Sabbatical and Parental Leave – Downshifter’s heaven!

Some words on spare time:

I love it!

My job is fine and I like going there but it’s absolutely not my goal to spend too much time there either.

I am committed to enjoy every single year now and I want to keep my body, mind and spirit in good shape to have a good time in the next decades as well.

So better not work too much if you somehow can afford it (and you can! by living more frugal and by earning/spending more efficiently).

Additionally, I love travelling, the world is big and beautiful, so that needs a lot of time.

Safranbolu, Black Sea, Turkey – a small village in Ottoman style (on the UNESCO world heritage list). Makes you feel like having warped to the 17th century (but photo taken in 2010 by me) and a very good place to stop at during an extended parental leave trip.

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Happier Workplace: A week without Gossip

“Did you hear the news?!”…well this kind of gossip setting sounds ok to me…(seen at Galata Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey)

For those of you who are employed:

I am currently working on another approach to increase happiness, respectively to decrease unhappy feelings:

Staying away from gossip at work.

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TV – the (Un)Happiness-Effect

In the previous post, we were discussing the money and time-consuming aspect of having a TV.

Now let’s look on what happiness economics has to say on watching TV:

Source of the following is the book “Glück – die Sicht der Ökonomie”  from the  swiss professor Bruno Frey, who was one of the first to start scientific research on the measurement and causes of happiness.(English version here).  Highly recommended reading for those who speak German.On his website there are a pile of publications to download in English as well, however mostly very scientific papers and more complicated to read. I happend to hear an excellent lecture of Prof.Frey at the Ludwig-Maximilans-University of Munich in 2001 or so – another great leap on my journey to more good days to live.

First of all, average TV consumption is massive throughout the world:

3h 30min for the average German.

Even more, 4h 50min, for the average US citizen.

That’s a hell of a lot of time!

Let’s make some comparisons:

I don’t know what happened to this guy. Maybe he was watching too much TV?! (seen at Oktoberfest, Munich, Bavaria)

  • Over their lifespan many people will spend more time watching TV than working.
  • The average US guy will spent 1.700 hrs (or 70 days) watching TV per year.
  • He will have spent 13,5 years watching TV at the end of his life (assuming age of 85, start watching at 15 – rather optimistic I’d say).
  • Assuming 10 ads per hour, you will see 17.000 ads per year and – OMG – 1,2 million ads in your lifespan. (Given that ads increase your desire to buy things you don’t need that fact alone should be frightening and alarming to anybody looking for a more frugal life.

OK, fine, but what now are the outcomes of the economic research?

Well, first finding is, that people tend to be unable to control their TV consumption, thus in economic terms they are overconsuming, or consuming beyond what is good for them. They later tend to regret that they watched so much TV say on a given weekend, but they struggle to get rid of the habit (That’s probably why Mrs. Woodpecker wisely proposed to get rid of the TV-set finally).

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Guide to Happiness & Money: Do you need a TV?

Did these guys need a TV? (seen at the amazing ancient greek city of Ephesus, today in Turkey)

Woodpecker’s last TV

Do you remember these bulky huge TVs, one bought in 90s?

Big as a wardrobe and energy-consuming in a way you could heat your flat with them?

That was the last TV I owned.

I don’t know how many hours I spend in front of it…
…until finally it broke down in 2004.

I was going to let it be repaired, but it was Mrs.Woodpecker (Mrs.Woodpecker in spe at that time), who voted for putting it away in the basement for some time, as she felt that she could not control her TV consumption.
Because of that she was one of the few persons who never possessed a TV, until we moved together some years before.

So the TV set went to the basement, and guess what:

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Early Retirement Extreme – Yes or No?

Seen at Rila Monastery in Bulgaria – a great place to get some distance between you and your job.

Saving is a key concept for anybody who strives for a frugal life.

Saving can add a lot of freedom and control to your life, because it means to think about what you really need, and to do spending and consumption more consciously. And it can free you from the rat-race, as it will curb your need to ever increase your income.

However, I am not a friend of saving on its own sake, and I am so far not yet fully convinced by the concept of early retirement extreme (ERE), which discussed a lot in the frugal community.

I sure respect this approach, and I find it very stimulating reading about it, as it teaches a lot on how to renounce unnecessary consumption and wasting money. But I see certain risks in ERE as well and generally in relying too much on saving alone.

Here are a few of my doubts:

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Maslow’s pyramid of needs

Climb the pyramid of needs. (seen in Palenque, Mexico)

As mentioned in my initial post, I started seriously and more or less systematically thinking on how to live a happy, financially independent and free life quite a long time ago.

But when I really go back, it probably all started when I was at school, 17 years old, and we studied “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” in Ethics/Philosophy-Education.

(I really like the German school system btw. It is often said that school and university take too long in Germany and people learn too much “unnecessary” stuff, but that’s not true. Many of the things I learned proved to be quite helpful in a way one would not easily have expected. Maslow is one of them.)

And here is what Maslow said, what deeply impressed my that time and made me set the goal for climbing up his “pyramid” as high as I possibly could:

Maslow sais that human needs are arranged in a pyramid, with the most basic and necessary-for-bare-living needs being at the bottom, followed by more and more sophisticated needs further up.

The stages of Maslow’s pyramid are:

1) Physiological Needs (food, water, sex etc.)

