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How to Develop a New Mindset for a Badass Happy Life

Moving from an average life to an awesomely happy life may require the development of a new mindset. If you’re thinking, “But I have an amazing life!” “Why should I bother reading this?”

Do you have four Mondays in a row?

In other words, do Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays sound like Mondays 1–4?

Do you spend your Sundays dreading Monday?

If this describes you, you need to change your mindset because, let’s face it, you’re not living a truly happy life.

Living in a perfect storm

In 2011, I began a process that completely altered my mindset. Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis. I found myself at a crossroads and thought I was living a happy life when I was anything but happy

Did I have a stable and successful career?

Yes, but that did not translate into happiness at home.

I was like a child posing for the camera with a fake smile. I had a great job but was only contributing a small portion of my pay to my 401(k), hoping to retire someday with a mortgage paid off. The bank accounts were low on funds, and the liabilities were numerous, including a mortgage that seemed enormous to me.

It felt like I was living in a perfect storm. Even though the sea appeared calm to me as I went through the motions. Then, like lightning, a game-changing word struck me and jolted me awake.

Start asking why

I began to wonder why.

Photo by Trinity Kubassek on

Why was I living that way?

What kind of American “dream” was this?

Why was I adhering to a set of rules and traditions imposed by society with little input from me?

Around the same time, a fire changed my life and led me through a complete transition, as it changed my perspective on many things. There were difficult decisions to be made, which required critical thinking and the unlearning of many previous behaviors.

Turning around 180 degrees

I looked closely at my personal finances, and it wasn’t pretty. However, I did not flee my problems. I resolved to clean up the mess on my own, but it was not an easy task.

I had to change my perspective on things and on life. There was no instruction manual to follow. Nonetheless, I flipped my life on its head. I took complete control, and there was no turning back once I got started!

The answers were not always readily available. Anyway, every step in the right direction brought me closer to my soul, inner peace, and debt-freedom. People around me began to notice that I was becoming happier. I felt empowered and began “engineering” my life.

Looking back, I can’t say I’d change anything about how I went about things. I’m documenting my steps in the hopes that they can help you define your moment, seize opportunities, and lead you to happiness if you’re in a similar situation.

The actions I took helped me become a better person. And I’m glad I met Tatiana along the way because she was an important part of this journey that has now resulted in true happiness. These are the actions I took, as listed below.

Question everything in life

Have you ever noticed how society has predetermined most of your life events in sequential order before you were even born?

When should you be baptized? (if you come from a Christian background). When you should marry, have children, buy a house, and when you should retire and essentially die. Before you even came out of the womb, there were a slew of traditions and social expectations in place that you probably have no idea why.

Grandma and the bone broth

Have you ever heard the story of Grandma and the bone broth?

I recall hearing this story in my college psychology class: A mother was making soup one day when her inquisitive child asked, “Mom, why do you cut the bone in half to make the soup?” “Because that’s what grandma used to do,” the mother replied.

Another time, when the grandmother came to visit, the child inquired, “Grandma, why did you cut the bone in half to make the soup?”

” “Because the pot was too small to fit the entire bone,” the grandmother explained.

So, for her entire adult life, the mother would make the soup and cut the bone in half, probably thinking it was a recipe requirement, when it was actually done by the grandmother out of necessity.

Like in that story, there are things in life that were decided for a reason but may be irrelevant to me or you. So, why should we continue to do things without questioning why?

Don’t blindly follow traditions

This mindset may keep us doing repetitive tasks day after day and following traditions without questioning why they were instituted. For example, society expects us to work 8 hours a day, but is this really the best amount of time to spend laboring to make a living? And only because someone decided somewhere along the line that we needed to get 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of leisure and entertainment, and 8 hours of work?

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The eight-hour workday, which was not widely accepted until the 1950s, was decided out of necessity because full-time manufacturing workers were clocking in an average of 16 hours per day. As a result, people revolted against working so many hours.

The 40-hour workweek is one of those old ideas that needs to be revisited and updated for the twenty-first century. If you work in an office, I’m sure you could get all of your work done in 3 to 4 hours a day if you were allowed to keep your full salary and go home when you’re done.

Do we need to remain unhealthy for a healthy economy?

With all of the technological advancements, we should all be working fewer hours. We probably wouldn’t need to work in cubicles if we didn’t have to. Full-time hours are still required, leaving little time for other activities. But, if we no longer need to work all of these hours, why is this concept still alive?

David Cain wrote an insightful article for Business Insider about the real reason for the 40-hour workweek. I’ll quote him on this eye-opener:

“All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution, and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy,” America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.”

David Cain

Aha! That is a more valid reason why we continue to work 40 hours per week!

Working long hours at work increases our stress and keeps us unhealthy. We may overeat as a result of our anxiety, become depressed more frequently, and visit the doctor more frequently. Or, as a result of working longer hours, we may frequent happy hours and discover a greater need for entertainment.

Healthy people do not need to buy junk to be happy! That pretty much sums up our way of life. This is why we no longer belong to the zombie holiday shopping club. Purchasing or gifting more unnecessary items does not make us happier.

