– Stella, my daughter


My daughter is about to turn two, and she recently started asking “Why?” Every time she does, my eyes light up in excitement!

You see, “Why?” is a game kids play starting around age two, and they’ll continue to play until their parents, teachers, TV shows, and government convince them to stop.

Here’s an example conversation:

Me: Let’s go outside
Stella: Why?
Me: Because it’s a beautiful day
Stella: Why?
Me: Because it’s 70 degrees outside and the sun is shining
Stella: Why?
Me: Because there are no clouds in the sky
Stella: Why?
Me: Because I love you. Now let’s go!

Side note: I usually end the why conversations with “I love you.” rather than going into the basics of physics or meteorology with my 2 year old.  I can’t wait until the day I can say “I don’t know, let’s go look it up on the computer!”

If you think this is a silly conversation, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Rather than responding to the first “why?” with “because I said so” I’ve taught my daughter several important lessons.  First, that she should spend time outside on beautiful days.  Second, that a warm sunny day is a thing of beauty.  Third, that the sun shines on days without clouds. And finally, that I love her.  These are all good things for her to know.

Saying “Because I said so” is the worst thing you can ever say to a kid.  “Why?” you ask?  Because eventually this will teach them to stop asking, and that’s the biggest disservice you can do to someone.

Asking “why?” is how kids learn the way things are. It’s how they learn science, art, music, math, culture and everything else. Watching a 2-year old ask this question over and over is proof that humans were born to seek understanding, not to memorize facts and follow the leader.  Discouraging the question leads to a hatred and apathy for education.  It leads to unhappy kids with straight A’s but no real knowledge.

“Why?” is the most important question in existence.  And here’s the good news: it’s not just for kids, it’s for you too!

Asking “why” is the key to leading a deliberate life, because you must first understand why things are the way they are. After this, you can make an educated decision on how you want to proceed.

Here are a few “why’s?” to start with:

  1. Why should I go to college?  Is it because most smart people do, or because the thing I want to do the rest of my life requires it?
  2. Why should I have 2 cars in my family household, even though I can easily bike to 90% of my destinations?
  3. Why should stay at this job that I hate?
  4. Why should I buy a larger house?
  5. Why should I dress a certain way for my job, when it has no impact the the quality of my work?

Obviously these questions are all biased towards the lifestyle I’ve chosen for myself and choose to promote on this site. But that’s not the point.  You should equally be asking:

  1. Why should I bike to work, rather than drive?  Wouldn’t driving save time?
  2. Why should I downsize my house, when I have a family that needs space?
  3. Why should I want to retire early?  I love my job and the people I get to work with.
  4. Why should I read this blog, he’s just a regular guy and he’s no smarter than me!

Asking why it how we learn. It’s how we understand the world around us to make decisions that are consistent with our ideals and beliefs.  And that is what leads to happiness.

So ask “why?” and don’t stop there.  Encourage your kids, your family, your friends, your employees and your employers all to do the same.  Some people will hate you for it, others will love you. But I assure you that it will make you a happier person.

16 Responses to Why?

  1. First, I *love* the name “Stella”.

    Second, I love reading articles like these, even though I don’t have kids. My mission in life is to raise two, intelligent, conscious, compassionate children and articles like this give me a lot of food for thought before I take the plunge.

  2. Krantcents says:

    Depending on the age, you could ask her “why not?” I use to ask my kids “why” all the time. It was a way to start a conversation. It was particularly useful when they expressed an interest in something. My children are adults (38 & 34 years old) and very successful. We still talk 3-5 times a week.

  3. jennypenny says:

    Make sure you say “why?” (or “why not?”) to her all of the time also. She’ll learn how to articulate her own opinion. (you’ll know she’s been listening when she throws your own words back at you :)

    My kids are teens so they say “Says who?” and I’m proud of them every time they say it.

  4. Money Infant says:

    My little girl is only 19 months so she hasn’t started asking why yet, but once she does I will be encouraging it 100%. Hopefully it won’t cause problems in her future because we live in Thailand where “why” is NOT a question that is typically asked by anyone, especially not teens and young adults. If it does, well I’m sure we will have equipped her well to deal with whatever comes her way. Great story!

  5. I don’t know anything about Thailand culture, but what you describe is similar to what I’ve seen in Chinese culture.

    I’m taking a course in Mandarin and our teacher, who is Chinese, explained the same thing. She also said that this is why the Chinese are so good at math as young students (mostly just memorization in grade school), but why they are not so good at innovation as adults.

  6. Oelsen says:

    Hm… no. There is a kind of question, that harms your mood and soul:

    Why do humans procreate that much and use more stuff than regrows in the face of Peak Everything?