2) Security Needs (secure body, property, securing enough food, security from threats, having money)

3) Belonging/Social Needs (Friendship, Family, Love, Social Ties and Networks, Intimacy)

4) Esteem/Individual Needs (Respect by and for others, Achievement, Confidence)

5) Self-Actualization Need (Full Development of own potential, Possibility to express oneself)

The theory sais that a human being always is on one of the stages and always strives to sustain the current stage and to maybe climb the next stage. But he/she will not care too much about the stages further up.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Source: Wikipedia)

Same holds true the other way round. Satisfaction is gained from reaching new stages or from mastering the current stage. Stages further down are taken for granted and cannot really make you happy anymore.


If you are starving (you are below level 1), you do not care about Self-Actualization or Social Ties. You want food, you want to climb level 1. And you value it very high if you get food, it will bring you a lot of happiness.

When you got enough food (you reached level 1), you want your source of food secured, such to never starve again. Thus you want to reach level 2 (Security needs). And so on.

The other way round, if you made it to level 4, and already live a quite sophisticated life, you are respected, you are self-confident and so on, you take food for granted, and just giving you some more ordinary food will not at all make you happier.

This is in my eyes a very wise concept, and very early I decided for myself that it should be some guideline for my own life and that every now and then I will measure which stage I am on, and what is missing to proceed.

I think it’s a good exercise for everybody to do that as there are so many people who just stick around on one level (e.g. security by accumulating money for its own sake) and just don’t see that there is so much more to do and to make it to the top.

So now, what stage are you on?


Jealousy from the Stressed, and how to avoid it.

This post handles jealousy and is based on my German/European experience. Jealousy is said to be a more common emotion in German society than elsewhere, so I would be interested how your experience is…

Your decision

Those of you experimenting with downshifting while working as an employee in a company might know the situation:

After thinking a lot about your work life, your consumption and the right balance in your life, you decided to downshift.

You decreased you costs of living, you found out about the pleasures life has to offer at little costs if you have a bit of spare-time. You understood the 80/20 rule, saying that 80% of the result are reached by 20% of the effort and that the remaining 20% of results need 80% of the effort.

You found out that after all you have enough or even too much money if you only manage to spent it the right way, but that you have too little time, to really enjoy today.

So you do the obvious, you cut down your work time as far as possible and you get some healthy mental distance to your employed work. You still do a good job but you decided to avoid being pushed and getting stressed by others.

You are ready to pay the price or are paying it already in form of less chances to get promoted or to get a rise. And you maybe earn already a bit less by not having over hours to hand in for cash as instead you are taking free time.

But that’s fine, your life is much better than before, as your increased happiness by having less stress and more time far outweighs the marginal loss in income.

If the waves get too high at work – you’d better get out of the water before your energy is gone… (Waves seen in Malta)

Will others accept your decision?

But what’s really annoying is your colleagues, who keep on mocking when you are leaving at 5 instead of at 7 as them. Or when you take a day off again, converting over-hours into holiday.

You might have expected that your bosses will complain, and you are prepared for that. But your colleagues?! Why the hell are they mocking, even those who are not at all affected by your work at all? And the same colleagues who complain so much about stress and that one should do something against it?

Simple answer:

They are obviously jealous.

So how can you deal with it?!

Well, at the moment I see only two ways:

1) Be open and explain them your choice

Help them to see the whole package, i.e. you might have less stress and less work but you also have less of a career and less money in the long run.

You don’t do any illegal or immoral. You do your job still properly in the time you do it. And maybe you got even more efficient, because you are more relaxed and less prone to errors made under stress.

It’s a choice you made, and it’s a choice open to all of them. So however they decide for themselves, they shall not complain about your decision.

Generally, I think this would be the right approach. However, you will find that this strategy reaches only a fraction of your colleagues. Namely the more intelligent ones.

So you might have to resort to option 2:

2) Camouflage

This is actually what most people in bigger companies do, not only the downshifters, but also the stupid, the unskilled, the lazy, the hard-trying-but-unsucessful, the successful-but-secretly-incapable and so on. So why not you?

You simply have to find out who the gossipers are in your company and who can keep his mouth shut.

The gossipers you tell every now and then how incredibly stressed you are, you mention some fictive overtime last weekend, the piles of work you take home with you each day and so on. Just be careful they cannot verify it quickly – but don’t worry too much about that, those people like to gabble, not to control. And often they are not the most hard-workings as well. (Their gossiping might even be their own personal strategy to detract from their incapability.)

And tell the truth only to the more intelligent people, those who proved that they keep their mouths shut.

The mass in-between those two groups you tell nothing.

Stay out of trouble

Don’t get defensive. And don’t get too offensive as well. Just relax and leave office when you worked the hours you are contracted for. Make sure to help out when your colleagues are really under pressure every now and then, but make also clear that in general it’s not your job to clean up the mess that some superior managers produce by not prioritizing and allocating work efficiently.

My experience is, it works!
Since quite some time I give my best at work and do a good job. But I generally work only the 39 hours I am contracted for per week. Overhours I convert to additional free time instead of cash. I take long holidays and try not to get involved into the mess others produce. And gradually my colleagues (well most of them) and my bosses got used to it and accepted the way it is. On the other hand, my chances on promotion or a raise might be reduced. But that’s alright, because that was my choice, and one has to accept that you cannot have everything.

Get your downshifting accepted by others really works, especially if you do it gradually. E.g. you leave 10 minutes earlier each week until you are down at your contracted hours. (People behave like frogs – put them in boiling water they are shocked, heat up slowly they will not recognise at all)

And you should keep up a good spirit. Keep out of gossip, don’t join mocking and complaining about others and the cruel wordl, thus you will avoid making enemies.

General when trying to downshift, it is very important that you keep an eye on your reputation in the company.

You don’t want to have a bad one in any case, because that quickly means additional stress again…and that’s not our goal at all, is it?

Enjoy this day!