The most important question to ask about your to-do list

The most important question to ask about your to-do list

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:

  1. Other people will decide for you
  2. You’ll say “yes” to things that don’t get you any closer to the life you want
  3. 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:

 

Good luck!

Joe

Photo by Nick Kelly.
How to simplify life in retirement

How to simplify life in retirement

 

“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.]

 

PDF Transcript: How-to-Simplify-Life-In-Retirement

 More Helpful Resources

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…

…And these articles at Intentional Retirement

One last note.  We were updating our web hosting last week and a glitch caused an email titled “Hello World” to be sent unintentionally.  I apologize for the annoyance.

Touch base if I can ever help.

~ Joe

How to be happy: Part 4

How to be happy: Part 4

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.

~ Joe

Cash rich.  Lifestyle poor.

Cash rich. Lifestyle poor.

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:

  • If money=control
  • And control=doing what fulfills you
  • And doing what fulfills you=happiness
  • Then money=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.

Have a great week.

Joe

How to be happy: Part 3

How to be happy: Part 3

Quick note:  As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a little less frequently the last several weeks.  I’ve been burning the midnight oil studying for an exam I need to take for work.  That will be out of the way soon and I’ll be back to posting a few times per week.  Onward to today’s article.

Since happiness is an almost universal goal (especially for retirees), I periodically write about what, according to the latest research, makes us happy.  Today is Part 3 in that series.  Feel free to go back and check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.

I was browsing through Netflix recently looking for something to watch and I came across a documentary with the eye-catching title of “Happy.”  The filmmaker interviewed researchers as well as regular people from all walks of life in 14 different countries in order to get an idea of what makes people happy.

According to the research our individual happiness is attributable to three areas:

  • Genes: 50%
  • Circumstances: 10%
  • Intentional Activity: 40%

Looking at the glass half empty, we have very little control over a majority of our level of happiness.  We don’t control our genetic makeup and our circumstances are often the result of what Warren Buffett calls the ovarian lottery (for example, being born in the U.S. instead of the slums of Kolkata).

Looking at the glass half full, we can still have a huge impact on our level of happiness by being intentional with how we spend our time.  [Side note:  This site is called Intentional Retirement for a reason.]  With that in mind, what kinds of activities can we focus on that will help increase our happiness level?  The film lists several:

  • Focus on activities that release dopamine.  Dopamine is the chemical in our brain that is responsible for feelings of pleasure.  Our bodies naturally produces less dopamine as we age, but you can boost those levels through diet, exercise, game playing and cultivating happy relationships.  In other words, you will be happier if you cut out the junk food, go hiking, play chess (or engage in other fun activities) and spend time with family and friends.
  • Vary what you do.  Sometimes having a routine makes life routine.  Vary your day.  Try new things.  Learn new things.  Meet new people.  That variety leads to increased happiness.
  • Get off the hedonic treadmill.  I talked about this concept in Part 2.  Rather than spending your money on more stuff that you will quickly get used to, spend your time and money on experiences that have a longer happiness shelf life.
  • Have a close, supportive family.  Every happy person the film studied had a close, supportive family.  It wasn’t a perfect family and they didn’t get along with everyone in the family, but they had key family relationships that were healthy, loving, and encouraging.
  • Work on something bigger than yourself.  Focusing exclusively on your own wants and needs can be fun for awhile, but it eventually grows stale.  Have a mission that is bigger than just you and involves things like helping others or volunteering.
  • Focus on Intrinsic Goals rather than just Extrinsic Goals.  People focused on Extrinsic Goals (e.g. money, image, status) reported less happiness and more depression than those focused on Intrinsic Goals (e.g. personal growth, relationships, a desire to help others).

So it turns out that achieving happiness shouldn’t be that hard.  The things we love doing—play, experiences, friends, good food, meaningful activities, being thankful, helping others—are also the things that are the building blocks of happiness.

~Joe

A short lesson in perspective

A short lesson in perspective

Late last month an advertising executive (a real life Mad Man) named Linds Redding died of esophageal cancer.  After being diagnosed in 2011, he would regularly write about the disease, his treatments and his thoughts on life at his blog.

Earlier this year he wrote a post called A Short Lesson in Perspective in which he reflected on how wholeheartedly he had thrown himself into his career over the years.  As he rapidly approached the premature end of his life, he wondered aloud if it was worth it.

His insights and conclusions were so raw and honest that I wanted to excerpt a small portion of his post below so that you and I could reflect on our own priorities as we live life and plan for retirement.  One day (hopefully not soon) we will be where Linds was when he wrote that essay.  How great would it be if we could heed his words of warning so we could look back on our life with pride, satisfaction and few regrets?

A quick note: Linds refers to something called “The Overnight Test.”  When creating advertising campaigns, he and his team would often let ideas simmer overnight.  If it still seemed like a good idea the next day, they would say that it passed “The Overnight Test.”

From A Short Lesson in Perspective:

“Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause.  It would all be worth it in the long run…

This was the con.  Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism.  I can see that now.  It wasn’t really important.  Or of any consequence at all really.  How could it be?  We were just shifting product.  Our product, and the clients.  Just meeting the quota.  Feeding the beast as I called it on my more cynical days.

So was it worth it?

Well of course not.  It turns out it was just advertising.  There was no higher calling.  No ultimate prize.  Just a lot of faded, yellowing newsprint, and old video cassettes in an obsolete format I can’t even play any more even if I were interested.  Oh yes, and a lot of framed certificates and little gold statuettes.  A shit-load of empty Prozac boxes, wine bottles, a lot of grey hair and a tumor of indeterminate dimensions.

It sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself again.  I’m not.  It was fun for quite a lot of the time.  I was pretty good at it.  I met a lot of funny, talented and clever people, got to become an overnight expert in everything from shower-heads to sheep-dip, got to scratch my creative itch on a daily basis, and earned enough money to raise the family which I love, and even see them occasionally.

But what I didn’t do, with the benefit of perspective, is anything of any lasting importance.  At least creatively speaking.  Economically I probably helped shift some merchandise.  Enhanced a few companies bottom lines.  Helped make one or two wealthy men a bit wealthier than they already were.

As a life, it all seemed like such a good idea at the time.

But I’m not really sure it passes The Overnight Test.”