One of the benefits of my job is that I get to see a large group of people all making decisions about the same thing: Retirement. Over the years, that has given me a large data set of decisions and their consequences. Some of those decisions are minor, while others have consequences that ripple out for decades. Some of those decisions pay off big, while others tend to blow up—often in spectacular, catastrophic, almost comical fashion.
Below are 7 decisions—big and small—that will impact your happiness, fulfillment and options during retirement. They are decisions you will never regret.
The decision to decide. Recently a palliative nurse recorded the regrets of her dying patients and compiled them in a book called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” The number one regret was “Not living the life I wanted.” To avoid this regret, you need to (Surprise!) decide what kind of life you want to live. But don’t stop there. Once you decide what you really want out of life, you need to start taking those plans very seriously. Imagine the satisfaction you could have if you arrived at the end of your days knowing that you did everything you possibly could to live the life that you wanted. For some practical ideas on how to do this, read Part 3 of the Intentional Retirement Manifesto A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss.
The decision to “cut the branch.” A month or so ago I brought in an expert to help me trim and prune the trees in our yard. Most of the work went pretty quickly until we got to a large tree in our back yard. He informed me it had a branch that shouldn’t be there, but it had been allowed to grow for so long that cutting it now would make the tree look a bit silly for a few years. As I pondered what to do I asked him “When that little branch started growing ten years ago, should I have cut it then?” He said yes. Then I asked him “Ten years from now, will I look back on today and wish I had cut the branch?” Yes again. So I fired up the chain saw (it was a big branch) and started cutting.
No doubt each of us can listen to that story and use the branch as a metaphor for something in our own life. What is it for you? A job? A relationship? An unhealthy habit? Whatever it is, maybe now is the time to cut the branch.
The decision to do less. If you’re like most people, your default setting is for more. More commitments, more work, more stuff, more relationships, more money, more sporting events for your kids, more television, more house, more projects. More, more, more. The funny thing about “more” is that it can be incredibly diluting. If you have 30 projects at work, for example, you’ll probably have less impact than if you were allowed to focus on 3. This is the paradox of more. The more you try to do, the less you end up doing. If you want to do more, figure out a way to do less. Cut the unimportant (especially in retirement) so you can free up space, time and money to focus on the things that really matter to you. Less > More.
The decision to improve your marriage. Middle age is a risky time for your marriage. Hardly a year goes by that at least one of my clients doesn’t call it quits in that phase. This year was particularly bad. Divorce is never fun, but it’s even less so when you’re on the doorstep to retirement. Your assets get divided in half. Your kids will likely take sides. Your friends will certainly take sides. The dreams you had for “Someday” are off the table. How much better would it be to enter retirement in a happy, fulfilling marriage—plans, family and finances in tact—ready to enjoy the next phase? Yes, that takes work. Especially if the problems have been allowed to fester over the years. But take a long, hard look at the consequences before deciding that divorce is a better option.
The decision to bury the hatchet. A client called me earlier this year and told me that her ex-husband had just stopped by. They had been through a messy divorce due to infidelity about 20 years previously and hadn’t spoken since. Needless to say she was a bit surprised to find him on her doorstep with tears in his eyes. He wasn’t there to try to fix things. They had both moved on and married other people. He simply wanted to apologize and ask for forgiveness. My client later found out that when her ex left her house he went to her parent’s house and several other people in the family and did the same thing. It’s tough to go through life without hurting someone or being hurt by someone—usually our kids, friends, spouse or extended family. Carrying that baggage around can cause bitterness, resentment, and regret. Why live with that pain year after year until one of you eventually takes it to the grave? If it was your fault, acknowledge as much, apologize and ask for their forgiveness. If it was their fault, have grace and move on.
