Do the choices you make in life make you a happier person?

Do the choices you make in life make you a happier person? After nine years of blogging and publishing articles regularly, I have realized that I write because I want to help others around me. I want to share our financial independence journey with other people and hopefully inspire them to start their own journey.

The goal of this blog isn’t to make money and blogging solely to make money will never be my goal.

I always get a kick when I am able to connect with readers. The personal connections make all the time spent on this blog totally worth it.

Back in 2016, I wrote this post after getting inspired by MaggieOur Next Life, Amber Tree Leaves,  Slowly Sipping Coffee and their fill-the-bucket lists. Eight years later, I thought it’d be interesting to update the post and see if I have added more to my fill-the-bucket list.

To me, the fill-the-bucket list has an entirely different definition than a bucket list. A bucket list contains things that one hopes to accomplish in their lifetime. When we accomplish something on our bucket list, we feel proud, majestic, and we want to tell others about it.

On the other hand, the fill-the-bucket list contains things and opportunities that one has done so far in life that provided a tremendous amount of joy and happiness. Because life is full of opportunities, it is upon us to find ways to take these opportunities and make them long lasting experiences.

Great memories will not go away, so throughout our life, we can always reflect back and remember these memories. Unlike the bucket list, which may not be 100% completed by the time we die, the fill-the-bucket list is always full (or at least it should be). 

Both Maggie, Our Next Life, Amber Tree Leaves, and Slowly Sipping Coffee have shared a lot of cool stuff on their lists, and here are a few things that are on my fill-the-bucket list.

  • Walking on the Great Wall: When I visited China years ago for work and had to spend the weekend in Beijing, my co-workers and I hired a private tour bus and visited the Great Wall of China. Considering the history, it was absolutely amazing to walk and touch this historical wonder. The section of the Wall that we visited had a lot of steep stairs, it’s hard to imagine what it’d be like running up and down the wall as a soldier back in the day.
great wall

  • Making Baby T1.0 & Baby T2.0 laugh hysterically: Before becoming a dad, I never understood why people say kids will change your life forever. Now I totally understand. Baby T1.0 is a very happy toddler most of the time. It’s fun and delightful to be able to make him laugh hysterically by doing silly things. Whenever I see Baby T1.0 laugh, I forget all the troubles and worries I have. Update: It was awesome to see Baby T2.0 laughing hysterically too. Despite them being my babies still, they are now young kids and babies anymore.

  • Walked underneath the Itsukushima Shrine torii gate (i.e. floating torii gate): I’ve always wanted to see the floating torii gate in person. I somehow arrived in Miyajima when it was low tide, which allowed me to walk underneath this historical torii gate and I was even able to touch it.
torii gate
torii gate 2

  • Shaking hands with a British Royal: I once shook hands with Prince Andrew for receiving some young people achievement award. I even managed to talk to him for a brief moment. Because the short conversation I was interviewed by a reporter and mentioned in a Vancouver newspaper the next day.

  • Winter camping in -16 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit): I actually have done my share of backcountry winter camping and really enjoyed it. Yes, it’s cold but it’s amazing to be sitting in the wilderness in the middle of the winter. You definitely need to remember to put your boots and gloves in the sleeping bag so they don’t freeze overnight. Let’s say going for #2 in this kind of weather definitely gives you a perspective on life.
snow kitchen
Snow kitchen
winter camp
Brrrrr… cold!
  • Getting on top of pointy rocks: I really love getting on top of pointy rocks. Which is why I enjoy rock climbing and scrambling so much. Rock climbing in Joshua Tree and Red Rock was mind-blowing. Sitting on top of Mt. Ganfalf was one of the scariest things I’ve done so far in my life.
sport lead climbing
mt. gandalf
Yours truly sitting on Mt. Gandalf summit block (2391 m)

mt. gandalf 2
Mt. Gandalf from another side

  • Volunteering as a Scouter: As a youth, I went through Scouts for seven years, receiving awards like the Chef Scouts Award and the Queen Venturers Award. I wouldn’t be who I am today without my Scouting experience. I became a Scouter when Kid 1.0 started Beaver a number of years ago. Since then Kid 1.0 has moved up to Cubs and Kid 2.0 has joined Beaver. While it’s a lot of work being a Scouter, it brought me a lot of joy to see the youths learn new skills and develop as individuals. They’re always very excited to do activities they wouldn’t do at school or at home.
scouts camping

