Key to Happiness? Learn How To Comparison Shop for Happiness


With the holidays coming up, there is going to be a lot of smart shoppers out there searching for the best deals. But for now, I’ve created a shopping guide for something else more important than getting the best deals on Black Friday. I’m working on how to get the best deal out of life.

Comparison shopping is the practice of comparing prices and choices before purchasing. Comparison shopping for happiness (CSH) is my practice of measuring the financials of your wants optimizing for time and happiness. I have been working out comparison shopping for happiness in my head and it has shown me what complete overpriced bogus I’ve been spending my money and time on.

Shouldn’t savvy happy shoppers find the best deals?

When I was writing our levels of FIRE, it occurred me that parts of it sounded like I was giving up the pursuit of wealth. We were talking about retiring early, selling the rental, leasing out to live closer downtown in an effort to reduce my husband’s commute and amplify time together.

There was nothing about active accumulation and none of those things (selling, moving, etc.) are cheap to do. But as time goes by, I still don’t see why we can’t do any of those things. It might take time, planning and some waiting but I know we can be happier at the end of it. There’s no excuse for getting a bad deal on happiness even in the pursuit of FIRE.

There are a lot of different ways you can argue for delaying gratification. Actually, there are a lot of good arguments for sticking your ground. That is the advice you give to someone during a market downturn. You tell them to ride it out.

This is different. There’s no downturn and things have been roses. That’s more evidence that I must not be doing comparison shopping right. I haven’t been optimizing for time or happiness properly if, in the good times, I’m still daydreaming about a way out.

Adding another point, opportunity cost and time no longer make a difference after a certain point. We’re lucky enough to FIRE early anyways so the financials (C$) may not have the sacristy issue as happiness (HL/HD) or time (TI). What good is it going to do either me or Jared being the richest person in the graveyard?

comparison-shopping-on-happiness-formula, CSH

Happy level is the degree of how strong those emotions are (HL)

Happy duration is time while you’re happy (HD)

Time invested is how much time you’ve put in (TI)

Cost is money or any other form of sacrifice (C$)

We needed a visual so hubby and I scribbled out this rudimentary equation. I’m not sure if this is smart or been done. But it’s useful to us. The CSH formula might need some tweaking. It doesn’t account for more complicated issues like opportunity cost, factors that are undetermined or unknown. It doesn’t calculate the cost of removing an obstacle.

The end result of the happiness equation above should tell you if something is worth it in terms of time invested/cost/duration/level. In the perfect situation, you would usually have something that brings you a lot of happiness, for a long period of time, without too much time invested or high costs.

I really like what my husband said – “if you’re young, rich and happy…well screw you.” Hahahaha.


An university offers a 5-year STEM program for students to get their Bachelors and Masters degree all in one go. The fast track program can shave a year off of tuition and time (C$ + TI).

The computational field is highly in demand and has a high forecast rate of growth. Attending that 5-year fast track program would give you a strong competitive edge and employment stability even through downturns (HL). A completed diploma in hand does not expire so your HD would be considered longterm, especially in a field that’s growing. The time invested (TI) was relatively short if you are planning to start employment at 25 and retired early at 50. The C$ towards the 5 year STEM was a great deal because you were gainfully employed for 25 years.

That program sounds like a pretty good return on happiness for the time and money invested.


I mentioned in my ideal FIRE goals that I wanted to try cocaine on the last day of my life, for science! 🤔 Let’s say I don’t feel like waiting until I’m old and gray. I send my husband Jared to pick me up some fairy dust from Psycho Mike that lives behind the dumpsters at Denny’s.

I wouldn’t need to invest hardly much time (TI) and I’m guessing that stuff is pretty potent (HL…kinda). But ah, the high is gone in a hour (HD) and that money has long gone bye bye now (C$). I don’t need to tell anyone here why drugs are a very, very bad deal.

Could someone who has children do the equation for kids? Was it totally worths?! 😉

Happiness Reigns Supreme

To understand my argument, you have to temporarily entertain the principles behind my reasoning first:


  • Life after death is an unknown.
  • The pursuit of happiness over time is the ultimate goal.
  • Happiness is the ultimate goal because wealth is abundant but time is finite.
  • Chasing after abundance is greed.
  • Keeping score with just money means you lost.
  • The biological baseline for happiness is not an excuse.
  • Maximizing time being happy requires more learning than meets the eye for some.