The decision to bet some chips. Have you ever seen the movie Rounders? It’s a movie about a poker player, starring Matt Damon. I was watching it on Netflix the other night and a quote stuck with me. Talking about poker Damon said “You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle. But you can’t win much either.” It’s easy to play life too conservatively. God knows I’m guilty of this more often than I’d like to admit. Too often we go through life unwilling to take a chance and bet some chips. This can feel safe in the short run, but like Damon said, it never results in much of a payoff. Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do, but been afraid to take the risk? The clock is ticking. Maybe it’s time to bet some chips. Win or lose, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of having tried.
The decision to get healthy. Most of my clients are in the 50-75 age range. They seem healthier than most, but here’s an abbreviated list of health problems that they have dealt with so far this year: prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, hernia, heart attack (survived), kidney stones, dementia, severe back pain, glaucoma, TIA stroke, broken wrist (due to osteoporosis), arthritis, lung cancer and depression. Those are just my clients, just in the last 10 months. Health problems are a fact of life as we age. Obviously we can’t prevent all illness, but doing everything you can to be healthy can improve your odds of a long, active retirement.
A few weeks ago I received an advance copy of Chris Guillebeau’s new book The Happiness of Pursuit (catchy title, no?). For those who don’t know Chris, he has a hugely popular blog and is a New York Times bestselling author, but he is probably best known for his goal (recently completed) of visiting every country in the world.
In the book Chris talks about the importance of finding quests that bring purpose and excitement to your life. He offers his quest to visit every country as an example, then weaves dozens more examples throughout the book where ordinary people turned a big idea and a willingness to act into a new adventure.
Get a free copy of the book
I’ve really enjoyed reading through the book and have been using it to outline a fun new quest for 2015 (more on that later this year). If you’re interested in living an intentional, meaningful life, I’d encourage you to check it out as well. In fact, I’m going to give you a free copy. Well, one of you anyway. My copy of the book is dog-eared and marked up, so I picked up another one to give away.
How to enter the giveaway? There are thousands of people all around the world who subscribe to the weekly updates at Intentional Retirement. In just the last few weeks we’ve had people sign up from as far away as North Pole Alaska, Norbury United Kingdom, and Quarry Bay Hong Kong.
I love hearing from those readers (that’s you!), so to enter the contest just go to Intentional Retirement and leave a short comment at the end of this post saying hi and the city you call home. If you’d prefer, you can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s it. “Hi Joe! I’m reading this article in <insert city>.” I’ll pick one of you at random from the comments/emails and follow up with you to get you your free book.
If you’ve had a chance to read A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss, you know how important I think it is to decide what you really want out of life and to take those plans really seriously. If you don’t decide, then three things will likely happen:
Other people will decide for you
You’ll say “yes” to things that don’t get you any closer to the life you want
You will default to the uninspiring and unproductive
If your days are designed by those three things, then each day will find you further and further from the life (and eventual retirement) that you want.
Which leads me to that important question I mentioned earlier. Before adding something to your to-do list or saying “yes” to another commitment, ask yourself:
“Will this get me closer to what I really want out of life?”
If the answer is “No” then don’t do it. What’s the point of busying yourself with a bunch of tasks that don’t get you any closer to a purposeful, satisfying life?
A little lifestyle experiment
With that in mind, I’d like to propose a little lifestyle experiment. There are 16 weeks left in 2014. What can you do in that time to rework and reshape your schedule so that 2015 and beyond is spent focused on things that actually get you closer to what you want your life to be about? What commitments can you wind down? What goals can you set? How can you better align your time with your priorities? Here are a few articles that might help:
“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex.”
~ Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia
Minimalism and a Meaningful Retirement
I recently sat down for a conversation with Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist to discuss how we can simplify our lives in order to better focus on what’s important. What prompted the conversation?
I have often joked that my life resembles a Rube Goldberg machine. It gets results—food on the table, work done, semi-regular exercise, etc.—but often only after a complex and convoluted series of steps.
As you can imagine, this sometimes creates no small amount of cognitive dissonance as I try to hold the contradictory ideas of living an intentional, meaningful life while constantly struggling with busyness and complication.
