Posted by: patenttranslator | September 14, 2013

Freelancers and the Concept of Gross Personal Happiness (GPH)

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. 

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. 

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. 

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Excerpt from a speech by Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

I would like to say a few more words on the subject of “vacation for freelancers” while considering it from a different perspective then the narrow-minded perspective I was somewhat obsessively taking into consideration in my last post on this subject.

Specifically, why not consider all of freelancer’s time a semi-permanent vacation which is every now and then interrupted by more or less welcome (depending on our mood and the status of our bank account) “bouts of work”?

When you put it like this, there is no reason to complain about “down time”, as there is no reason to be permanently working, provided that we have enough money coming in from intermittent but relatively frequent jobs to live on.

Permanent work is just something that we have been trained to accept in Western world as the only way to live ….  but is it really the best way to live, especially when for most people, work is something that they simply have to do to pay the bills, even though they don’t really enjoy it very much, or at all?

When Jigme Singye Wangchuck became the king of the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan in 1972, he declared that he was more concerned with “Gross National Happiness” than with “Gross Domestic Product”. This concept did not get much traction in the Western world, however, where happiness is understood, based on the official interpretation of our economic and political system, as the ability to make more and more money to be able to consume more.

In other words, it seems that outside of Bhutan, most people live to work, instead of the other way round.


But I would submit that freelancers in general, and freelance translators in particular, should be (and some probably are) better able than your average employee to formulate and stick to their own concept of General Personal Happiness (GPH), which does not depend mostly on an incessant flow of work and on how much one makes during a given month, but instead on how much we enjoyed (or hated) what we were doing every month.

If one month I make X thousand dollars working my a*s off from morning to evening, and next month only a half or a third of that, based on the GPH index, the question should not be simply “why did I make so much less this month?” but instead “which month have I enjoyed more?”

Of course, everything will depend on how much money we need to pay our bills. But often we don’t even realize that a significant percentage of our expenses is complete, total, utter and pure waste, a major product rather than just a byproduct in the era of crapitalism. This seems to be unfortunately true about most countries as I just saw on French news that 1/3 of food sold in French supermarkets must be thrown out because it is past its “best-by” date (they call it “gaspillage allimentaire“).

There probably is something that we can do about some of this waste in our lives if we only use our brain.

About six months ago, I decided to pull the plug on the movie package that I signed up for with my cable TV, phone and Internet service provider to save money. “I want to cancel all of the movies”, I told the lady who answered my call:”You keep repeating the same movies anyway, so I will just watch Neflix instead”.

But instead of canceling it, she offered “to adjust” my rate by deftly switching around some items on my TV, phone and Internet bill in which the services are “bundled” in such a complicated way that nobody can really figure out what costs what. The idea is of course to keep the customer as “illiterate” as possible when it comes to being able to figure out the bill.

Nothing changed after my call as I still have the same lineup of channels (and 90% of it is still crap), but the bill was reduced by about 60 dollars. A lot of people must have cut the cord completely, and the mighty corporation is thus trying to prevent me in this manner from following their example, even though it means a lower profit margin.

Inspired by my encouraging experience with the cable TV company, I called my cell phone company. “How much would it cost to terminate my contract early?” was my question.

I was ready to pay the penalty, get rid of my iPhone and buy one of those simple and cheap no-contract cell phones, but the lady at the other end of the phone line knew again exactly what to say to talk me into continuing the service. Somehow she was able to reduce my monthly bill by 40 dollars by using a different formula for figuring out the monthly cost, again without changing anything in the service as far as I can tell.


Now that my children are old enough to finally more or less take care of themselves, I think that how much I make during each month should be only one, relatively minor component of my General Personal Happiness (GPH) index.

The hot and humid summer days are finally turning into cooler fall days, and soon the trees will burst into an explosion of fall colors, so beautiful in Virginia.

If I make much less money this month compared to the last month, which is quite possible, well, it just means that this month I will spend more of my time on a mini vacation, enjoying other things that I like doing in addition to working: reading, walking the dog, or writing new posts for my silly blog.

Since I made enough last month, I will try to concentrate on the other components of my GPH index if the ebb and flow of work this month points this time in downward direction.


  1. Hey Steve,

    Really nice post. I really enjoy posts about our translator lifestyle choice. It may be hard in the beginning where we’re still getting used to days of anxiety when there are no projects, but ultimately I think we let that go and just “let it be”. I think that casual attitude towards life is what keeps me happy the most.

    Thanks again!



  2. Thanks for your comment, Anthony.

    I can confirm that the anxiety never really leave you. You just have to get used to it and start making fun of the freelancer’s existential angst, as uncertainty about what the future will bring is something that will be always present in a freelancer’s life.

    But all things considered, an employee often thinks that there is no need to worry about the future – just before he is fired.

    It is much safer to be a freelancer than an employee these days. I actually think that the employer-employee model is probably outdated these days.

    It’s like the paradox about the perceived danger of flying and driving. Every time when I get on a plane, I experience some anxiety when the plane is taking off.

    But I never worry when I start my car, which is much more likely to get me killed than a plane.


  3. My observation has been that 99% ‘live’ to work FOR the 1%, whereas the 1% ‘work’ to live OFF the 99%. The quotation marks are intended to highlight that the term is used loosely in the context.


    • The obvious question is, will the 99% finally try to do something about it?


      • I suspect that most of the 99% do not know what is being done to them, so I do not expect any change soon. As expected, the recent attempts in the US to draw attention to the fraud committed by Wall Street appears to have gone nowhere.


      • Brainwashing works when it is done the right way.

        But only until it doesn’t work anymore.


  4. “In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, ***if we will live simply and wisely; as the pursuits of the simpler nations are still the sports of the more artificial***. It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do…”
    Henry David Th.


  5. “It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do…”
    Henry David Th.

    “Was she told when she was young
    That pain would lead to pleasure?
    Did she understand it when they said
    That a man must break his back
    To earn his day of leisure?
    Will she still believe it when he’s dead?
    Ah, girl, girl, girl”



  6. Getting philosophical or spiritual, Steve? But I like this blog post,

    Obviously, we choose right vacations at times with more or less works for our lifetime, no complaints about too much work or too low rates. 😮

    Ah, nice to be freelance translators!


  7. Ah, nice to be semi-retired translator extraordinaire like Wenjer!


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