What Happens When You Quantify Happiness?

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Paul Dolan’s “Happiness by Design” became so important to me in the past month that I now own multiple copies for reference purposes. The audiobook is for commutes. The paper copy helps me gather quotes for articles, like on this blog. Though this is probably excessive, I think anyone looking to improve their life should read this book. As someone who was quite happy already, I didn’t think I could game my way into being even happier. Somehow, this book did it. Pick it up from your local library!

Here’s an all-too-quick summary you can take a look at right now. If you’re pressed for time, simply click here and save the image. This is a DRM worksheet – it means ‘Day Reconstruction Method’ – and we’ll be referring back to this later. This will allow you to quantify and prioritize your happiness as easily as you do your budget. Here’s why I use it daily.

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Two weeks ago, I was on vacation. For five days, I was in Seattle with friends and I was destroying my budget. It turns out $300 USD, unmonitored, just kind of goes up in smoke if I focus only on “having a good time”. Sometime around Day 3, I started questioning what I was doing. Why was I somehow miserable on vacation? I’d worked seven days straight to have five days off in a row, so I should be enjoying myself, right? Why was focusing on pleasure for once giving me so much anxiety? Without a clear answer, I spent the rest of my trip in a listless limbo, and found myself excited to go back to work. On my first day back, I was energized to be productive again, but not because I was relaxed. I was relieved. The vacation was actually a bad experience for me. What gives?

In his book, Dolan says, “To be truly happy, then, you need to feel both pleasure and purpose.” You need both, and ideally, a balance. He talks about a “pleasure-purpose principle­”. If you focus too much on either side and neglect the other, you end up unfulfilled. For me, two days of pursuing only pleasure and neglecting purpose was enough to make me go wonky, but now I know. If I’d only had the DRM worksheet, I could’ve saved myself a lot of grief.

Summing up the trip as a whole gives me some clues as to why I wasn’t happy. My main activities included “drinking with friends”, “attending panels at a convention”, “eating at restaurants”, “hiking”, etc.

Drinking with friends – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Attending panels – [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3]
Eating at restaurants – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 4]
Hiking – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
THE WHOLE VACATION – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]

In this case, though my activities were mostly midrange in pleasure, they were entirely lacking in purpose, especially because I was spending significant amounts of money doing things I could’ve done with a staycation. Now, let’s look at a typical workday for me.

Commuting – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
Working at the liquor store – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 9]
Having good food and drink at home – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Watching some TV – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 4]
Going for a walk – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 6]
THE WHOLE WORKDAY – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 7]

This isn’t an exact science, but if you’re evaluating your own pleasure and purpose honestly, your DRM will allow you to design your own happiness. Notice your daily visits with Mom are a bit like [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3], but playing with your kid is like [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 10]? Well, you have data now, so make a choice. Do you find TV-watching to be like [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 2], but reading a great novel to be [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 8]? Make a choice!

The point is to think objectively about what makes you happy. Broken down into just pleasure and purpose, this is as simple as it gets.

I somehow learned I love and enjoy my day-to-day life more than vacations. I can’t imagine anything happier than that! Can the DRM help you hack happiness? I challenge you to find out.

Think of it as [Pleasure: 3, Purpose: 10]?

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Why I Left the Highest-Paying Job of My Life

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Before I found wedding photography, I’d gone to film school for two years. Even now, my diploma for Motion Picture Production hangs in my office, quietly mocking me when I could’ve used my tuition money far more effectively. Sure, some bragging rights came out of it – I directed my first short at 17 and have a meagre IMDb page which is kinda cool – but for the most part, I’m done with the film industry, even though I could’ve gotten rich off it. This is the story of why I left a $100,000/year job.

