Want to be rich and happy? Own an unsexy business, get married, and get outside

3 min read

May 18, 2022


A recent New York Times article has been going around lately that looks at data about income and happiness. It's an opinion piece, mostly from the perspective that the author was surprised by some of the results of the various studies. The biggest take aways for me are:

  • Your average rich person owns an "unsexy" business like a car repair shop, gas stations, etc.
  • Money can "buy" happiness but that happiness has diminishing returns (happiness goes up roughly proportionately every time you 2x your salary)
  • The most happy people tend to be married, get together with friends, and get outside a lot

To me, a lot of these seem like common sense. The author also recognizes this.

The findings on the data of happiness are, to be honest, obvious. When I told my friends about these studies, the most common response was, “Did we need scientists to tell us this?”

- Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (author of post)

Being from the midwest I wasn't quite as surprised about unsexy businesses being lucrative. In my small town growing up a lot of the families that had any recognizable wealth tended to own the local car shop, grocery store, etc. or be a doctor or dentist. I remember those being the only super obvious paths to wealth growing up just because I wasn't exposed to things like tech or startups really. There were likely many more "millionaire next door types that saved their pennies over the years as well.

Should those of us in tech get into "unsexy" businesses?

As someone in tech I sometimes wonder if starting these types of businesses could be a really good option for those of us who can code. Being able to leverage our skills to reach new or more customers could prove to be really useful. A lot of marketing channels involve tech these days as well that the incumbents might not be currently leveraging.

The reality of this idea is that I am probably way oversimplifying how easy it would be to break into a market and the work is also hard. I fully admit that being able to sit behind my desk and churn out code is a pretty sweet spot to be in. I'm unsure how willing I am to trade that for a more physical type of job.

Bootstrapper Ethos

I think some of the public makers who are bootstrapping have a similar ethos as the local business owner. Being a bootstrapper you are fully responsible for yourself, often toiling away while no one knows about you. I often think about how many different software companies are out there that I have never heard of just killing it in their niche. You rarely hear about the person making ultra niche, but they're out there making a solid product and delighting their customers. Maybe future iterations of this post will be surprised at the number of solo devs living the good life with their "unsexy" SaaS.

I hope I'm on the list.