Bonus, the fill-the-bucket list I’ve done together with Mrs. T

  • Riding in a gondola in Venice: When we went to Italy for our honeymoon, Mrs. T and I rode in a gondola together. It was very romantic and very neat to see Venice from the water.
  • Eating meals together without distractions: We make an effort and sit down together to have most of our meals together. We do not watch TV (we can’t because we don’t have a TV). We spend the time talking and enjoying each other’s company. Basically having quality time together as a family. 🙂

  • Devoured the Cake Table (sønderjysk kaffebord) in Denmark: An old Danish tradition, Mrs. T and I (along with Baby T1.0) had the chance to eat 21 different delicious cakes & cookies. This is something that the Danes value very highly as it is an excellent way to have afternoon hygge and spend quality time with friends and family.
  • The 2010 Olympics: When Vancouver/Whistler hosted the 2010 Olympics, Mrs. T and I went to several events together. One of the highlights was attending Canada vs. Slovakia semi-final. Yes, the tickets were expensive but the atmosphere and experience were totally worth it. Another highlight was when we went skiing in Whistler and took pictures with Olympic medal winners and met the medalists in person. One highlight I’d never forget is cheering with other fellow Canadians when Canada won the gold medal in men’s hockey. Thousands of people were in downtown Vancouver, cheering and celebrating. It was an amazing and crazy experience.
  • Seeing glacier calving in Glacier National Park in Alaska: When Mrs. T was pregnant with Baby T1.0 we went for a 7 day Alaska cruise vacation. To see and hear glacier calving was an amazing and rather loud experience.
  • Writing & publishing two cookbooks: Mrs. T and I wrote and published two cookbooks. The first book, Cozy Cooking, is about our favourite recipes in our childhood, our bachelor/bachelorette days, and when we moved in together. The second book, Three Weddings and a Honeymoon, is inspired by all the food items that we had at our 3 weddings in Vancouver and Denmark and the food we had on our Honeymoon in Italy. Unlike the typical cookbooks, our cookbooks are also about our lives and the foods that we love to cook on a daily basis. Each recipe has a story behind it.
three weddings and a honeymoon
  • Attending concerts together: It was awesome to attend Elton John, Pink, and Aqua concerts with Mrs. T and rock to the music. We are still waiting for Tool to show up in Vancouver one of these days so I can show Mrs. T the full Tool concert experience.
Elton John concert
Elton John concert
Pink concert

As you can see, I’ve done a lot of cool and fun things; Mrs. T and I have also done quite a few neat things together as well. While our “bucket list” is quite long and ambitious, it’s great to take the time to reflect on what our fill-the-bucket list is like.

Writing about the fill-the-bucket list has made me realize that we’re constantly making trade offs between spending money and not spending money. We spent the money to go watch the Olympics hockey game, we spent the money to go to Italy for our honeymoon. In return, we received a lot of unforgettable experiences. We could have saved the money and invested in dividend stocks or other passive income generating sources, but we wouldn’t have these amazing memories that we can look back on years later.

Life is also about taking chances and taking opportunities when they’re available to you. For example, publishing the cookbooks together was not something that either of us ever considered. The opportunity just presented itself. So we choose to be open to the opportunity and let things unfold. Where these cookbooks will take us, we don’t know, but we’re open to the endless opportunities that are ahead of us.

Interestingly enough, one of the regrets that people have on their deathbed, is wishing that they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. Many dreams and opportunities that people have are unfulfilled because they do not act when chances and opportunities are presented. When looking back, they regret some of their decisions. Socrates’ statement that “the life that is unexamined is not worth living” is a great one to ponder about.

Ultimately, life is not just about money. Yes, it may seem that this world is powered by money but that’s not true when you look deeper. Many things in life do not involve money at all; there are many things in our fill-the-bucket list that I didn’t mention, which do not involve money at all. Simple things like eating meals together without distraction, enjoying Baby T1.0 & Baby T2.0 laughing, marrying someone that I love, seeing our son born in front of me, and having quality family time together.

Money should not dictate and define who we are. Life is about the choices that we are making and the choices that we will be making. Money is just one of the many tools that we can use in life to achieve certain things.

Talking about experience and memory reminded me of a quote from City of Angels which Mrs. T and I recently watched. The movie is about an angel (Seth) who falls in love with a human doctor. After a lot of thinking, Seth decides to walk away from eternity to become a human so he can be with the doctor. Unfortunately, the doctor dies soon after Seth’s decision. Toward the end of the movie, another angel asks Seth if he regrets becoming a human. Seth replies with this powerful statement:

I’d rather have one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand than an eternity without it. One.

