New Research and a Dirty Truth: Read This Before Chasing the Dollar


“You’re nobody here at $10 million,” said Gary Kremen, the 43-year old founder of, of Silicon Valley.

In the August 5th New York Times article titled, “In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich,” he and others in the nation’s wealthiest 1/2 of 1 percent admitted to feeling compelled to work 60-80-hour work weeks just to keep up. Hal Steger, who’s banked more than $2 million and has a net worth of $3.5 million, echoes the sentiments of these “working-class millionaires” when he says, “…a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe in the ’70s, a few million bucks meant ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore…

C’mon now.

I live in a nice part of Silicon Valley, and I do whatever I want for less than $5,000 per month. There are more metrics to consider. More important, I’m “happy” by all conventional measurements. But I’ll be the first to admit… it hasn’t been this way for long. Only in the last three years have I really come to understand the concepts of time as currency and positional economics. Before I explain how you can use both to exit the rat race and dramatically upgrade your Lifestyle Quotient, let’s look at some numbers… According to polls on this blog:

46.88% of Americans say they would need to make more than $200K a year to be happy

63.41% of Americans, assuming prices remained the same, would rather earn $50K in a world of $25K earners than earn $100K in a world of $200K earners

74.64% of Americans would rather get Fridays off vs. a 20% raise

Would you be happier if you were richer? A recent study published in Science by a group including Princeton professors Alan Krueger and Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics, indicates that annual income is less important than anyone could have guessed. In fact, it gets less important as the per-capita average continues to grow. Here are a few highlights that foreshadow where we’re headed:

-The ways in which people with high incomes spend their time tend to make them more tense and stressed than their less-affluent counterparts.

-If personal wealth does not necessarily lead to personal happiness, then how well does gross national income reflect a nation’s well-being? Not well at all.

-Economists can add another dimension to their measurements by examining an alternative currency: time, “the coin of life,” as poet Carl Sandburg called it. The study of income and happiness featured in the Science paper suggests that time-use — how one uses one’s time — plays an important role in personal well-being, so national measures of time-use might aid our understanding of well-being on a national scale.

In the study itself, they move into positional economics and answer the question: why does income have such a weak effect on subjective well-being? Here’s the science-speak, skip it if you want, and I’ll translate it below:

…a permanent increase in an individual’s income has a transitory effect on her well-being, [even though] relative standing would increase. …The increase in relative standing can be offset by changes in the reference group: After a promotion, the new peers increasingly serve as a reference point, making the improvement relative to one’s previous peers less influential. (24) Second, Easterlin (1,2) argues that individuals adapt to material goods, and Scitovsky (25) argues that material goods yield little joy for most individuals. Thus, increases in income, which are expected to raise well-being by raising consumption opportunities, may in fact have little lasting effect because the consumption of material goods has little effect on well-being above a certain level of consumption or because of hedonic adaptation. (26) Moreover, people’s aspirations adapt to their possibilities and the income that people say they need to get along rises with income, both in a cross-section and over time. (27)

Basically, even permanent increases in income have little effect on perceived happiness, as we compare ourselves to those above us, no matter how much progress we make. Material goods give us a short-lived happiness sugar high, and we seem committed to making ourselves miserable. That sucks.

What to do? There are a few ways to use the currency of time, and awareness of positional economics, to your advantage to beat the Joneses on new terms:

1. Focus on “relative income” — defined as hourly income — instead of “absolute income,” misleading annual income that doesn’t factor in time. If you assume a 40-hour work week and 2 weeks of vacation per year, estimate per-hour income by cutting off the last three zeros and dividing in half. Thus: $50,000 per year –> $50 divided by 2 = $25 per hour. Relative income can be increased by increasing total income for the same hours, getting the same income for fewer hours, or some combination thereof. More options with more life.

2. Determine your precise Target Monthly Income (TMI) for your ideal lifestyle — the goal of most rat-race income competition — and focus on structuring mini-retirements to redistribute retirement throughout life. There’s an excellent Excel spreadsheet here for calculations.

