Lessons From The Burn: Why NOT Working, Won’t Make You Happy


One of the most detrimental modern-day beliefs is that when you’re ‘successful’, you won’t have to work anymore. 

Financial advisers (including myself) have used this promise to inspire people to seek financial advice and build a portfolio you can ‘retire’ on. It’s a message with good intentions, but like most things in life, there’s a shadow side too. 

Firstly, when you focus on a future aspiration, you do so at the expense of living in the now. In turn, you can’t enjoy your current state. More importantly, would you really be happy doing ‘nothing’? Chances are you won’t – as these examples prove. 

Work means contribution

At Burning Man, I stay at Deoxidised – a member-led, self-sufficient camp where camp members organise all camp activities. This includes setup, cooking meals, serving at the bar, and even cleaning the toilets. Not all camps are like this. There are several camps where a small proportion of members does the ‘work’. Other camps are ‘pay to play’ where everything is done for you so you can party your little heart out! (The Burning Man committee wants to eradicate these). 

If you had the choice, which type of camp would you pick? 

Thanks to our modern approach to life, I’m confident most people would pick the latter. Why work when you can party?

But here’s what’s interesting…

If you asked Deoxidized campers about their favourite parts of the ‘burn’, most would share a moment involving some form of camp work. 


As humans, we’re wired to want to contribute. This goes back to tribal days where contribution meant helping your tribe become stronger. A strong tribe increased everyone’s chance of survival and ensured you were more valued. 

You also connect with others through contribution. Over the years, the majority of campers I’ve stayed in touch with weren’t the people I partied with until sunrise. Instead, it was the people I got to know while chopping 5,000 mushrooms or serving cold drinks behind the bar. 

Looking back, the times I’ve felt most alive, happy, and purposeful have always been while contributing. On the contrary, when I achieved so-called ‘financial freedom’ I got depressed and allowed my life to unravel through self-harming behaviour. It was a challenging experience. After achieving my goal and getting myself into a position where I didn’t have to work, I was miserable. 

And I’m not the only person who’s had that experience. 

Financial freedom does NOT guarantee happiness

For example, I’ve seen a 60-year-old high ranking corporate executive leave with a redundancy package worth $2Million plus [on top of his current net worth]. You’d think he’d be as happy as winning the lottery, but he wasn’t. Instead, he went into a spiralling depression because the absence of contribution stole his self-worth. 

It’s a similar situation with most lottery winners. Most of us dream of the big win, but studies show that after two years, lottery winners are about as happy as someone who’s been a quadriplegic for two years. 

The pattern returns for professional athletes. Those with the foresight to build enough assets not to have to work in retirement are often miserable, because they’re no longer contributing their gift. 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting for a second that you shouldn’t have long-term financial goals. It’s not a good idea to throw away good financial disciplines and stop accumulating wealth. (WE wouldn’t be in business if WE didn’t believe wealth-building is crucial). 

Instead, review your reasons for wanting to build wealth. Ensure you’re not falling into the same money trap that’s made myself and others miserable. 

Get clear on what you really want

We’ve seen that not working doesn’t guarantee happiness. Instead, it can make you miserable by stealing joy from the present moment. 

So what should you do instead? 

First up, get to know yourself. Question your beliefs and challenge your aspirations. Make sure they’re not taking away the pleasure you can receive from every day acts. Make sure you know the difference between what you want and what society wants for you. 

Next, set intentions over arbitrary goals. A goal keeps your attention locked in the future because it’s attached to a specific outcome. In comparison, intentions connect to the way you want to feel. 

When you think about not working, do you want to do ‘nothing’? Or is it more about having the flexibility and freedom to pursue other things you love? Is it more about contributing your gifts in a way that brings you the most joy? If so, make those experiences your intention. Instead of waiting until you have money to retire, intend to experience a life of flexibility and freedom today. This still requires you to save and invest to accumulate a portfolio that funds this lifestyle, but rather than waiting for a future, you can have what you want now.

One more thing on the link between contribution and wealth-building. 

Contribution keeps you in an abundant state. The law of reciprocity states that when you give you will receive. In other words, you can use work/contribution to escape a scarcity mindset [which in turn opens up the channels for abundance to flow]. The challenge is that giving is often the last thing you want to do when you’re experiencing lack! But remember, this is just another way that ego controls us. It tells us we can’t do things for others because we don’t have enough for ourselves. But have you ever really been wanting? 

We live in an abundant world and as long as you keep contributing, you’ll never go wanting.

So drop the fallacy that life begins when work stops. 


Instead, embrace the truth that meaningful contribution – throughout life – is the key to lasting happiness, freedom, and abundance. What do you think? 


Disclaimer: All information contained within this article is of a general nature. Do not rely upon it when making financial decisions. Please consult a professional financial advisor or planner (like us!) before acting.