Eternity might be great and all, but without being able to feel, touch, or experience, how good is eternity?

I believe the same thing applies to money. Having money is great and all, but on your deathbed, you probably won’t be thinking about that $10 million dollar in your bank account, you’re probably thinking about the memories that you had in your life and all the things that you’ve done and enjoyed. What’s really more important? Money or experience? Money is simply one of many tools that enables us to create memorable experiences.

More and more, dying with zero makes a lot of sense.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of the term You Only Live Once (YOLO). The term implies that one should enjoy life, even if that entails taking risks as if there would not be another chance for it. Some people use YOLO as their reasoning for spending money on the experience now and not saving money for the future. On the other hand, you probably have heard of or known someone that only saves and does not spend money on any extra luxuries in life.

I believe neither of these extreme approaches are healthy.

Once you have the basics in life covered, other luxury items can indeed bring happiness to your life, however, only to a certain extend. These luxury items or memorable experiences in life will have increasingly diminished returns on happiness.

It is up to us to find the right balance between saving and spending. Life is about choices and finding the right balance. What’s right for me may not be right for you. We are all different after all. The most important question you can ask yourself when making a money vs. experience question is:

Are you a happier person with whatever outcome you decide?

Given two options, if option A makes you a happier person in the long run, then I believe that’s the right option for you. 🙂

Challenge: Start a Fill-the-Bucket list. If you have a blog, share some things that are on your fill-the-bucket list. If you don’t have a blog tell me some of the awesome opportunities you’ve taken in your life so far, in the comment section below. Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration to others!

I’ll finish this post with a quote from The Dalai Lama that I absolutely love.

Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

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53 thoughts on “Do the choices you make in life make you a happier person?”

  1. Hi Tawcan,
    It was a pleasure reading about your accomplishments, especially in fulfilling partial lists in your bucket list.

    It made me realize that life is not all about making money, the experiences that we create and enjoy are the ones that give everlasting happiness.

    I don’t have a bucket list but would love to make one, after reading about yours. You are truly amazing and deserve all the plaudits for living life to the fullest.

  2. Don’t forget those unexpected and accidental wonderful events in life.
    One of mine came a few years ago when our one year old grandson was sitting on the kitchen floor playing with a new toy. His grandmother asked me to take a picture of him on my iPad.
    As I was setting up, he stood up, held out the toy towards me and started to walk for the very first time. He was ecstatic and near breathless with excitement. His mother, standing behind him was joyfully in tears. And I pushed the video button and recorded it all on my iPad.
    Your article does a wonderful job of focusing life. Congratulations.

  3. As soon as I saw that Depeche Mode was coming to Vancouver this fall, the wife and I decided that no matter the cost we would go. It was the music of our high school years when we started our lives together 30 years ago so their music is a big soundtrack to our lives. This is the type of stuff we have now decided that is as equally important to our high savings rate and MMM lifestyle we strive for. Yes the Die With Zero book was a good read and relevant.

    Great recap Bob and great memories

  4. Really enjoyed your post. Thank you.
    My bucket list was full in my 20’s, when I saw Elvis Presley in Las Vegas and walked the ruins of Pompei. I still pinch myself.
    Now every experience is a bonus

    • Thank you Sharon.

      Wow, amazing that you saw Elvis live. Walking the ruins of Pompei was an amazing experience. It was really hot when I visited though.

  5. Great post! Gives me a lot to think about. Thanks for giving me the inspiration to write a fill the bucket post.
    I was just working on a 2017 year in review post and a lot of my happiest moments were costly, but I don’t regret them at all. When we look back at the past, we really don’t remember the net worth gain that year or any things purchased. It is the accomplishments, experiences or feelings we remember.
    Great food for thought! Loved this one.

    • Writing a review post on your happiest moments in 2017 is a great idea. Rather than focus on the monetary value of these moments, focus on the lasting memories.

  6. I had made a fill the bucket list a few weeks ago, and totally forgot about 2010, and it was such a highlight for me as well. Especially since my son was part of the closing ceremony (dancer), and my daughter was a placard bearer for the disability games (they asked local non-disabled provincial athletes to do the honor). The same daughter was also asked to be a torch bearer in New Westminster! And my youngest daughter performed violin in many venues. As a result we were able to go to the closing ceremonies of the winter games and opening ceremonies of the disability games. And there was the mens gold medal game! The streets were deserted! there were no cars driving, it was almost eerie. We were on Granville island when they won and the whole city erupted.

