MOST OF US ARE forever striving to be better versions of ourselves—usually with mixed success. Still, the changing of the calendar often prompts renewed efforts. But what should we focus on? Let me offer 10 words that I try to live by.
1. Pause. Throughout the day, we make snap decisions, and they usually work out just fine—except when it comes to spending and investment choices. Got an overwhelming urge to buy an expensive bauble or make a portfolio change? Try waiting a few days, so your feverish desire has a chance to cool and you can ponder the decision with a clearer head.
2. Reflect. Feeling down? Take a minute to think about your good fortune—the friends and family who surround you, the home you live in, the wonderful experiences you’ve enjoyed, the wealth you’ve accumulated. With gratitude comes happiness.
3. Move. Exercise has all kinds of benefits—physical, emotional and cognitive. If possible, try to get your exercise outside, so you can delight in nature, see your fellow humans at play and feel the sun upon your face.
4. Give. This doesn’t have to be money. You can also give of your time by, say, volunteering for your favorite charity or helping out at your place of worship. I see this every day: HumbleDollar’s writers get paid little—and some decline payment—and yet they pour countless hours into their articles. Trust me, they’re a wonderful bunch of folks to work with.
5. Sleep. This is one of my greatest struggles. I know I sleep better when I’ve been active during the day, eat earlier in the evening and have addressed any major worries. What if these things don’t happen? You’ll find me answering emails at 4 a.m.
6. Simplify. Over the past few years, I’ve been shedding both possessions and financial accounts. I highly recommend it. It’s liberating to be less encumbered by both financial complexity and household items you no longer care about. Afraid you’ll dispose of something and later regret it? I’ve shed countless items and, thus far, I haven’t had a single pang of regret.
7. Talk. We, of course, do a lot of talking, but we often avoid the important stuff, especially when it comes to our finances. Too many folks shy away from honest conversations about money, partly because they fear they’ll reveal their ignorance or they’re embarrassed that they haven’t amassed more.
Get over it. Within families, I think the onus is on the parents to start these conversations, talking about what financial contributions they can afford to make toward college costs, how well they’ve prepared for their own retirement and what steps they’ve taken to address end-of-life issues. Such conversations don’t just keep everybody informed. They can also spur all concerned to be better managers of their money.
8. Listen. We tend to be much better at talking than listening. There’s an obvious reason to be a better listener: We can learn about others and their perspective on the world, and that may nudge us to change our own views. But there’s also a less obvious reason: People will like you more. Want to endear yourself? Stop talking about yourself and ask others about their lives.
9. Never. Our most important actions are often the ones we don’t take. Indeed, in a world full of temptation, it’s useful to decide what’s verboten. My list includes individual stocks, fried chicken, actively managed funds, hard liquor, CNBC and processed meats. (Okay, I admit it, pepperoni gets the all-important pizza exception.)
10. Anticipate. I love having fun times to look forward to. Last January, I made the arrangements for the get-together for my 60th birthday—which won’t happen until next month. In August, I booked a cruise from New York to Bermuda—for March 2024. Every so often, I daydream about what the cruise and my birthday celebration will be like, and that daydreaming offers a thoroughly enjoyable minute or so that costs me nothing.
Want to squeeze more happiness from your dollars? My advice: Plan that vacation, family reunion or remodeling project well in advance—and make sure you do a lot of research, so you have the pleasure of imagining all kinds of possibilities.