Before you read this post, I just want to give the disclaimer this is going to be a very personal post and quite long. Although this is a personal finance blog focusing on financial independence (early retire too I suppose), stock investing, and dividend income, the blog is also a personal blog about me and my pursuit for joyful life.
Consider yourself warned!
My recent personal struggles
The last little while I have had days where I was extremely irritated, upset, frustrated, and just not in a very good mood. I would feel extremely impatient and little things would set me off. I would find myself yelling at kids for little things, getting upset at Mrs. T, or throwing things across the room due to frustration.
This is a complete opposite of what I am usually like. I am usually a happy-go-lucky type of guy that doesn’t get fazed too often. I can be as cool as a cucumber. Having worked in high tech for the last 12 years, I know I can handle and thrive in high-stress and high-demand environment.
But something just hasn’t clicked for me the last little while.
And I cannot figure out why.
Whenever I was in this frustrated, irritated mood, as a person, it felt terrible. Deep inside although I wanted to feel better, it was extremely hard to pick myself up and get myself out of this state. It was as if I was on a sinking ship. Once the ship started to sink, there was no looking back. Although Mrs. T tried to cheer me up and help me, most of the time it was of no use. Once I got in this state, it would sometimes take me the whole day to get out of it.
Now I have never been diagnosed with any mental illness prior, and there’s no mental illness in my family. But my recent incidents of being frustrated and upset had certainly made Mrs. T quite concerned, especially one day I said something along the line of… “I feel depressed.”
Yea… alarm bells started going off for sure! I was pretty sure that Mrs. T thought I’d commit suicide or something since there have been a few stories about mental health and suicide prevention.
I’d never imagined myself doing that to myself. I never will. I have simply been feeling really upset and haven’t felt like myself at all. And I don’t believe I have any mental illness. It is just a matter of getting into the frustrated state and staying there for a while.
A couple of weekends ago, I had another episode of such utter frustration. It started on Friday morning, Baby T1.0 was whining when he woke up and Baby T2.0 was not much better. One thing led to the other, I went to work feeling extremely annoyed at the kids. Because they weren’t listening and were throwing temper tantrums left, right, and centre right from the morning. It felt like their sole purpose of existing was to annoy me and make me upset.
When I got to work, that annoyed feeling never left. It lingered on despite me trying to get rid of it throughout the day by shifting my focus to work tasks. When I got back home from work, I was greeted by two screaming kids that were throwing temper tantrums and a tired-looking wife. The annoyed feeling came back immediately. I felt irritated and frustrated. I didn’t want to be in the same room with the kids. Within a few minutes of getting home that evening, I was yelling at the kids, and getting mad at them.
I felt terrible for yelling at the kids, but I didn’t know what else to do. The more I yell at them, the more frustrated I felt, and that led to more yelling. It was a never-ending vicious cycle. After the kids were sleeping, Mrs. T tried to comfort me, but I was not having any of it. I ended up going to bed feeling extremely annoyed. Since getting married, we have been giving each other goodnight kisses before going to sleep every single night. That night was one of the few nights that we didn’t give each other a goodnight kiss. Yea, it was that bad. I was pretty sure Mrs. T was frustrated and was lying next to me, sobbing.
Somehow this annoyed feeling lingered on the very next day too. I was in a miserable mood the whole day. I didn’t want to do much. Mrs. T tried to get me involved in various activities to take my mind off. We went swimming as a family in the afternoon. Mrs. T and the kids were having fun at the pool, but I was not enjoying myself. I barely cracked a smile.
When we came back home from swimming, I was still in a miserable mood. I didn’t want to spend time with Mrs. T and the kids, I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted to be by myself and be left in my own misery. It was a terrible feeling and I did not have a good state of mind. I tried to play some Starcraft games on Battlenet, but after losing for a few games, that only made me more frustrated and wanting to throw the computer out of the window.
Mrs. T to the rescue…thankfully
Fortunately, Mrs. T is a very understanding woman (I love her for that) and she decided to put the kids to bed that night by herself. When the kids were in bed sleeping, Mrs. T sat down with me and together we spend quite a bit of time talking about my feelings. We then spent 10 minutes writing down answers to the following questions.
- What makes me happy?
- What would I do with 1-hour free time?
- What would I do with the whole day to myself?
Below is what I wrote. We then put stars on the top 5-7 things that make each of us happy and ranked the answers for the other two questions. (Yes I have a very messy handwriting, please excuse me for that).
My answers typed out for ease of reading since sometimes I can’t even read my own handwriting. Oops!