I’m theoretically qualified to be an on-set electrician. As far back as 2006, I was already lamping indies and rubbing elbows with the likes of Chloë Sevigny. I eventually landed permittee status with IATSE 891, got put on even bigger productions, and now I can’t even remember them all. I know I worked on “Fringe” and “The 100”, but the rest is a blur. I didn’t actually like my job. Before we get into why though, here’s a look at the pay. Film electricians currently make $29.73/hour. We get paid that for the first 8 hours a day, then it’s time-and-a-half for the next 4 hours. A typical electrician day is 12 hours. Per day, we can expect to make $416.22. Do five days a week and that’s $2,081.10. Get on a show call, do four weeks, and that’s $8,324.40/month. Do that for a year, and you’re just under $100,000! For the right person, this is a goddamn dream! You’re probably asking WHY THE FUCK AREN’T YOU DOING THIS. Well, it’s because I seriously can’t be bothered. Here’s why.

1) Though I’m theoretically qualified, I suck at this job. I’m not great at lifting heavy things, mentally keeping track of hundreds of feet of cabling isn’t a strong point of mine, and 12-hour days are VERY draining for me. By the end of even one day, I’m mental mush. Five days in a row, and I shouldn’t even be driving home from set. 2) 60 hours a week FOR A FRICKIN’ YEAR?!? Pass. I live on 20 hours a week now. Those 20 hours support my lifestyle well, and I’m living HEAL with no problems. 3) Most of the job is manual labour. I’d be working under the gaffer, who in turn takes his direction from the DP. Though “lighting a film set” sounds cool, I’m really just plugging in lights where they tell me to, then I sit around in silence while they film. When they ask me to unplug the light, I unplug the light and haul it back to the truck. Continue forever. Like, FOREVER. On-set lighting is NOT creative work. 4) “Mental illness is rife” in the entertainment industry. 5) We’re literally talking about a line of work where someone can die ON SET and production will just resume normally two days later. Or how about the time someone else was killed and “no one from the show” even attended the funeral? THIS IS JUST IN BC. This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME.

There are more reasons, but I think I’ve said enough. $416.22 isn’t enough for 12 hours of backbreaking labour and dangerous working conditions when I already bill $400/hour for wedding photography. It’s just not worth it. Realistically, I’m aware I could do this “just for a little bit”, but I don’t even want to dip my toe in the water. I’ve been in film work since 2005, and I’ve seen enough to know I won’t take film as a serious moneymaker ever again. Even $100,000/year isn’t worth the stress, the punishing hours, the lack of creativity, the boredom, and so on, and so on. It just sucks. And I’ll take “poorer but happier” any day. Allow me to leave you with a story.

*****

Since I used to work in film, I can spot film people a mile away. This time, the giveaway was the “2AD” hastily scrawled on his walkie. I knew he was a show’s 2nd Assistant Director. He brought his bottles to the counter, and I started ringing him through. It was 2012 or 2013, and I was just a cashier that night. Even then, I knew film work wasn’t for me anymore.

“Hey, I used to be film industry too!” I said. “What show are you on?”

“Ah, I can’t exactly tell you that,” he said.

“Oh, sorry. I understand. NDAs and all.” I bagged his bottles, and handed it to him.

“Thanks.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome. Hey, I got out of film work a few years ago because it was kinda stressing me out. How’re you finding it?”

He looked over his shoulder, then looked back at me sadly. “Uhh, just between you and me…” he said, “It’s kinda killing my marriage.”

He grabbed his bag and left.

That day, I resolved to never let financial success get in the way of My Life. Even now, I understand success comes at a cost.

How high a price are YOU willing to pay?

Fitness Ben vs. Fatness Ben, or How to Lose 10 Pounds in a Month

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It’s a sunny day in Steveston as I write this, home of Once Upon A Time and the Power Rangers, and I’m treating myself to a cold pint of rye porter. A month has passed since I wrote ‘Financial Planning for Your Life Expectancy’ and the week following that was kind of a scary one! I mean, I was staring my mortality in the face! All of a sudden, 77 seemed like too young to die. In that post, I knew I had my finances sorted, but what could I do to live an even longer life and actually get the chance to spend the money I’d been saving? I decided to double down on my health. Here’s how that went.

