some basic personal finance books and learning about how you can make money work for you, it seems like a no-brainer to put off big-ticket items in favor of a healthy savings account. Already, my decision to invest in myself was paying off.

Ask Yourself, Is the Outcome of Your Goal Really What You Want?

If you are thinking about a big change in your life, or thinking about splurging on a big-ticket item, ask yourself:

  • Are you pursuing this goal because you think you should, or because you’re comparing yourself to your friends?
  • Does your goal align with your top values in life (the few things that are most important to you)?
  • Will this goal affect your ability to reach other more important goals?
  • If your goal involves buying something, could you use the money you’ve saved in a way that would be more meaningful to you?
  • Raise the price. Would you still pay for your goal if it costs five times what you want to pay for it?
  • How will you grow as a person by achieving this goal?
  • How will the ones you love benefit from your goal?
  • Will you be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished with this goal in ten years?

If you found it difficult to answer some of those questions, you may want to think about what you really want and if your goal is leading you to the best version of yourself.

I learned that when you are looking for happiness, it’s worth it to sit down and question if what you want will really provide it.

For me, working toward a goal and reaching it was what made me happy. Having extra money to contribute to my future made me excited and helped have a more positive outlook on where I was going in life.

Hopefully you have a goal in mind for the near future. I would challenge you to question yourself about your true motivations and what will really make you happy.

You got this.

About Alex Zerbach

Alex is on a journey of personal growth and development. He loves reading, writing, coding, and asking himself tough questions. He blogs at about his personal growth journey and is in the process of releasing himself from his own expectations of his future self.

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  • Venny New

    Bingo, Alex!

    Very recently I felt the same way and as I was reading this, I felt like you are inside my head, typing with my own fingers.

    I found out for myself that what really touches me on the inside is when I learn and read about what interests me the most and then apply it to practice. It’s when I do things that support what is coming out of my mouth and are supporting my progress in the direction I am willing to develop.

    Pretty much it comes down to making sure I have become a little wiser at the end of each day. So, I try to develop this routine and have as many of these days as possible.

    When you get into this consistent pattern, you will start attracting the rest, if you know what I mean. 🙂

    All the best

  • Vinnie

    Alex, I read posts each day from Tiny Buddha but never comment. Have been having a similar situation and for whatever reason, what you said was moving and reassuring advice like your dad gave to you. As simple as the advice sounds, thanks! I needed that!

  • magoolina

    A mindfulness blog quoting a sociopath is just pure irony. You lost me at “Ayn Rand”.

  • tricia

    Hi Alex. Many thanks for your insightful share. It certainly got me thinking as I recently did exactly what you decided against and had asked myself the same questions as you about the ‘why’ and the ‘who was it for’. It wasn’t a truck in my case but a real quality, expensive, car. In no way am I demeaning your decision and wholeheartedly support this but for me it was a bit different. For me, I have always driven round in shabby old cars that I worried about getting up hills. Cars with no power and no fun. I always justified this as I had children at home, a business that I was trying to build, and that material objects like smart cars are really just status symbols – to impress friends and business associates. Since then, my children have left home, my business (which is a social enterprise that adds real value to our community) is stable and me, well I looked kinda shabby, kinda old and was not to good at getting up hills! So, for me it was about looking after myself as a person. I stopped smoking, went to the gym and with all the money I saved from the smoking I rewarded myself with a very smart car! Funnily enough, I still have a bit of guilt about the car, not so much about the ‘status’ but that people have to drive old cars that are not safe. I am however surprised at how much certain stranger regard me with more respect if I’m parking a smart car outside – that’s really weird and never an intention – however, I love my car, I love the fact that it represents 72,000 cigarettes and that I feel fitter than I have for years. So, in a way, like you, I felt better for making my decision which was as right for me as yours was for you!

  • That was actually my doing! I added this quote because it seemed fitting. I had no idea Ayn Rand was a sociopath. (Sorry, Alex!) I am going to remove this now.

  • magoolina

    Thank you, Lori. I assume people know who she is by now since the Republicans talked so much about her work a few years ago. I shouldn’t assume.

  • You’re welcome, and no worries!

  • Hey Alex.

    Good post. We all need to hear about the benefits of saving up every now and then.

    Have you ever thought about starting up a business on the side to make some extra cash? Coupled with what you are saving, your number would easily compound quickly. In today’s world, it is virtually limitless the ways that a person can make money on the side.

    3 instantly come to mind:

    Real Estate
    Network Marketing
    Internet Marketing

    Judging by your commitment to saving your money, I suspect if you put your head down and started something on the side, it would be a nice compliment to what you are already doing.

  • Kyle

    “We should relate to people not based on shared possessions, but shared experiences.”

    AKA, saving until you need it is better than buying something you don’t need.

  • bigdo

    lol, this shit is so written from the persepective of a privileged white dude, whose biggest life crisis is “not fitting in” with his rich friends…Also, this piece totally gives a free pass to the writer’s rich friends who are more than likely raping people just like him in order to become rich…

    We shouldn’t be sitting around patting ourselves on the back because of our high capacity to suffer and save like good lil’ slaves…. We should be hanging the 1% in the streets and throwing every politician that works for bankers out of office…

    but go ahead.. keep saving up laddy buck.. one day it’ll be your day.. that’s what they want you to keep believing… dreaming your life away and pretending as though “discipline” is how your friends got rich or stay rich…

    America completely destroy’s people’s ability to think radically anymore…or have a sack…

  • bigdo

    She is the darling of the right wing… lol…

  • I love this, Alex! Was chatting to someone the other day about how stressed finances/money makes me, and how I beat myself up when I don’t save – and they asked me why I feel like I need to have money saved to be happy. The answer is: just because! Saving makes me happy, and that’s okay. Saving for the things that will really make me happy rather than 10 coffees a week I will never remember again.

  • Oh, Alex, this post needed to happen! I’ve been living a more simple life for about two years now, and I’m happier. No cable bill, car payment, or what I’ve deemed unnecessary bills. I don’t care about having the latest gadget, a huge TV, a newer car, or having take out every day I’m at work. I believe the difference is materialism. While some people opt to keep up with the Joneses, which normally causes them to live beyond their means if they’re about that paycheck to paycheck life, others see beyond the surface, and invest in a life worth living. We have to invest in our lives, not things! Things are okay to have if they truly bring us extended joy.