3. Determine your “where” of happiness. It’s not necessary to permanently move to a country with depressed currency, but even temporary relocation to a domestic (check out Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard’s Life 2.0) or international location with a lower cost-of-living resets your peer group and positional economics barometer. Being perceived as rich often translates into perceiving yourself as rich. Neat trick and a hell of a lot of fun. Two of my top picks for positional resets are Argentina (see “How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires”) and Thailand.

4. Develop appreciation in tandem with achievement. Subjective happiness depends on appreciating what you get as much as getting what you want. The first step to true appreciation is perception: cultivating present-awareness. I recommend experimenting with lucid dreaming as tested at Stanford University, in particular the “reality check” exercises of Dr. Stephen Laberge.

5. Develop competitive social groups outside of work. Participate in games outside of income mongering. Train or compete in a sport where income is a non-factor. That dude makes $1,000,000 a day as a hedge fund manager? I don’t care–his golf swing sucks and he has love handles. Here, it counts for nothing. Oh, and her? I know she just got promoted to national manager for IBM, but so what? I just scored 5 goals on her. In this world, I rule.

Don’t let rat racing be the only game you play against the Joneses. There is always someone willing to sacrifice it all to earn more, so let them. Just remember: it is entirely possible — in fact, common — to be a success in business and a failure in life. Take the red pill and think different.


Odds and Ends:

Winner of the Planet Earth DVDs: Will W. of “death of unions” suggestion, you are the winner! Please e-mail your mailing address to and point her to this blog post so she doesn’t think you’re nuts. Congratulations!

Where did I end up sending the 200 books to change the world? Based on your suggestions, I actually mailed out well over 300 to the following organizations: The Robertson Scholars Program at Duke, The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Accelerator program, the AERO experimental education center, The Kauffman Foundation, The Public Forum Institute, Vistage International, the YPO, and several women’s entrepreneurial organizations both here and in the US. Thank you for the recommendations!

Posted on: September 4, 2007.

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91 comments on “New Research and a Dirty Truth: Read This Before Chasing the Dollar

  1. great post Tim. I am a new reader, only finding out about you around a week ago through (i must admit I spend to much time there since it was introduced to me). I have yet to read your book, but I’m planning on picking it up this weekend. I like your out look on life, though it varies differently from my current mind set. Luckily im still young (21) and have time to change. Im currently in school for IT training, which is known for its excessive hours ( I do enjoy IT, but I also have alot of other things I would like to do in my life). What recommendations do you have for some one like me in the IT field where every thing is spending time solving problems and keeping thigns running 24/7. Some one else asked this question earlier and it intrigued me. I’ve often played with the idea of owning or running my own business in some form or another, rather than being a slavewage for a company who will over work me and under pay me for their bottom line. Again, any suggestions, and any other readings you would suggest in tandem with 4HWW?


    Hi Mike!

    I suggest you also check out “The Monk and the Riddle” by Randy Komisar. It was given to me as a graduation present and is a great partner book to 4HWW. Enjoy and good luck!



  2. I read this today in’s “Having it All” series:

    “At least once a week, schedule a family activity that involves interaction such as a game, bike ride, trip to the playground, etc.”

    I first laughed out loud at the ridiculous image:
    “Look at this dear. According to my day planner, I am on track for 48 scheduled interactions with the kids this year, up from 40 last year!”

    Then I just about cried at the realization that this scenario’s maybe not as ridiculous as I first thought and that there are dads who run their family this way. What. What? What! WHAT ARE PEOPLE THINKING!?


  3. …and while on the rant about the “Having it All” series…

    “Among the countries surveyed, Americans receive the fewest vacation days on average per year, earning only 14 days, compared to 24 days in Great Britain, 26 days in Germany, 30 days in Spain, and 36 days in France.”

    Look at those words: “received”, “earning” – other surveys use similar words such as “get”, “grant”, and “award”. It’s our “Time” to give to a company – not the other way around.

    Here’s hoping that the day will come where the corporate approach of “Give us all of your days and we will grant some of them back to you” seems crazy.


  4. Thanks Kirsten (Post 49) and Tim.

    I volunteer a few hours a day at, of all places, a spiritual center. And yes, you’re right, it’s incredibly fulfilling. But what I have is a less existential and somewhat more operational question. I’ll ask differently: is there a book or website out there that simply lists things to do (mental, physical, or spiritual)?