First, a story: I was kinda fat. Not like “my shorts could double as a parachute” fat, but fat enough. When my friends wanted to take me on a hike, I had to ask them how “bennable” it was. Would I have to scramble up a mountain? Was the trail longer than 5 kilometres? A lot of the time, I’d simply stay home. I was content in my shittiness. It wasn’t until the neon sign appeared in my mind, flashing “YOU WILL DIE AT 77”, that I knew I needed to get my shit together. A month later, I’m happy to announce I have my poop in a group. It all started with this article.

Losing 10 pounds in a month was my new challenge. Not just the weight loss, but also the healthy habits that come with maintaining a proper weight. While everyone else was watching the ball drop and smooching strangers, I was standing on my Fitbit Aria™ noting down my weight – 182.4 pounds. I knew what I needed to do. It was radical.

Beer intake got under control for the first time in my life. I knew every bottle I opened would set me back almost a day of weight loss progress. I started walking everywhere, sometimes reaching 30,000 steps a day. I loosely adopted Tim Ferriss’ slow-carb diet (SCD) and started cooking my own food aggressively. I started experimenting with intermittent fasting (IF), though I don’t recommend that for reasons like this. I read up on basal metabolic rates (BMR) and even went so far as to deliberately put myself in cold environments to increase calorie burn. On January 30, at 3:51 PM, I stood on my Aria, nervous because I only had one day left to meet my goal… I damn near cried. I’d done it. I was 169.6 pounds.

You can do it too.

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This should be obvious, but there’s a huge caveat as you read this: I AM NOT A FUCKING DOCTOR. This is only what worked for –ME– to lose 12.8 pounds in under a month. Be careful, and if you’re not feeling well, DON’T CONTINUE TAKING THIS ADVICE. You have been warned. I don’t want anyone in the hospital because of this. Sound good? Okay, let’s move on.

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HERE ARE SOME SOLID STEPS TO LOSE 10 POUNDS IN A MONTH:

* Cook your own food as often as you can, and treat bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as though they come with a warning.
* Greens and eggs are your friends. My typical breakfast is now a spinach omelette, but in case cholesterol is a concern, offset that with lentils for dinner. They seem to reduce LDL, or “bad cholesterol”. Here’s a great recipe I used. Here’s a more indulgent one.
* Walk 15,000-20,000 steps a day. It’ll burn roughly 3,500 calories after you factor in BMR, equal to roughly a pound of fat gone. Use a Fitbit to keep track if it helps motivate you.
* If you have unhealthy eating habits, DON’T actually use a full cheat day once a week. It’s one thing to allow yourself a little bit of fried chicken on a Saturday/Faturday. It’s entirely different to mainline Twinkies for 24 hours.
* Feel guilty when you’re sitting down. Unless it’s for work, you should be moving. Now that you know you can ALWAYS burn a calorie (like you can ALWAYS make a buck), turn your Netflix marathon into preparing for an actual marathon. You don’t need to actually run one; just get fit enough that it becomes a possibility someday!
* Get knowledgeable on fitness and food: I recommend “The 4-Hour Body” on audiobook as you walk, and “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” for a quick read. Both books offer contradicting advice. Find a balance that works best for you.

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A FEW WARNINGS AS YOU DO THIS:

* You’ll lose weight drastically when you start eating better, and it’ll shoot back up in 5-8 days when you get insanely thirsty. This is water weight. Don’t let it throw you off your goals.
* If you experiment with IF, which totally works but isn’t recommended, you –WILL– feel occasionally dizzy. Don’t drive while doing IF.
* The more accustomed you get to walking long distances, the more you’ll start to experience akathisia when you’re forced to sit still for too long. That’s normal. Try not to let it fuck with you too much.
* Have some goddamn fun as you do this! Seriously, drink the occasional beer. If you deny yourself the simple pleasures in life, you’ll inevitably backslide in huge ways. Don’t let your weight loss program get in the way of your happiness. This is important!