What makes me happy?
- *take pictures
- play video games
- clean up clutter (Mrs. T questioned this one, LOL)
- *spend time in the outdoors
- sit and relax, do nothing
- *be with friends
- learn new skills/things</>
- be active
- *intimate with Mrs. T
- *play with kids
- * travelling
- relax under the sun
- try different types of food
What I would do with 1 hour of free time?
- take pics
- play games
- be active
- watch videos
What would I do with the whole day to myself?
- take pics
- be with friends
- work on things (i.e. blog, investment, pics, etc)
- go outside hiking
- go to the gym/swimming
- sleep in
- unwind with a movie
This was a very interesting exercise for me and I was very glad that Mrs. T suggested it. Somehow, spent time thinking what would make me happy helped me out of the miserable state. I felt uplifted. I began to feel better. I felt I saw the light at end of the tunnel.
Guilt-free me time
After going through the answers with Mrs. T, I realized that what I really needed was to have more time to myself. Or have some self-care time. Lately, I haven’t spent as much time doing things that I wanted to do. I go to work every day, come home, spend some time with the kids and Mrs. T, have dinner, put the kids to bed every other day (Mrs. T and I take turns), then spend some time with Mrs. T before going to bed. Then on weekends, we typically spend time together as a family by doing family activities. Without realizing it, I had failed to look after myself and have some “me time,” so I can be myself as an individual and do things that I enjoy to do, and not feeling guilty for doing that.
You see, although I have had some “alone time” by myself from time to time, I would feel guilty for doing that afterward. This is because Mrs. T is a stay-home mom that looks after both kids every single day, I feel guilty to have to ask her to look after the kids, so I can have some “me time.”
On the other hand, Mrs. T has long realized that she needed some “me time” every so often. So she has been taking Zumba classes, attending women’s circles, and other activities while I look after the kids.
She has gotten her “me time” and has been able to fill up her “happiness” tank. Meanwhile, I haven’t been able to do that myself.
I think deep down inside because I haven’t been spending time on self-care and without feeling guilty about it, I began to hold a grudge at Mrs. T whenever she was having her “me time”. Unconsciously I would try to make her feeling guilty for leaving the kids with me.
That’s not how I picture a healthy marriage. And I did not realize I was doing that until I looked deeper within myself.
Although I have written many posts on happiness and joy, I had to dig even deeper to understand what makes me happy and what brings me joy. Perhaps I have lost my focus. And perhaps I have been spending too much time thinking about financial independence retire early (FIRE). Perhaps I have been thinking that once we are financially independent, I would be able to have more time to do things. So I have been putting the “me time” on hold.
The reality is, if I can’t find time to do things that I enjoy now, I probably won’t be able to find time once we are FI. Things won’t just magically change all of a sudden. Somehow I have been living my life in the have-do-be mode rather than the be-do-have mode.
But I guess writing about something doesn’t automatically make you an expert. It’s the continuous practice and on-going learning that makes you an expert. And once you get there, you will realize you cannot call yourself an expert, because there are so many things you still don’t know. (I’m going off the topic a little bit here, but that’s the reason why I don’t believe in the word expert).
It was extremely hard to come to this realization that I have not been living my life according to the ideas and advice that I have written. In part, it feels like I have been a fake. I have been projecting a false image of myself and hiding behind an imaginary role that I created for myself.
It has been hard to come to this realization. It is even harder to spend the time and write it down and share my struggles on the internet.
I need to spend time taking care of myself and have guilt-free me time regularly to fill up my happiness tank.
I realized I don’t want to feel miserable all the effing time. I don’t ever want to tell family and friends that I feel depressed regularly and cause them to be concerned. I want to be happy. I want to be that happy-go-lucky guy. I want to enjoy my life every single minute. I want to be a good dad who spends quality time with his kids. I want to be a good husband. I want to be a good son to my parents.
I want to look back in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and so on, and say without a doubt that I lived my life to the fullest every single minute and that I truly love my life. To be perfectly honest, right now, I cannot say that. There are too many frustrating days in my life right now for me to say that.
I need to work on myself to change that. I need to improve myself as a person, so I can be happy and influencing others in a positive way.
When Baby T1.0 was born, many people told me and Mrs. T to cherish the moments because kids grow up fast. I still get this advice from many of my coworkers with teenaged kids. Baby T1.0 is almost 5 years old and Baby T2.0 is 2.5 years old now. Although it hasn’t felt like a blink of an eye, the years sure have gone by quickly. At the same time, it seemed it was millions of years ago when Baby T1.0 was born. I want to spend time with the kids, provide guidance and help when they need it, be there when they want to share stories, and play with them when they want to. Because I want a healthy relationship with my kids when they are older. I don’t want my teenager kids to not wanting to share things with me, because they are afraid of me. Although I had my rebellious teenager days, I shared things with my parents, and I can have deep, meaningful conversations with them today. I want to be like that with my kids.