    I realize that I may be guilty of flitting from one pursuit to another, but when “time” and “money” are no longer constraints, and one has expended one’s own creative powers, I’ll rely on borrowed wisdom (or, as above, just a long list of ideas to cruise through).

    Unrelated but (and no, I’m not an outsourced Bangalori hack hired by Tim to say this): if you haven’t read the book yet, stop reading this blog and read the book first. I consume a book a week, and for the past several months began reading business books for enjoyment. So after a steady diet of “how to grow your company”, “how to be more efficient at growing your company”, and “how to shine the customer’s shoes”, it was an intoxicating breath of fresh air to step out of the “Matrix” and read about a completely different paradigm. Within the first 30 pages of 4HWW I called up 3 other thirtysomething retiree friends in the middle of the night: I had to share the excitement (“Finally! Somebody had written a book about us!”(Tim: You have me as an anonymous case study for future written works)). Immediately after reading the book I re-read it with pen and paper in hand to operationalize anything that I hadn’t already been doing. The sad part: every business book on the shelf now seems incredibly dull; more accurately, utterly obsolete.

    Tim, when’s the next book coming out?


  5. Dear “The Other Side”:
    I think Kristen is right on the ball by suggesting volunteering, especially when I read your phrase, “when one has expended one’s own creative powers”. Good Grief! The best part of life is EXPANDING one’s creative powers! One great way to do that is to put yourself in volunteer situations with groups who have big visions but seemingly limited resources. The key word is “seemingly”. What happens in volunteer roles is that you begin to realize what can only be achieved WITHOUT money. Money can prevent you from using and growing your creativity, which is really limitless. A great book on this topic is “The Soul of Money” by Lynne Twist. Check it out.


  6. Thanks Anne. I’ll check out “The Soul of Money.”

    Speaking of books and jumping off planes, for anyone needing just that extra nudge into the unknown, the following are great:

    “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand: How to quit and just not care. And what it means to truly love one’s work.

    “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse: Rich prince turned wanderer.

    “The History of Rasselas” by Samuel Johnson: A novella masterpiece written in a week. Another prince searching for answers.


  7. Well i just picked 4HWW up tonight, and im allready through chapter 4. Some things line up with my current thinking, others vary, but not by alot, and make alot of sense. I gusse thats the point though isnt it? I havn’t checked out the “Monk and the Riddle” yet as Tim suggested. I’m itching to read more to find out how its all possible, and I allready have some ideas, lets see how much they match up :)

    My biggest concern right now is that I’m still not even fully capable of compleatly takeing care of my finances, so how am I going to get off the ground with out the 9-5 I so dread. Curently i work part time at a job while I get through school, one that I hate (sales floor) becuase I spend 90% of my time doing NOTHING, simply becuase there is nothing to do, and getting yelled at for doing anything thats not work related. (kinda sounds like Tims ice cream shop job).

    Sorry for the rant there, but on another note, what do people think of the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, its another i have stumbled across in the last month, but not yet read, though heard good things about it.

    Oh, and though i doubt your the type to watch much TV, any chance of you makeing an apperance on the Colbert Report, i think your make a great guest.


  8. The root issue here is that they are insecure because they feel the need to keep up with the Joneses. They talk about their neighbors having more, so they need more. They have plenty but are compelled to have more so that they can brag at a higher level.


  9. TIM,

    Outstanding reference to Fight Club, another movie that reflects the overworked people in our society is seen in Boiler Room.

    I spent 2 weeks in NYC, mostly in lower Manhattan, and it was amazing to me to see how so many people seem so stressed out running around without a clear presence of what is going on. Since i have read your book, I have reduced my hours from 40 to 15 hours. I own a concrete biz and am in the mist of opeing a t-shirt co. Great info, i use the blog as supplemental info, as i would with vitamins in the morning.


    Jose C


    Jose, you “daily dose” of blog comment just made my day ;) Thanks for participating in the discussion!

    Rock hard,



  10. Tim,

    As a guy who cherishes “experience” over “things,” do you have a long list of great (mentionable) experiences that you might share with us?