Can healthy, happy people create a healthy economy?

I believe that we can have a healthy economy and a healthy America in the long run. A thriving economy can be created by healthy, happy people.  But all of your working hours will not disappear because society has a plan for you.

If you don’t wake up and ask yourself why things are the way they are, you’ll continue to live a pre-planned life in which you may not have much say.

Instead of going through the motions, why not consider whether the motions in place are appropriate for you?

That’s what I did, and it felt amazing to be in complete control! By changing my world, I began to change the world around me. I questioned why my life was taking a certain path. I questioned the whys of all my actions, which led to answers that made me stronger and more certain about how I should live my life.

2. Get rid of labels

During my transformational phase, one exercise I did was to remove all labels imposed by society for a period long enough to allow me to cleanse and detox my mind. Instead of fostering dialogue, these labels tend to create barriers.

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What if you stopped thinking like a Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Liberal, Moderate, Catholic, Protestant, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Muslim, Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore, Black, Latino, White, Asian…? The labels can be endless!

Labels limit your views

A labeled world can prevent us from seeing other points of view. I recently came across a presentation by Warren Buffett to Nebraska students about how to avoid debt and the financial future of American youth. During the Q&A, a member of the audience asked a question, and Buffett’s response stuck with me. He refers to it as the Ovarian Lottery. These are wise words from a man who has lived through many of our country’s conflicts. See the following transcript:

Student: To what extent do you believe that current welfare and social security policies are financially sound and fiscally prepared for the future?

Mr. Buffett: “I think that the country as a whole is quite well prepared for the future. We have an enormously rich society and it will get richer. Everyone isn’t going to participate in that. Some won’t participate because of physical disabilities, others because of mental disabilities, others because of shortcomings in the education they received while growing up… all kinds of reasons…

I pose this problem sometimes to people. Let’s assume that it’s 24 hours before you were born and a genie comes to you and says: ‘Joe, you look pretty promising to me. You got a sense of fair play and a good mind. I’m going to let you have an extraordinary opportunity. I’m going to let you design the world in which you’re going to be born in 24 hours. It’s yours! You pick out the political rules, you pick out the economic rules. You pick out the social rules. You design the world and when you are born in 24 hours you’re going to be born into that world. That’s the world that it’s going to exist for your lifetime, for your children’s lifetime and their children’s lifetime.’

Having heard so many genie jokes before, Joe says ‘What’s the catch?’ And the genie says: ‘Well, a there’s a very slight catch. When you’re born in 24 hours, you’re going to emerge into this world but what you don’t know is whether you’re going to be born black or white, male or female, rich or poor, weak or able-bodied, bright or [mentally challenged], in the United States or Afghanistan. All you know is that you’re going to reach into this barrel that has 6 billion balls, representing everyone person in the world, and you’re going to participate in what I call the Ovarian Lottery. You’re going to pick one ball and now you’re going to merge. What kind of rules do you want to have for that society, not knowing which ball you’re going to get?”

Consider this: What kind of world would you create if you didn’t know who you were?

Put yourself in the shoes of others to see how they see the world. Without passing judgment, try to understand why they react the way they do. Labels exist solely to shape our perceptions.

People can become so fixated on a label that they are afraid to venture outside of their comfort zone and try new things. I once overheard a coworker say that a family member would never cook a dish from another country because they are not from that country. What!? That’s a stupid way to label yourself and prevent yourself from trying new things.

Unfortunately, the YouTube video with the entire presentation has been removed.

3. Redefine your relationship with money

There are those who will tell you that having a budget means allowing money to control you. Most of us know that it’s the other way around: when you manage your money, you’re in control. Until four years ago, I had never truly understood the true meaning of money.

It wasn’t until March of 2012, when I bought the book Your Money Or Your Life, that a lightbulb went off in my head and I became more conscious of how I viewed money.

What does money enable me to achieve?

Why do I bother going to work every day?

Do I have to work until I’m in my 60s?

I’m glad I discovered answers early enough in life to change my path. Most importantly, I discovered that spending more money with my life energy did not make me happier. Money is simply a tool that allows us to do whatever we want with our time.

“Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.”

Vicki Robin, Your Money or Your Life

4. Eliminate, improve, simplify

Step 1: Deduct what takes away happiness

Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, defines “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions. In other words, happiness is the absence of suffering.

During my soul-searching period, I began to analyze my life and purge all negativity. My stress level decreased as soon as I started down that path. It was a period in my life when things got a little worse before they got better. As I continued to remove negative elements from my life, I became increasingly immersed in joy.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Mark Twain

Keep negative forces at bay and negative people out of your life to immerse yourself in true happiness!

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Of course, there are some life circumstances that we cannot avoid, such as a death or illness in the family.

How much of our happiness do we really have control over?

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, analyzes studies and reports that 50% of our happiness is set by our genes, 10% by life circumstances beyond our control, and 40% by our own actions.

Even if you don’t have happy genes like me, you can still control 40% of your happiness!!! So, join the happy bandwagon and stop believing that you have no control over anything!