I’m guessing some of you are dealing with the same problem. I don’t want retirement (or life in general) to look like the equivalent of a cluttered junk drawer, so I reached out to Joshua to get his thoughts on how minimalism can help deal with the problem. He defines minimalism like this:
“Minimalism is the promotion of things I most value and the removal of everything that distracts me from it.”
So it’s not necessarily about how many shirts you have or how big your house is. It’s about defining what’s important to you and what isn’t. Then you ruthlessly cut the latter in order to create space, time and money for the former. It’s about becoming a minimalist in the things that don’t matter so you can become a maximalist in the things that do.
What are some practical ways to do that? What are the benefits? How can we simplify life, minimize stress, and focus on what we really want out of life? Answers to those questions and more are in my interview with Joshua. You can either listen to it using the player below or, if you’d prefer, I’ve attached a PDF transcript as well. [Note: If you’re reading this in an email, you may need to view the post online in order to use the media player.]
After listening, spend a few minutes thinking about ways to clear the clutter from key areas of your own life. Your possessions are an obvious place to start, but don’t forget things like your work, relationships, obligations, finances and goals.
I’ll write more about how to simplify life in retirement in future posts, but until then, you may want to check out these articles on Joshua’s blog…
Greetings from frigid Omaha. One upside to this comically cold weather is that I’ve had a little more time than usual to just sit by the fire and catch up on my reading. As I worked through my “articles to read” pile, the results of a recent study caught my eye and I thought it would make a worthy edition to our How To Be Happy series.
When money buys happiness
You’ve heard me say before that when spending your money, you should focus on experiences instead of stuff. The idea being that a life spent in dogged pursuit of rich experiences will usually have a much better payoff than one seeking the latest gadget or gizmo.
Of course, it’s easy to dismiss that as just one person’s opinion. After all, some people would prefer a trip to Hawaii or a day at the ballpark, while others prefer a flat screen television or a Louis Vuitton handbag. Now there’s actually research that shows that you should probably choose the trip over the handbag.
The study, conducted by Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, shows that buying experiences instead of possessions leads to greater happiness. Why? According to Howell, experiential purchases satisfy higher order needs by making us feel alive and connected to others. “Purchases that increase psychological need satisfaction will produce the greatest well-being,” says Howell.
Not only that, but buying experiences tends to provide more lasting satisfaction (regardless of your income or the amount spent) because they provide what Howell describes as “memory capital.” In other words, experiences come with memories and those memories accumulate and contribute to your happiness for as long as you’re alive.
Just to be clear, I have nothing against stuff. I like nice things just as much as the next guy, but I think our society has the ratio wrong. There’s so much pressure to buy things that people are often tapped out when it comes to buying experiences (if only I had a dollar for every time someone told me “I wish I could afford to travel” right before climbing into their $40,000 SUV).
So as you think about your budget this year, keep Howell’s spending study in mind. Stuff is fine, but experiences will probably make you happier.
The retirement question most people seem intent on answering is “How am I going to pay for it?” That’s an important question, of course, but retirement is more than just a math problem.
In my opinion, we spend too much time thinking about how to get there (math) and not enough time thinking about what we’re going to do once we arrive (meaning). If you focus solely on your finances, you risk having a retirement that is cash rich and lifestyle poor.
Cash is great, but it’s not the end goal. Your money is nothing more than fancy paper that our government has created to make commerce and exchange easier. The end goal is not to have money. It’s to use that money to do things that you really care about; things that provide joy, meaning and fulfillment. If you do that, then money (contrary to popular opinion) CAN buy happiness. Let me show you what I mean. I’m assuming you’re all familiar with the mathematical proof: If A=B and B=C then A=C.
Applying that to our discussion:
And control=doing what fulfills you
And doing what fulfills you=happiness
Of course that transitive logic only holds true if you use the time you control to do what fulfills you. Which brings me back to my original point: If you want a meaningful retirement, then you need to treat your planning like more than just a math problem. You need to decide what it is that you really want out of life and use whatever resources you have and time you control to pursue those things. Are you doing that? If so, great. If not, spend some time thinking about what it is you actually want to do with all that money you’re saving.