    Those two weeks were right up there with
    feeding alligators in Louisiana,
    going down an amazonian river tributary in a dug out canoe and camping on it’s banks (this was back when Eco-tourism wasn’t even a word yet),
    The Galapagos,
    going to a lobster boil in Halifax,
    partying in the streets of Quebec City,
    Climbing over Castle ruins on the beach in Scotland,
    Cross country Skiing in Banff,
    Everything about New Orleans
    Drinking Margaritas made from Glacier ice in Alaska
    A Luau in Hawaii
    and on and on…

    • Hi Rose,

      That’s really cool you were able to go to the closing and opening ceremonies. The city did erupt when Canada won the mens hockey final. It was insane. Sounds like you had an absolutely awesome 2010. I’d love to feed alligators in Louisiana one of these days.

  7. From now on, I would make a choice that would surely make my life better and a great one! Thanks Taw! You’re an inspiration.

  8. We all need to settle down and truly consider why we are Chang after cash. It’ll presumably give us security yet t might not have a considerable measure to do joy. Wow you surely have a considerable measure of encounters. Seeing you all having done as such numerous fun things certainly made me need to make a container First too.

  9. Hey Tawcan, that’s a really cool list. Random note before my reply, the i letter (between H and J) on everyone’s replies has disappeared to me. Eg Andrew@livingrichcheaply’s reply reads to me:

    ‘Wow you guys have already accomplshed a lot…and there s much more lfe to lve. So true about makng your lttle one laugh…ther laugh s contagous! And pretty cool that you guys publshed a book. I know you’ve mentoned t before but t would be nterestng to know the process of gettng a book publshed.’ I’m using Google Chrome not Internet Explorer 1995 so I’m not sure what’s up with that, just letting you know.

    Anyway, my reply. I loved your article. I’m so happy Mt. Gandalf is a place! A great name for a mountain, perhaps there was a Mt. Moria right next to it.

    Major kudos for learning English..and then posting an articulate, hugely popular blog in your second language. Do you still talk / think / etc in..Mandarin? (Is it Mandarin?)

    I love your suggestion of eating without TV. We have become a little guilty of that, partly due to how not-functional our dining space was, not a good orientation of the table + chairs. But we’ve recently bought a new table, but still haven’t eaten at the table much. Your no-tv choice made me decide we should have more quality time together too, so we will be eating dinner at the table, no TV, at least 3 times a weak, maybe 4 or 5, depends what we eat each night. Tonight was the first night we had our new-dinner plan 🙂 It was nice, we had kievs and a very good conversation.

    Very yummy food pics, I’m now hungry. Are you willing to climb non-pointy rocks such as mt kilimanjaro?

    I’m probably more of a save-for-the-future person, but we still love the things we do. I think it’s more doing things that are fun, but are good for your income/wealth. For example, think how much a road trip to a reasonably-close-place costs us as 2 young 20s, some petrol and maybe a cheapish meal out, we’ve had a great day and explored a new place we’ve never been. At some point in our lives we want to go on a long holiday to New Zealand, go to several cities and stay in nice hotels, see the scenery etc, this would cost many thousands of dollars. We figure it’s better to do the the cheap fun things now in our lives, compound our money and then be able to afford the more expensive things as time goes on. Have fun without sacrificing the future us’ fun too to places further afield.

    Great quote at the end. We’ll (nearly) always have worries, better to worry/make an effort about things we can change rather than things we can’t make a difference to. Eg Make an effort to live healthy, but don’t worry about getting old / sick at some point.


    • Hi Tristan,

      The area Mt. Gandalf is in, all the surrounding peaks and ski runs are named after Lord of the Rings. 🙂

      I still speak Mandarin with my parents but obviously communicate with Mrs. T in English. Teaching Baby T1.0 Mandarin. I’ve been using Mandarin for my job lately so that’s a nice way to practice.

      Spending more quality time at meals is a great idea to learn more about what happened to other family members during their day. It’s our way to spend quality time together. I’d love to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro once day, good friends of mine did that a few years ago. Good call on doing cheap travel now and more fancy travels later in life. That’s the way I did it as well.

      Appreciate your long comment.