*****

My goal now is to simply maintain 170 pounds and a good baseline of physical activity. Remember the life expectancy calculator I used? Here’s what I get with my new stats: M, 28, 5’ 8”, 170 pounds, normal blood pressure, quit smoking, 3-5 drinks a day, active? 84 – A SEVEN-YEAR LIFE EXPECTANCY INCREASE! THAT’S EVEN ASSUMING I DRINK LIKE THIS FOREVER! You can make a change like this in a month too! If you could increase your life expectancy by SEVEN YEARS IN A MONTH, wouldn’t you do it?

Fatness Ben is dead. Fitness Ben beat the crap out of him because Fatness Ben was a wuss.

Ask me anything on Facebook.

What I Spend In a Month (Apparently)

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In our previous spending breakdown, “Why I Am A Fraud: A Story of Booze and Strippers”, I listed off all the dumb crap I spent money on in January 2016. It was a mess. $138.03 on entertainment was okay, but $229 on cabs? $651.08 on food? $1,120.27 ON ALCOHOL?!? Clearly, my spending needed a serious intervention. It took all the way until now to strip away my more harmful spending habits, but I’m still no saint. Reluctantly, here’s October 2016.

It turns out I eat a lot. My food spending was nearly identical to January, coming in at $651.96. I ate out less, but I splurge on ingredients when I cook, even when I’m feeding other people. One home-cooked meal cost me $72.63! Pan-seared cod puttanesca for five was EXPENSIVE. I was able to put a cap on entertainment though. I paid $10 cover to get into a shitty bar, and I bought two books and a single lotto ticket. Total for entertainment: $31.29. Travel costs were far less too. $174, and that covered driving, transit, and cabs. My bills are high though. I pay $89.49 to get online, and between my mother and I, our phone bill – which I pay – came to $299.74 because she was roaming in China. As usual, no rent costs for me after my roommate pays his share, and aside from debt payments and Netflix, all that’s left is… ALCOHOL. Any guesses? I’ll wait.

Ready?

Alcohol for October 2016 came to…

$662.58, ROUGHLY 59% WHAT I SPENT ON BOOZE IN JANUARY! I CUT MY ALCOHOL INTAKE BY OVER A THIRD!

Obviously, $662.58 is still bonkers. $21.37 a day for booze is crazy to a normal person. My aim is to have alcohol down to $500/month. Maybe then, I can finally start whittling down my debt.

In total, I went through $2,803 in October. $633.62 of that went toward housing, but was reimbursed by my roommate paying his rent. $100 came back to me from my mom because she felt bad about her roaming charges. Factoring all that in, I spent just over $2,000 on my own. I’m not happy with that number yet. I want to get down to $1,500/month.

I made $3,105 in October from all my sources of income. I sold some stuff, worked my liquor store job, and actually didn’t take any money for myself out of my photo business. I came out ahead this month! That’s how it should be EVERY month!

Anyway, here’s hoping I don’t backslide. I’m pumped my alcohol spending is so far down though.

Comments? Questions? Ask me on Facebook.

Livin’ la Vida Local

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Any place you go to regularly should be within walking distance of your home. Otherwise, you’re being wasteful. Too harsh? Read on. I might just convince you to move.

Remember when I told you all about my home? As awesome as it is already, I forgot to tell you about its OTHER awesome benefit. IT’S CLOSE TO LITERALLY FUCKING EVERYTHING. I’m not kidding! Within a block, here’s the list of everything I’ve got: a Safeway, a Shoppers, a produce store, a pizza joint, an Italian restaurant, two places to get your hair cut, a post office, a neighbourhood pub, an RBC (my bank), a TD (my roommate’s bank), a liquor store, a bakery, a Subway, an AWESOME sushi restaurant, a phở place, a walk-in clinic, numerous dentists, a gas station, and a 7-Eleven. Did I miss anything? Probably! I live next to an urban oasis. If I want beef teriyaki at 4 in the morning, I can make it happen. It’s a goddamn paradise.

The only thing that isn’t close is the liquor store I work at part-time, and even then, it’s 6 KM away and on a bus route. I drive there, but it only costs me $1.20 there and back since my 2008 Corolla sips fuel. It’s actually cheaper than taking the bus since I live so close! Did you know the average Canadian commute costs $7,540/year? That’s the equivalent of 6,283 there-and-back commutes for me! WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU ALL COMMUTING SO MUCH?!?

