Beyond Money: How to Find Happiness in Your 20s (or Any Time)

find-happiness-ThailandI spend a lot of time thinking about how to be happy, and I think I’ve finally cracked that code.

Sometimes I even spend more time thinking about how to be happy than anything else, including my business. Why? Because that’s what matters most. We don’t really want to just have more money, more friends, or more freedom — we just want each of these things to make us happy.

Whether you’re struggling with money, a job, or just surviving daily life, here’s my best advice for being happy no matter what.

Don’t wait – choose to be happy now

I truly believe that being happy is a choice. Maybe it’s not 100% of the equation, but for many people, there are a lot of changes they can make when they’re unhappy.

Too many people are waiting for a change in their life to make them happy. I’ve been there. While quitting my job and moving to Portland was exciting and my dream, that alone wasn’t enough to make me happy. I had to take a more active approach, especially when life gets hard.

I hear others say “I’ll be happy once I make more money/find a boyfriend or girlfriend/get a better job/discover my passion.” The truth is that just might not be the answer, and you’re setting yourself up to be let down.

This may sound like I’m being negative, but what I’m actually saying can be a good thing if you look at it the right way.

Choose to be happy right now, no matter how hard life is. Anything that improves your life later is just a bonus.

Be grateful – every day

Do you think your life sucks and you have nothing to be happy about?

You may be going through a tough time where you’re feeling depressed, but there’s always someone or something to be grateful about.

I had a lot of fun with this on my Letters of Gratitude project. I wrote letters to 57 people so far. Not only has writing the letters done a lot for my happiness, but the gratitude that others have expressed back to me has been phenomenal.

If you’re struggling, think small. Take a moment and write down five things you have to be grateful about. Maybe you had a delicious breakfast this morning, or a friendly fellow driver waved you through on a commute into work. No matter how big or small, find things to be grateful for every day.

To make this easier, use a service that sends daily reminders to be grateful like Happy Rambles or the Random Gratitude Journal app.

Give all you can

Since quitting my job, I stopped making regular donations. The reason was half and half between just putting giving on the back burner and feeling a little tighter for cash. But giving just feels good, and I can’t skip it any longer.

My goal is to give 10% of what I make to charity, no matter what. I’m not saying this to brag, I just think it makes sense and it makes me feel good at the same time.

Spend money, but only on what you love

I’m not the most frugal person you’ll meet by any standard. I’d probably rate myself a 7 out of 10 on the frugal intensity scale (that’s a made up measurement, by the way).

That said, there are plenty of things I enjoy spending my money on. I’m a bit of a beer snob, and I get restless if I don’t go out to eat at least once a week. I even bought a $400 ski pass this year.

But don’t get me wrong: my spending is very calculated and for good reason.

There are some things that others regularly spend on that I don’t find value in. I almost never go out for lunch during the workday because I don’t enjoy the food enough and would rather spend my money elsewhere. I have no plans to own a car any time soon because I don’t like all the expenses that go with it. I could go on, but you get the point.

Spending money does bring happiness when you do it right. Step back and think about if how you’re spending your money is how you want to or if you’re just following others’ scripts.

Let go of fear and trust that things will be okay

Fear is one of the hardest things to deal with in your 20s. Some might not realize it consciously, but the way they’re living their lives is based largely on what would happen if they did something differently.

I haven’t completely conquered fear, but I’m okay with that because it’s the fear that motivates me.

Other times, it helps to focus on what we’re actually afraid of. For example, what if you quit your job but go broke when the business you launch fails? To most people, this is terrifying. But what would actually happen to you in this situation? If you’re in your 20s, you’d probably move in with family temporarily until you figure things out.

Those in their 20s should be most afraid of the decisions they don’t make. One of the top regrets of the dying is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Think about that for a second and how it relates to your own life. What decisions have you made not on your own but because that’s what others expected? Spend time doing what you love, and you’ll have far few regrets.

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How have you found happiness in your life?


  1. studenomics says

    Awesome article. You nailed it with this quote: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This is very true and I’ve noticed this with friends. I have friends that were forced into jobs by parents. They hate it. It’s your life. Why not live it your way?

  2. Yeah, I agree.  I think you pretty much summed up what it takes to live a happy and full life.  Being grateful and generous are key ingredients for sure.  Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Sounds good! I’m a lot happier now without a job. It was making me miserable and I’m so glad I’m living life on my own term now. Glad to hear you’ve cracked the code.

  4. Abraham Lincoln once stated that “folks are only as happy as they decide to be.”  How true this is.  Events can and will wreak havoc with us and it is up to us to find happiness and serenity regardless.

  5. This is one of the best article I had read about money matters. Thanks! I do enjoy and get lots of advice from this article.

  6. Wow, what awesome insight and advice Jeffrey! You make some really good points that really resonated with me. Generally I’m a pretty happy and thankful person, but I can always use a reminder to not let fear overcome the other more important aspects of my life. And to take time to be grateful.

  7. lannietrivisonno says

    Great article, Jeffrey. Twenty somethings always have the ‘spend or save’ internal monologue going on. This piece offers a lot of insight on a lot of things! Thanks for sharing.

  8. YourDailyFin says

    Great points Jeffrey but to be honest I think most of these would work for any age.  You would be surprised how so many people in their 30’s and 40’s need to adopt this ways.  We give 10% no matter what as well good job of getting back on that one.

  9. TortoiseBanker says

    There’s nothing wrong with spending money on things you love!  Thanks for sharing.

  10. Happiness is definitely partly a choice.  One can be really happy at a party or choose to be miserable.  I also find that when ever we do something different it makes us happy because its change.  We get accustomed to what we have so a change from that gets the happy chemicals in our brains going.

  11. Jan Koch says

    Hi Jeffrey,
    I agree with you, that one decides whether he wants to be happy or not. Though it’s very hard to get used to the habit of being grateful about small things. We tend to treat them as normal and focus on the bad things, because they are “not normal”. 
    I think the life is more than that, it’s normal the people have good days and bad days, and it’s normal the we all are in bad situations.
    For me, I made a huge step towards being happy as I started my internet business and cut down my hours as employee by half.
    Though I’m not making a full living online right now, I won’t stop working until I do. And each new thing that I learn, person that I meet or progress that I make with my business makes me happy!

    All it took was to conquer my fear that it couldn’t work out and my job was safe. But what would I do if I’m laid off? Hustle for a new job? No, I decided to create my future by my own work 🙂

    All the best,

  12. No one can tell you what to do because it our personal decision. Likewise in deciding what career to choose its very important to be on what makes us happy in order to be more productive. I agree on the message of your post Jeffrey. Not all can do what you did.

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