I received an email the other day from a friend who had just finished reading an article of mine in the newspaper. His email said:
“I awoke this morning feeling at peace with my future; thinking I had everything under control and that my family’s needs were completely taken care of. Then I read your article. I broke out into a frantic sweat and [expletive deleted] my pants. Thanks a lot for the reality check. Much like the rest of America I prefer to operate in a delusional universe where I don’t need to think about those things.”
I’m not going to lie to you; I laughed pretty hard at that. But his point was a good one. Sometimes the coverage devoted to retirement planning can seem kind of negative (either by design to draw attention or simply because the reader feels convicted).
Because of that, it’s easy to lose site of all the things that are right with the world, great about retirement and amazing about the opportunities available to each of us. So as penance to my friend and as a reminder to us all, I give you some reasons to look at the glass as half full.
Peace, love and understanding
According to Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, we’re living during the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. Yes, we still have wars (I suspect those will always be with us), but the average number of violent deaths per 100,000 people has dropped from 15 percent during prehistoric times, to 3 percent during the 20th century, to a fraction of 1 percent now. True, I have sometimes felt nervous on the subway when traveling in a strange city, but at least I don’t have to worry about being thrown to the lions in the Coliseum or being used in an elaborate human sacrifice to appease the volcano god.
Medicine and life expectancy
I take Lipitor to lower my cholesterol and reduce my risk of heart disease. My sister had a cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit in her neck, but after treatment she has been cancer free for years. My grandfather was cutting firewood when a tree fell on him and shattered his hip. His doctors replaced it with a new one made out of titanium and he’s been getting around great for the last decade. Modern medicine has been enormously successful at increasing both the quantity and quality of our lives. As life expectancy has increased, retirement has changed dramatically. Rather than being a time to wind down, it is now viewed as a new chapter in life that is active and can last for decades. Be thankful for your health and use all that extra time wisely.
If asked, I would have to put my iPad in the same category as such worthwhile inventions as the wheel, penicillin and the printing press. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but you get my point: Technology is pretty remarkable. More than just cool, however, it is useful and helps us live fuller, more productive lives. It’s hard to imagine life without things like computers, the Internet, email, cell phones, digital cameras, ATM machines, MRIs, global positioning satellites, iPads, iPods, Kindles, and cloud computing. The other night our daughter was using FaceTime to video chat with her grandparents in Alaska. That’s the kind of invention that was imagined for the 23rd century in old Star Trek episodes! After looking at how technology has advanced in the last 30 years, imagine what the next 30 years will look like (especially since the pace of advancement is accelerating). It should be pretty amazing.
All that technology has greatly expanded our avenues for learning. Gone are the days when you need to spend $100,000 and four years of your life just to learn about something you’re interested in. With iTunesU you can sit in on history classes at Oxford or take photography classes from National Geographic (all free). Search engines like Google can answer any question you put to it. You can bring subjects into focus with Squidoo. Wikipedia can give you a basic understanding of almost anything. You can take guitar lessons on You Tube, learn to simplify your life on Zen Habits, or learn how to mix a martini like James Bond (or any number of other things) on Expert Enough. With so many resources, it’s easy to channel your inner Jefferson and make learning a broad and lifelong endeavor.
Yes, there are negatives to sites like Facebook and Twitter, but used properly they do an amazing job at connecting you to the people you care about. Social interaction is a critical element to human happiness and we have more ways than ever to experience community and connect with friends and family.
Even with everything that is right with the world, there is still a lot that is wrong. Thankfully, there are some amazing people trying to do something about that and they’re looking for people like you and me to jump in and help. Charity is no longer limited to just writing a check or dropping a few bucks in the offering plate. Volunteering locally or getting involved with organizations like charity: water, International Justice Mission, and World Vision allow us to reach beyond ourselves and do work that not only helps others, but gives us a deep sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and purpose.
Traveling the world
There hasn’t been a more exciting time in travel since Kitty Hawk. The triumvirate of jetliners, online travel resources, and countries clamoring for tourist dollars have combined to make global travel accessible to almost anyone. A hundred years ago, most people lived their entire lives within walking distance of their house. Now you can hop on a plane and be hiking in the Andes or walking down the Champs Elysees by breakfast. For a little inspiration visit Everything Everywhere or Lonely Planet. And don’t let money hold you back. There are sites like travelhacking.org that can teach you how to search out deals and rack up frequent flyer miles. Then you can spend those miles on a round-the-world plane ticket and take off in search of adventure. As Saint Augustine said, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
Well, there you have it. While certainly not a complete list, I’ve given you a few reasons to look on the bright side. Sure, there are still a lot of people unemployed, the housing market is still a mess and the stock market is just as bipolar as ever, but resist the temptation to focus on the negative. It sounds trite, but you only live once. None of us should let fear and uncertainty keep us from pursuing our dreams or living a rewarding and meaningful life. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, don’t die with your music still inside you. Look at the glass as half full and live a life you can be proud of.
Thanks for reading. Have a great week!