The best part about choosing a great neighbourhood is having an expanded radius of comfort. If you live in the suburbs, your radius of comfort is likely limited to your own home. Every time you need something, you have to leave your bubble. Whoops, forgot the mustard! See you all in half an hour! Choosing to live near places you need is entirely different. With a Safeway across the street, my “fuck, I forgot the mustard” moments are minor inconveniences instead of an ordeal. Also, the pub across the street is practically an extension of my living room! Don’t feel like entertaining 20 people because they might trash my place while drunk? Take ‘em to the pub! It’s insane how much my new place has simplified my life. I don’t even know how much I’m saving by living here instead of deep in the suburbs like I used to, but I’m sure it numbers in the thousands each year. Live close to the places you use. Drive less. Move if you have to.

You’ll have to find a balance though. It’s likely rent will be higher in convenient areas, so you’ll have to do some math to see if it’s worth it. Then again, my ex-girlfriend used to live here for $316.81, so it’s possible to get the best of both worlds. You just have to do your homework. Also, choose jobs that are close to you. Each mile you live from work costs you $795 in commuting expenses per year.

Where do you go most often? Can you live closer? Tell us on our Facebook.

Optimizing Your Lifestyle for Maximum Cash Flow

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You can ALWAYS make an extra buck. Craigslist has no shortage of odd jobs, and I’ve already talked about having a 10-to-2. However, what most people don’t realize is we’re living in a massive pool of abundance and there are more ways to make money than you think. Even now, after weeks of relentless optimizing, I’m still finding ways to cash in.

I make cash on trash all the time. Old iPhones can trade in for $400+ in some stores, and there are always Craigslist postings. I have tons of junk lying around too, and I’m always selling stuff off. For instance, who wants my Rock Band 1, 2 and 3 (PS3), Rock Band 4 (PS4), and all my attachments including guitars, drums and mic? Make me an offer. I want that stuff gone now, and that cash would look damn fine in my mutual funds. This isn’t limited to your obvious stuff either. Are your folks getting rid of unused furniture? Do you have collections of comic books or Magic cards from your childhood? With some light digging, I unearthed my entire “Y: The Last Man” collection signed by Pia Guerra. I wonder how much that’s worth. What used to be important to you probably isn’t that vital now. Get rid of your shit.

My girlfriend and I are also exploring Airbnb. We discovered I have an aunt who’s an absentee homeowner in Surrey. It’s a one-bedroom in a nice neighbourhood. Close to a mall, restaurants nearby, a block from transit. We’re thinking about taking in guests for $60/night. We’ll also have a listing for our place in Richmond. If we get a booking for Richmond, we’ll stay in Surrey. If we get bookings in Surrey AND Richmond, we’ll crash at my mother’s place in New Westminster. Instant hundreds per month. If you can handle living with an extra person as a roommate, it’s even steadier. I live with my girlfriend and a roommate, and they pay rent to me. I literally make money living at home. I have negative rent.

I also hire housecleaners. I know I should just man up and do it myself but every three months, I shell out $120 to get my place hotel-clean. This isn’t a company, but friends of mine who happen to need an extra buck. In a brilliant twist, giving people work means they’re more willing to help you out too! People I’ve hired have given me photography work on multiple occasions. Obviously, you can be the housecleaner too. My friends clean the whole place in three hours. That’s $40/hour. Offer to clean at your friends’ places. Trust me, they’ll always appreciate the help.

Finally, do you have anything you can rent out? I do. I have a strong network of professional photographers who rent equipment from me. Cameras, lights, backdrops, etc. I rent my gear out for less than rental houses do, but still make $100+ for each camera rental. The Canon 1D X I own can go for $275/day at a rental house! I charge $150. It’s a win for everyone.

If I went bonkers and utilized ALL these sources of income, I’d be up $1,000+ every month! Do you have trash you can turn into cash? Do you have an extra room you can turn into a cash cow? Do you like the idea of making $40/hour for something ANYBODY can do? If you’re motivated to make money, you can ALWAYS do it. Stop marathoning “Breaking Bad” for the sixth time, get off your ass, and turn Making Money into a game.