  11. question, what is your opinion on franchise, like opening a coldstone or a McDonalds. they have a buissness model already in place, are market proven, and I would think it wouldnt be to hard to automate them either.


  12. Pingback: Building a Life
  13. Great article and great post! But aren’t we understating the importance of money just a tad? Tim, I believe that you can do whatever you want for $5,000 per month, but that’s only because you found a way to make that money without having a job.

    Suppose you were making $5,000 a month, but it was from a job that was sucking the soul out of you, and you saw retirement from all employment as a necessary step towards happiness. And suppose that like most people, the only way you could think of to replace your income was to save up $5 million or so in order to get $5,000 a month as distributions from a mutual fund. In that case, you probably wouldn’t see your $5,000 monthly salary as enough both to do whatever you want now, as well as quickly save up $5 million so you could quit your job and live a life of purpose.

    I do see your point though. It reminds me of the old man in the original Legend of Zelda who would lock you in a room and demand “Your life or your money.” You had to either give up 100 rupees or a heart container. It was always an easy choice for me.


  14. Tim,

    Very interesting post. I do agree that people (especially in this valley) define their happiness by their wealth, and your four steps on how to feel “happy” are right-on.

    The reason I said 4 steps is that, I found the last one (“Develop competitive social groups outside of work”) a bit troublesome. It’s always good to know that there’s life outside of work, of course, but do I really have to make my extracurricular activity a macho ego fest? If that hedge fund manager actually is better than me, now, do I blame my lack of fund to hire a personal golf coach? I would replace the last step with what you are already doing… helping others in need. As you probably already know, serving others who are less fortunate gives you perspectives on life and wealth, and teaches you compassion and humility. That seems to make many, including myself, happy, don’t you agree?

    Always thought-stimulating posts. Looking forward to more travel posts (e.g. tips on cheap Tokyo trips)!


  15. Hey all,

    has anyone taken the dale carnegie course? Im considering taking it but it is very expensive. I want to make sure it is worth it. Thanks!


  16. Wow, there’s a lot of comments… and I can see why. This article was absolutely earth-shattering for me. I know that sounds strong, but I’ve been going through somewhat of a personal conflict with the expenditure of hours in my day. I haven’t read your book yet, but after reading this I’m just about over the edge and ready to buy it.


  17. Good stuff. The book “Your Money or Your Life” was the first good resource I read about things like this. I think Tim’s 4HWW book usefully goes even further by pointing out that most companies are fundamentally hostile to anyone working fewer hours, no matter how productive the person is.

    I was in a downsizing company and took a voluntary buyout in 1996, using the proceeds to travel for a year. Was biased toward SE Asia so I could afford more time. Had really gamed the frequent-flyer-miles system as well, mostly on self-paid leisure trips.

    One year became more like three as I was just plain lucky with the ’97 currency crash, and I also dipped into the IRA. A HUGE no-no, I know, but the thing just happened to be pumped up in the dot-com bubble and then collapsed, which it would likely have done to a lesser extent anyway.

    In ’99 I started using eBay as a travel-income supplement, before everyone and his brother were trying to do that. It got leaned on more and more after the dot-com bust, providing just enough to keep me out of the workforce. Hours were long, pay uncertain, benefits nil, but the time flexibility (for travel) and being my own boss, plus the whole idea of having to work for someone else again, were enough to make me fight repeatedly to hold it together.

    My lifestyle still depends quite a bit on geoarbitrage (especially with health care and prescriptions done in Thailand on biannual trips). Ebay and PayPal are both very greedy companies that have seriously hurt whatever goodwill the sellers used to have, so I’m looking for a new gig along Tim’s lines to cut working hours. It’s often hard to be striving for time freedom when you’re completely surrounded by those who are on the work-spend treadmill, whether by choice or (usually) not. It may require a change of scenery to thrive.

    I have some of the parts, just need to add some more.


  18. Hi Timothy

    Wonderful book! Especially appreciated the ‘Filling the Void . . .’ chapter, which had the ring of truth to me.

    I’ve had a great but time-devouring career, first as a journalist, then as a not-so-successful entrepreneur followed by speech writing. Each career brought along its own ‘meaning’, which I embraced wholeheartedly.