  10. Wow you guys have already accomplished a lot…and there is much more life to live. So true about making your little one laugh…their laugh is contagious! And pretty cool that you guys published a book. I know you’ve mentioned it before but it would be interesting to know the process of getting a book published.

  11. Nice list, I love the photos as always! I’ve been working more on evaluating if the choices I make actually make me happier or not. It’s led to some interesting changes I have to say, but it’s a great thought exercise that you propose, just the same.

    Like you mention with life being about choices and the right balance, it’s easy now to say, “We’d rather have time than a great title at work, high paying jobs, etc…” but that’s mainly because we’ve been there and its afforded us a lot, but man, it sucks a LOT of time and energy from life. As soon as possible, we want to be free of it and get more life back into our current balance, which is pretty out of whack.

    • Hi Mr. SSC,

      Thank you. Being free and have the freedom to decide what you want to do for life instead being tied down to a job is a great one. 🙂

  12. Love your list, welcome to the the Fill-Your-Bucket community! You are braver than me to climb those mountains. I love the pic of the Great Wall, it is on my Future Bucket List.
    And your suggested question Are you a happier person with whatever outcome you decide? is a great one. I’m struggling with a choice at the moment and it made me realise I will be happier if I don’t take action. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi The Personal Economist,

      Thank you for the warm welcome. It was definitely cool to visit the Great Wall. You need to decide some things that’ll make you happen in the long run.

  13. What a cool list! I’m so glad you added yours to our growing list of bloggers who’ve posted their full buckets! And love your photos, as always. Are those your names on your cookbook?? Should we be calling you Bob instead of Tawcan? 🙂

    • Easy, visit Denmark in the summer and purchase a ticket to the Cake Table well in advance. It was a very neat experience.

  14. Great list in your fill the bucket. People can often lose sight of the big picture. Posts like yours are a nice reminder to take a broader view of life. It brings much more happiness.

  15. Awesome post Tawcan. You’ve done some amazing things a a young age. I must say you eye for photography is fantastic. Great photos. I haven’t had breakfast yet, I could have done without the photo of the desserts 🙂

    I’ll take your challenge. My fill-in bucket list post is coming soon.

  16. Tawcan,

    Great to see that you’ve acheived so many things in your bucket list already. I’ve also been striving to knock things off my bucket list through the years. Last one to get done was going horseback riding (got this one knocked off on the honeymoon!). Life is short and we all need to make sure to remember that. You can die tomorrow and all you can take with you is your experiences. Thanks for the read.

    -Dividend Monster

  17. Amazing…looks like you are going through some great things in your bucket list, T. Thanks for sharing — love the pictures too.


  18. What a nice list you have here. The mountain climbing is really awsome. And the winter camping is not too bad either! I like the fact that the baby has a spot in it as well. That are indeed great moments to mention and remember.

    You are soo right that life is about being open to opportunities. You have to explore the unknown and test it. It is better to be sorry about something you did, than to be sorry later in life for not doing something that sounded to crazy at that time. Go out and explore.

    Thx for the mention


    • Hi ambertreeleaves,

      It’s great to take some time and reflect what we’ve done so far. Being open to opportunities is definitely a great idea.

  19. Well said. We all need to sit down and really think about why we are chasing after money. It’ll probably give us security but it may not have a lot to do happiness.
    Wow you certainly have a lot of experiences. Seeing you guys having done so many fun things definitely made me want to make a bucket list as well.
    BTW, the section of the Great Wall you walked on probably doesn’t have much history – it totally looks re-constructed. LOL

    • Hi Carlie,

      The section of the Great Wall that I visited was not very touristy and parts of it is actually in ruin. If you are not careful you can fall off the wall. I don’t know how much history it has though.

  20. Wow, you guys have done some awesome things in life and have a very interesting and aspiring bucket-list!

    We are in the process or reorganizing our thoughts on our bucket list(s). We have managed to do quite a few already. But having moved back to the Netherlands and restarting our lives here, the whole bucket-list thing got snowed under a bit. Once we have settled a bit more, we will take another look at it again. One thing is for sure, it involves financial independence and travelling.

    Funny things is that the bucket-list also changes over time when you grow older, there have been several (material) things that have dropped off the list in recent years.

    • Hi Team CF,

      It’s pretty amazing how much we’ve done so far. Fill-the-bucket list is a bit different than our bucket list though as we have lots of ambiguous items on our bucket list.


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