What are YOU missing? Tell us in the comments.

What I Learned by Retiring for 2 Years

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Realizing I didn’t need a day job anymore was pretty freaking cool. I figured this out in 2014.

2014 was a year of both awesomeness and shittiness. I lost my dad that year. I also inherited the money I needed to get out of my substantial debt – $25,000 at the time. Since I’m the Dumb Ben though, I wasted no time at racking up more debt. I owe $19,000 now. More on that later. I was also able to get my place sorted out. I’m now the owner of a 99-year leasehold property in Richmond, BC. For those of you unfamiliar with leaseholds, I basically own the property, just not the land underneath it. I have 72 years left before I get booted out. I’ll be homeless at 99. More on that later too.

The remaining 72 years are all paid off. It was $170,000. The strata fees and property taxes are 100% covered by the rent I charge my roommate. I’m super lucky, and as I type this, I can already hear the lynch mob forming. At 27, I don’t have rent.

That’s not to say I do nothing. I have a successful wedding photography business, and charge up to $4,400 for my packages. I hardly count it as Work though. I love every part of what I do, and outsource the stuff I don’t like, like editing. On my last $4,400 wedding, I outsourced virtually everything except the actual photography. Time investment: 1½ days. The lynch mob is banging on my door now.

So with my photo “work”, food was covered too, and then some. Now what? For me, the answer was Retire. Sure, I’m cheating a little bit, but I was “working” around 30 days a year, and was frugal enough that I could live off that. I don’t care what you say. I was fucking Retired.

No lies, it was great at first. I could get up at 4 PM, slam two beers, play Minecraft until 9, then hit the pub. I got to see my friends and family whenever I wanted. I’d go on adventures, disappearing into the US for weeks at a time. I even made it to the UK for my friend’s wedding, and made some great memories there. And then… I just sat on my ass a lot.

Like, A LOT. What I didn’t know was the first 40 hours of Minecraft are pretty fun. The next 200 hours are significantly less so. I started gaining weight. I developed a drinking problem. My mental health started to suffer. Getting together with my friends got more challenging, since they had work and families, and I just kind of had… nothing. My life, without Work, suddenly had zero Meaning. I was suddenly a depressed slob who couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a shower. Since I only ever worked at weddings, and was always too focused on taking pictures instead of interacting with people, I’d often go weeks without an actual conversation. I mean, it’s no wonder so many people die right after retiring. Read this. Without a purpose in life, even if that purpose is as silly as earning money, why go on?

I realize this sounds like the privileged whining of a 1%-er, and in many ways, you’re right. I have what a lot of people want. I thought I wanted this too. I want you to reconsider Retirement though. What would you REALLY do if money were simply not an issue? What would you do with your life if you had an extra 8 hours every day? If you’re the type of person who’s so hard-working that you can Retire early, what makes you think suddenly having NOTHING to do will make you feel good?

After two years of mild existential terror, I figured it out. Retirement wasn’t about doing nothing. It was about finding out what had Meaning to me. Meaningful employment is important, even if it doesn’t earn a bunch of money. I currently sell wine to people for $13/hour when I’m not shooting weddings. I don’t need the money, but it gets me out of the house. I don’t drink as much now. I shower more often. I have real conversations with people. I get to talk about fine beer, wine and spirits, which is a passion of mine. And to top it all off, the money I make goes into getting me out of debt, and profitable investments for the future. I had Meaning again. I was choosing to Work. Even though I’d “made it”, I needed Work to feel whole.

Rethink Retirement. You can Retire and work on something you love, and if it happens to make enough money for you to live on, guess what? You’re Retired! Get a job that doesn’t feel like Work. Get a job that gives you more Time. Get a job that has Meaning. I know it’s not as simple as all that, but make it a goal. All of this is better than the fantasy of never having to work again. Trust me, you’d probably hate it.

Oh, hey. That lynch mob is ringing the doorbell. I should probably let them in.