    If you try to answer this question, then surely you are harming yourself. Except if you trust everybody being well intentioned and conscious of their acts; and if you think that everybody is highly optimistic about getting everything solved in a timely and decent manner.

    • I don’t think you have to “trust everybody being well intentioned” in order to still be happy and optimistic.

      I used to feel the way you feel. There was a time I lived in ignorance, unaware that the world is marching towards over-population, famine, disease, energy shortages, etc. When I opened my eyes and saw all this, I was mad. As with you, it was harming my mood and soul.

      But then I learned to let it go, to surrender. There are things in this world I can control, there are things I can influence, and there are things I can merely observe. Getting angry at the things I can only observe is pointless and harmful.

      Take, for example, peak oil. There are things I can control, such as my own use of oil. I can ride my bike, I can recycle plastic, and I can buy local food. These things I can control.

      I can encourage others to reduce consumption on this blog, by promoting this simpler lifestyle. I can encourage my family and friends to reduce consumption. These things, I can only influence.

      But the rest of the world’s over-usage, I have no control. Getting mad, or sad, is not only useless, it’s counter-productive.

      And with all that said – it’s still comes back to asking “why?” I had to ask myself why I was getting angry. Until I understood that, I couldn’t solve the problem.

  7. lifeoverwork says:

    Like @Oelsen I also don’t have kids, but I think this is a healthy approach. Discouraging the “why” question can lead to a life philosophy of believing everything you’re told. There’s a lot of bad info on the Internet, so that’s a slippery slope. :-)

  8. lifeoverwork says:

    Oh, I also should have mentioned – this is very patient of you! I’m not sure I’d be able to pull it off. Well done!

  9. Shawn says:

    “Why?” has been a huge key to a lot of locks. Unlike myself, I want my children to grow up with the power of “Why?” .

    “Why not?” is completely different but very important. “Why not?” is often the power to overcome what you discovered by asking ‘Why?”

    btw…I enjoy your bias and this promotion of it.

  10. krullebol says:

    Currently, I am reading quite a bit of these early retirement / frugal / financial independence / author likes biking blogs. I find this stuff very interesting as I enjoy the challenging of authority arguments. In general I see quite a bit of similarity in them, such as the love for the “Why?” question. (Which I recognise). I have 2 questions for you:

    1) Have you ever done an MBTI test? If so, do you mind sharing your type? (In case you are unfamiliar with it: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a very interesting framework for expressing preferences of people. Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme disclosed that he is an INTJ. On of the characteristics of the INTJ is that he/she likes independence and the “Why?”-question a lot. Being one myself, I recognise this. Other MBTI types are e.g. much more interested in the “How?” question.)

    2) Why do you think it is important to be set for life before retiring? This approach sounds very binary and I notice it’s a common strategy in all of these blogs. I understand the money working for you, instead of you working for money argument. But somehow it also seems a bit strange that even though you trust a lot in your broad set of skills, that you assume they will earn you exactly 0 over the rest of your life and not provide some form of active income to offset the deficit in the passive income provided by the retirement savings & investments.

    • 1) I’ve taken the tests and I’m categorized as an INFP – and introverted feeler. Prior to taking the test, I assumed I was an INTJ. In hindsight, I see that INFP is definitely more appropriate.


      2) Good question. For me, it’s important to “be set for life before retiring” for two reasons.

      First, while I’m very risk-tolerant in almost every aspect of my life, I feel responsible to ensure financial health for my wife and kids – therefore it’s a risk-averse decision that I make for them. If it were just me, I’d be all for quitting now and seeing what happens.

      Second, being “set for life” gives you total independence. Even though I know I’ll make more money in other ways throughout my life (Heck, I just made over $100 yesterday adding a link on a year old post on this site) – being completely financially independent means you will never be tempted to make a decision based on money. For example, if I only need to make $300/month to supplement my investments, that sounds great to most people. But that’s still $300 worth of stuff I’d be doing primarily for money. What if I have to turn down a volunteer position at a hospital or miss my kids dance recital to make that $300?

      Currently, I make about $300-$400 easily and passively, and I could easily increase that. Once I quit, I suspect I will see my non-corporate income rise quite a but – but it will be just for fun and will be used for fun things over and above our current lifestyle.

      I should add – I’m moving away from using the term “retirement” on this site and in real life. I imagine myself still working in various ways after I quit. I view my plan as more of an exit from corporate employment. My wife and I have talked about various fun jobs we might want to try out just for fun once the kids are in school.

  11. Goatee says:

    The final response I give after a series of whys is “why do you think?”. If their question was confusing, sometimes hearing their own answer to it clarifies what they were really asking. I think it also makes them value answers more.

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