So after some discussions with Mrs. T, we have decided that each us will schedule some “me times” every month. It is important to do things that we want to do and not feeling guilty about it.
We have put that into practice already and I am already feeling better. I believe over the last few days I have been more patient with the kids and generally, I have been in this peaceful joyful state more often.
Happiness the short film
Speaking of happiness, I came across the following short film by award-winning animator Steve Cutts the other day and I thought the video was very fitting. Please take a few minutes to watch it.
Are you able to relate this video to what we see in society today? I sure can.
At the beginning of the video, all the rats crowd around to wait for trains. Interestingly, all the signs say “NOWHERE.” Then one rat barely gets out of the packed train, then another rat packs itself into the train with its tail hanging outside as the doors close. Sadly, many of us do that every day. We commute to work not really wanting to go to work. It almost feels like we are heading nowhere every day.
Throughout the video, there are many signs and ads that claim to bring happiness. They give the impression that you must have these things to be happy, regardless of whether you need it or not. It almost feels like once you see this “Buying = Happiness” messages enough times, you begin to believe it and feel emotionally attached to the idea.
In the Black Friday sale scene, thousands of rats are waiting outside of the store. When the doors open, they enter the store all at once, flattening the store manager. The crazy shoppers then fight and chew each other’s arms and legs off to get the discounted merchandise.
Pretty scary stuff, because this is exactly what we see every Black Friday. It makes you wonder, is it worth it to lose an arm to get a giant flat screen TV at 60% off?
After the Black Friday sale scene, the main character finds happiness by buying a brand new sports car. He is beyond happy and is enjoying his life until the car comes to a halt due to traffic. While sitting in traffic feeling miserable, a police-rat gives the rat a ticket and some kids vandalize the car by stealing the tires and painting a giant penis on the car door. Then it rains and the rat feels miserable.
Feeling unhappy and gloomy, the rat sees a billboard in the rearview mirror that says “Happiness – Drink. Forget.” In a pursuit to find happiness, the rat turns to alcohol for happiness. When he runs out of alcohol to drink, he turns to drugs. Sadly, the happiness from consuming pharmaceutical drugs is only momentary and the main character finds himself plunging sky-high happiness to rock bottom sadness.
Then a $100 bill appears next to the main character. Thinking the $100 bill will bring him happiness, the main character begins to chase after the $100 bill. When he finally gets the $100 bill, a trap catches his head, forcing him to start typing in front of a computer. He has fallen into the money trap! He is now trapped to sit in front of a computer for the foreseeable future. He is now one of the million rats that have fallen into the rat race.
There are so many truths in this video which is extremely scary. Nowadays, we are taught from a young age that buying new things will bring happiness. In fact, on average, kids ages 2 to 11 see an average of 25,600 ads a year! No wonder why so many of us have the “Buying = Happiness” idea ingrained in our head.
What is happiness?
Having my personal struggles with happiness lately made me ponder quite a bit when I watched this short video. Am I one of those people who fall into the “buying = happiness” fallacy?
Looking at the list I made above, interestingly enough, none of my answers had to do with buying new things. They all involved doing something that I enjoy doing, so I can be happy. Therefore, I don’t think I am like the rats in the video.
But I think the line between happiness and joy is a bit blurred for me lately. As I have explained previously, happiness is externally driven while joy is internally driven. If you win the lottery, you feel happy; if you get promoted at work, you feel happy; if you purchased your dream home, you feel happy. To put it simply, happiness is a momentary feeling that will disappear after a certain time frame, leaving you unsatisfied and wanting more. This is why in the video, the rats want to buy new things and want to consume more and more. On the other hand, joy is internally driven and does not have a pre-defined expiry date. You can’t achieve joy unless you are content and at peace with yourself. Joy lasts much longer than happiness. You can be joyful when you wake up each morning, knowing that you’re still alive. You can be joyful knowing that you’re loved by someone. You can be joyful by laying on the grass doing absolutely nothing on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter how I define happiness and joy. What it matters is that I feel good, content with my life, and at peace. I want to feel good about myself so I can treat other people the same way I would like to be treated.
If you have read all the rumblings I have written so far, thank you.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, this is not the end.