I started feeling more assured of every principle above after we crossed the millionaire mark. The small spoiler here is we jumped clear over it in the beginning of November 🙂 We also got the new 2016 property tax evaluations and our usual striplings.

Millionaires! Woo, right?

That night (and just about every other night now), my husband has bad timing with the bus because he stays at work so late. Jared’s been coming home after 9 PM almost every day this week. He comes through the door after walking 13 minutes from the bus stop in a whiplash of an October rainstorm, soaked from head to toe. He doesn’t like driving rentals in a storm because of the decreased visibility and the off chance he would be stuck in traffic and running up the meter. As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for him to come home soaking wet again. It’s a bit funny. I can already picture him waving hello to me while drying off with Grace’s dog towel from the entryway of our house. As usual, he’s in his decade-old all-seasons coat. We were both happily unhappy in an otherwise exciting time, you know, being millionaires and all.

Since I only know the now and thus the seconds I’m happy, warm, loved, fed, and healthy etc. I need to maximize for time. The biggest regret would be me at 80 and say “I didn’t fill enough seconds after realizing this with as much joy as I could have.

How to Shop for Happiness

1) Figure out what makes you happy.

That’s easier said than done. There’s often more than one source of your desires – in fact, humans have so many desires we have probably very polarizing ideas of happiness. Some donuts like me take over a quarter of a lifetime to figure out their lives.

2) Lay it all out so it’s easier to compare.

Comparison shopping for happiness is made harder because not everyone knows what they want. Be realistic about it. Learn why you want it and why it makes you happy.

3) Figure the cost/time invested/if it’s worth it across those avenues.

Sometimes it costs nothing, sometimes it costs a lot just to build the framework for the environment.

If you wanted to come home to someone who would cook you a good meal, it shouldn’t cost you anything but it would take time.

Don’t forget the ultimate goal is maximizing life/time remaining to be as happy as possible.

4) Mark out what you are doing right now. Is what you’re doing building up or contributing to what makes/will make you happy?

My biggest issue with myself right now is not marking out what I wanted to do and aligning them with my goals.

Currently 0 for 6. Lily, you fail.


Gallivant around the Earth for food.

Start 3 successful businesses.

Write a book.

Being able to afford dance lessons, summer trips, carriage rides through Central Park and dining at Red Lobster besides only on birthdays.

Assure generational wealth.

Make history / Wikipedia page

Do some cocaine on the last day of my life (just curious).

5) If not, repeat steps above. Analyze, reset and rebuild.

Life is one big project. Do not be stubborn because right now is the best time for a change. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. If it’s not a money issue, then why not make a go for it? If it is a money issue, account for that.


Who knew the economics of happiness could be so complicated? They’re just feelings, right? The brain processes things quicker than any equation or formula so a lot of this is natural – if you know what you want. The equation isn’t important. We all know how to comparison shop and have done so to shave a few dollars here and there. Comparison shopping for happiness is the logical and rational step up from that. You chase and comparison shop after happiness and make sure it’s worth it for you, see, not rocket science.

P.S. I’ve been zombie binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix for the past 6 hours while writing this up, can you forgive me if I sound super moronic right now?


19 thoughts on “Key to Happiness? Learn How To Comparison Shop for Happiness”

  • This is such an original post! I have never thought of happiness this way before. Lately I have been wondering what I’m passionate about and want to do for the rest of my life. I’m happy with my family and all. But I also want to find my own path.

    I’m glad Jared got home safely in the storm. I didn’t know he had to work so late. Mr. FAF also comes home at 8-9 now, but it’s because he works out at the gym in this office building and has to drive an hour each way.
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…10 Things I’m Grateful For (Thanksgiving Edition)

    • Oh Jared works out at the gym 2x a week. Other days he’s just kept late. I don’t want this schedule to continue for any longer than 5 years. It’s terrible. Does Mr. FAF really have to drive for an entire hour?!

  • I’m debating sharing this but after I shared such a flop last time idk (hahahah I still liked that post even if it wasn’t super popular!)