Step 2: Improve what’s working

We talked about getting rid of all the negativity in your life in the previous step, but I’m sure there are also things that are working for you.

How else could you explain your ability to read these words on a digital screen?

Now, take those positives and think of ways to improve them.

How can you improve your efficiency?

How can you invest more in valuable relationships and get on track to achieve worthwhile goals?

I can think of a few examples right off the top of my head:

  • While I was paying off debt, I continued to save and invest until the debt was gone. After I was debt-free, saving for financial independence became a top priority. Instead of reverting to a consumer mindset, I improved my saving and investing strategies even further.
  • If learning about finances improves your life, keep being a sponge and soaking up more information.
  • If you’re pleased that you switched from a two-year cell phone contract to a prepaid plan and are saving more money as a result, keep looking for better prepaid deals.

Always strive for continuous improvement. Manage your life like a successful business. That’s how you go from average to badass hero on the FI path.

Step 3: Keep things as simple as possible

“More money, more problems,” as the saying goes.  More money may result in more problems. The reason for this is that as we earn more money, we tend to complicate our lives even more. When most people get a raise, the first thing they do is upgrade their lifestyle.

They pay for additional services. These people sign up for more offers, which results in more bills at the end of the month. They buy newer cars every four years, incurring more debt and taking on larger mortgages. These extra costs sap more of their life energy.

In reality, you’re creating a cycle of deprivation by denying yourself the art of simplicity. By simplifying your life, you will become more efficient and will have more bandwidth to think about the important things. Begin by decluttering your space. It’s therapeutic. Then, continue on to other aspects of your life.

“Most clutter enters our lives through the ‘more is better’ door. It comes from the disease of materialism, of looking for inner fulfillment in outer possessions.”

Your Money Or Your Life

Also, take a look at your finances and see where you can simplify them. I remember having a bunch of savings accounts but with small balances. I think I had them compartmentalized for every major spending, like a pool maintenance. When you have a house with a pool, you need to have at least $1,000 saved to cover the expenses of running it in the summer.

I didn’t want to reach out for the credit card when the summer came. So I would save that money in a separate account. The funny thing is I would still get into credit card debt for other things that were “unexpected”. Now that my relationship with money has changed, I can have one emergency account for all my expenses. I’m no longer tempted to spend money just for the sake of it.

close up photography of bicycle chain
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5. Name your top five priorities

What are your life priorities?

What are your life priorities? For me his question was answered the day I realized what items I would want to take out of my house if there was a fire.

There weren’t many of them.

I realized I only cared about a few items that brought back pleasant memories. I didn’t care much about the big screen TV or any of the other replaceable items.

Tatiana, by chance, was already on that path and knew her top five priorities in life. She lives by them, and it has helped her consider what truly makes her happy. A list of five keeps you focused because you don’t make decisions without a good reason.

6. Find unconventional ways to get things done

Remember that the people who created the laws also created the loopholes. To live a normal life, you must eliminate all thoughts that have become ingrained in your mind. Remove your predetermined biases and try new approaches to a problem that you never considered before. Always look for flaws and ways to circumvent the system. You don’t have to break the law, but you are allowed to break the rules.

We’re defying “expectations” by claiming that we can retire in three years with solid numbers to back it up. There’s no reason to work until retirement age just to get health insurance. We’re getting rid of the guides because they’re useless to us. At the end of the day, if you do what everyone else is doing, you’ll end up where they are.

This is a lengthy post…are we there yet?

Yes, please brace for landing. 🙂

Only in the United States are you given the opportunity to rise again and again after falling. It’s one of the things I admire about this country. All you need is a strong desire to succeed, some effort, and a lot of determination. The rest sort of falls into place as the universe aligns to make your dreams come true.

I’ve failed before, but I’m the type who gets back up and tries again. My determination to be truly happy is what has brought me to this point in my life, where I can say that I am finally on the path to true happiness. I now base my decisions solely on what makes me happy.

Tatiana always says that she makes her world revolve around her because if she’s happy, everyone else will be happy as well. I couldn’t agree with her more.

So, don’t put off starting your journey to a badass life any longer:

  • Begin by asking why, and then question everything.
  • Remove the labels that confine you to a preconceived mindset.
  • Rethink the role of money in your life.
  • Get rid of negative people and negative energy; improve what’s working in your life; and simplify things along the way.
  • Determine your top five priorities and live by them.
  • Finally, look for unconventional ways to get things done.

We all have different journeys and aren’t drawn to the same things. Regardless of how much noise disrupts your life, remember that you must first find your own source of happiness before you can make others happy. Make the most of this now or never opportunity.

How would you define a badass happy life? Do you believe destiny controls you, or do you believe you control your own destiny?


After dedicating 13 years of his career to Vanguard, José retired from the corporate world at the young age of 44. During his tenure at Vanguard, he expertly coordinated the production of both electronic and print educational materials for 401(k) participants. Now, he relishes in his early retirement, cherishing time spent with his family, indulging in his favorite hobbies, seeking out new experiences, and savoring meals in the comfort of his own backyard.

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