    But the existential angst of having to get up each morning and create meaning all on one’s own seems different. More challenging but also, if you manage to do it right, more meaningful.

    As you say, no man, or woman, is meant to specialize in doing just one thing, all the time, forever.

    Now I better get back to work investigating my own version of 4HWW and follow your advice about not frittering away time on email.

    Thanks for sharing your discoveries




  19. Hi Tim,

    I’ve been reading your book for the last few days and its suggestions have already started to help me to deal with my “lack of time” to do what I want. Your Eliminiation, Automation & Delegation strategy (I’ve been using the acronym EAD to better remember it) has been especially helpful because its so simple and practical.

    I was surprised at some of your ideas in chapter 15 however. While I agree that being happy and doing things for others are necessary daily habits, the ease with which you pushed aside the question “What is the meaning of life?” was curious.

    Scientific evidence that the universe had a begining, along with our knowledge of its immense complexity screams evidence of a designer. Anybody who found a watch on a deserted beach would not assume that it had no maker because they couldn’t see one. Knowing more about our maker and his reason for making us would surely add meaning to our life and help us to set the right priorities in a world that offers us countless options.

    The search for such valuable knowledge might create stress and cause a few knicks and bruises mentally, but it would also help us to avoid setting the wrong priorities in our short lives and add depth and meaning to any happiness we already enjoy.

    Thanks again for your enjoyable, easy to read and helpful book.


  20. Tim, i have read most of your book. While I am enjoying it and learning a lot. Unfortunaltly, i jsut don’t see how anybody can acheive that success without an investment. I have two business. One is my bread and butter . I am a personal lifestyle manager amd the other is a struggling hat business (new) i had to fire my web guy . I know have a non functioning website. i do not have the money to fix it. In fact i am struggling just to keep the roof over my head and have thought of getting the day job just to help pay the bills . I would rather poke my eyes out with bicyle spokes LOL. I am single mother with two kids that shares custody. While i would love to pack my bags and set sail. Its unrealistic. Its like “what came first the chicken or the egg”. That’s how i feel. You still need money to make money and no one is going to do anything for free. Do not get me wrong. you have the tools for me but i cannot use them until i have a few thousand laying around and or my children are grown up.
    love the read . keep writing


  21. Hey Tim,
    Love the book. I’m getting my website redone for 160 bucks after a posting on The book has opened up a load of possible “muse” ideas in my head – but I fear the procrastinator in me will soon take over and I’ll end up just ‘talking’ more. How can I keep motivated when i serially put things off? I have a really cool ‘scalable’ fully automated business that could work. But everyday further from when I finished 4HWW, the plan is becoming a bit of “well maybe when I…” and soon, “ah s$#%, I should of…” Any advice for a person whose philosophy on life is “will get er’ done”? I turn 30 in six months, and if I screw those up, that’ll suck.


  22. Tim and others who get it,

    Fantastic! I am so glad that I have found a community that is with me that traveling the world is not just for the “lost souls”. People used to tell me (Mostly my parents) that while I was seeing the world in my late teens and early twenties, sooner or later I would have to get a “real job”!

    I listened to them, went back to school, graduated in engineering and now hove a nice, stable, well paid, great benefits and suffocatingly boring “real job”.

    The funny thing is, I really miss the constant learning and flexible schedule of being a student. The only thing that I feel of benefit is the security/stability, not the income. Because just as you have realized, we adjust our lifestyles to our incomes. I used to take entire 2-3 month vacations abroad for the summer, but now just a “too-weak” vacation.

    Security/stability can be replaced with monthly cash-flow. So here goes, after working part-time on some other projects, my wife and I have been able to supplement our income just enough to quit it all, pack up our things, rent out our house and move to a coastal tourist community in Taiwan! Just like you, I will be programming my day around learning the language and enjoying “my” time with my wife and newborn child. Some of my friends and colleagues just can’t understand why I would “jeopardize my career” when in fact the stuffy career was exactly what I wanted out of my life!

    Thank you for your inspiration, I knew that there were others out there that are crazy enough to chase your dreams!

    Kampai, Gambei, Cheers, Prost, Salut!