    I love this idea, it makes a lot of sense to analyze it that way. It may not be perfect but it calls out the important things to consider whenever you’re doing…well, basically anything. 🙂
    Dave @ Married with Money recently posted…Be Thankful

    • Haha I think you have good taste Dave! I’m not really understanding what the readers want so I’m just going to write whatever works for me x) I’m glad you liked it. I may have overthought this one.

  • Nice formula, but I think you’re over analyzing it a bit. 🙂
    People change and what make us happy changes too. We just have to keep adjusting.
    I think we just need to keep at a steady level of contentment and have occasional bursts of happiness. That keeps life interesting and fun. If you’re at a high level of happiness all the time, you’d adapt. That’s hedonistic adaption, right?
    Have a terrific Thanksgiving!
    Joe @ Retire by 40 recently posted…How to Avoid Overspending this Holiday Season

    • “A steady level of contentment and have occasional bursts of happiness.”
      Ahhh! That’s so true. I’ll aim for mellow with burst of YAHOO! Hedonistic adaptation xD

      GREAT point Joe!!

  • I agree with Joe. It is great to make a robust plan like you detailed in the post. But it is OK to pivot on your plan and change it according to what will make you happy as you continue on your journey through life…

    PS – Stranger Things is such a good show! I’ve been limiting myself to one episode per week!

  • I agree with your general concept but I don’t want to calculate every decision in a formula like that. And I’m an engineer! I think people already make big decisions knowing how they will affect their happiness. Sometimes people sacrifice happiness for money. That’s sad. If you don’t enjoy life, what’s the point of having all that money?
    Jeff @ Maximum Cents recently posted…How to Calculate Your Savings Rate for FIRE

  • Wow, you think deep about stuff. I can see how this would get over most people’s heads, but what you are saying makes a lot of sense. I don’t know how to compute for kids because I’m still at the stage where parents got to put all my time, money, energy in since all they can do is look cute. Have to wait a bit (like starting at 2-3 when he can start doing chores — I did my research), before he’ll start giving us a return.

    And about taking 25 years to figure out what you want in life…I think most people even when they are in their 60s really know what they want, so you’re ahead of a lot of people 🙂

  • Congrats on the millionaire status. I think you can afford dance classes and all those other things.

    I gotta say I’m with Joe on the over-analyzing. I don’t mean anything negative by saying that I think it’s partly due to your age. I was so freaking serious at your age too (and I made myself miserable)…I was just talking last night with an old friend who I lost touch with for more than 30 years. She’s almost 60 now, her 2nd husband just died, and she’s starting over — living with a friend, and broke. She told me that I sounded really happy and I replied to her (more or less these words) — “you know, when I was younger I looked for those really high highs, and then I’d have those really low lows. Now I’m so happy to be peaceful and on an even keel.”

    The biggest problem with over-analyzing is the TI — actually the TS — time suck. It takes a lot out of you and if you put in equal energy on the small stuff as well as the big stuff, the well runs dry, you get headaches, shoulder problems (and if you’re like me, you make your spouse crazy with too many choices). I’m still learning this. Some decisions are worth making an OK choice, and not the best choice, because the time and energy is just not worth finding the best.

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

    • Completely understood Mrs. G and I love both you and Joe’s point. I always feared no one would take the time to correct me if I said anything dumb. My age does play a key part. When I was writing this I self-diagnosed myself with a quarter-life crisis like my friend, and then it combines with my tendency to expect “the best” out of everything.

  • You should go to Red Lobster more often now before you have kids! Baby + restaurants don’t mix that well!
    Also, I LOL about the dog towel… poor Jared! I hope it stops raining in the PNW soon.
    Doing a line of coke might do you in with a cardiac arrest if you’re in your 70’s to 80’s or even 90’s and it might be difficult to source that at that age 🙂
    I think the secret to comparison shop for happiness is to look inside for happiness and be grateful for everything you have right now. I sound all cliche and stuff but I believe it 🙂 In fact, I have a gratitude journal that I write in once a month or so about everything that I am grateful about 🙂
    GYM recently posted…The Best Combination: Self-Employed and the Employed

  • It should be (TI X C$) not (TI + C$). Just kidding. Within a few years, you will realize that what would make you happy is completely different from what you think now, you are still very young.

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