  23. After two hard years working in a legal office, helping defend a case with profound First Amendment implications, I spent two weeks on Kauai. As a benevolent fate would have it, a check didn’t arrive, and I had $300 to cover expenses. Zounds. Well, I’ll tell you, it was wonderful. I completely lost the separate-and-above tourist consciousness. I was only too aware that I was, financially, at or below the level of everyone I met, from sun-blackended little Japanese farmer’s market sellers, to grocery store clerks. “Hm, can I afford to rent a snorkel?” “Two oranges and a half-tub of tofu for dinner will keep me from feeling hungry later.” It was deeply restoring, and I wrote some of my best words.


  24. I really love your “time is currency”. It doesn’t make sense do be a trillionaire if you can’t use some time to do what you absolutly want to do. It’s like living a life only for the mission of feeding your childrens greed when you die. How fun and inspirational is that on a scale of 1-10:)?


  25. here goes a long comment but pertinent i think:

    I personally decided to skip hating my life until that elusive day of retirement and instead traded a cubicle and the hum of florescent lights for the rainforest and an unlimited supply of sugar bananas. At 22, I went straight from business school to Costa Rica (subsequently ping ponging around Central America to land in Nicaragua for the time being). 3 years later and still living it up, I couldn’t shake the nagging doubt and uncertainty about when this trip was supposed to end. Was it all too good to be true? Were the US immigration authorities going to drag me back to the land of traffic light cameras and tabloids?

    The 356,928th “when are you going back home?” question prompted me to start questioning my style of life: no TV, selective media exposure, taking Mondays or Fridays (or Monday through Friday) off, getting just as much enjoyment out of perfecting my raw coconut ice cream recipe one day as I would jet setting to a bachelorette party in NYC another. Is this allowed in real life??? All family, friends, acquaintances and clients had either written me off completely or would use guilt to try to bring me back permanently to good ‘ol America: Land of the Free, Land of Reality TV.

    Had it not been for my little sister idly coming across 4HWW at her college bookstore and subsequently gifting it to me, I might never have realized this existed. Never again will I doubt my very non-boring life, my intuition or the truth that if you chase only money, you will never be satisfied or fulfilled, or grossly misinterpret money for success until it’s too late. I encourage all of you to do something you’re passionate about, and quit what you’re doing if you’re unhappy immediately if at all possible. I’ve found that when you’re out of your comfort zone, your built-in, subconscious human safety net will kick in and somehow, it always works out…

    Right now I’m at chapter 7 and completely amazed (and a little weirded out) regarding how much the book parallels my life. Tferris, if you happen to be in Prague in September, LA in October, Cartagena in December, Central America through June or Bali next summer, look me up.


  26. Hey bubba,

    Listen I just finished reading your book and I thought it was brilliant. I honestly think holding a competition here for the folks for a night on the town with you and hell I dunno Bono or something like that somewhere remote and completely unorthodox (Eastern Bulgaria? XD) would be a pretty swav event after reading what you did at the university during your “seminar” on selling drugs. I’m a first time poster on here and I figured I would start by firing ideas up. Hopefully one of them hits home? Being 18 my “creativity” tends to come out a bit wack sometimes :P

    Anyways, thanks for your time,



  27. Tim,

    your book has been very difficult for me to read. I’m only into the second chapter and almost crying. What gets me is not the realization that all of this is possible, it’s knowing that I already knew it was possible and was simply not willing to figure out how. The quote from JFK really hit home “Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens in your life.” I’ve always felt I didn’t need much and I’m a pretty smart guy so everything was always easy for me but instead of choosing to make more with my life, i simply chose to be mediocre which was still better then my peers, but it did not satisfy me; correction, it DOES not satisfy me.

    I took a job as a consultant because I could take a lot of time off and travel around the country while on the job. Every year, I backpack around the world for 6 weeks straight, so I’m on the right path, but when I’m working, my job is soul sucking and lifeless. Six years in, I have kept in contact with a third of the friends I used to have and don’t feel socially connected anywhere cause I’m gone most of the time. When I complete your book, I’ll put myself to work at building that social foundation again and just staying put for a while. it’s on my list ->

    I’ll let you know how it turns out.


  28. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Excellent work!