I’VE LONG THOUGHT that my life has gotten better as I’ve grown older. At age 72, I can honestly say the past few years have been the best time of my life. I’ve never been this happy.
But I’m beginning to believe that my best years may soon be behind me. Maybe from here on things will trend in the other direction—because what makes me happy might be hard to hold on to as I age.
I RECENTLY HAD THREE retired men visit my psychology practice, each grappling with depression. Just as women face special challenges during their senior years, so too do their husbands, fathers and male friends.
Who hasn’t been seduced by those syrupy commercials where an elderly couple hold hands while walking a sun-kissed beach? Retirement is advertised as a magic carpet transporting us to a well-earned destination of meaning and frolic. But the reality is more complicated.
WORD ON THE STREET is that, if you want to use money to make yourself happy, you should buy experiences rather than things.
In principle, I couldn’t agree more.
There is, however, one kind of experience that I see touted both in the media and on social media that I don’t think reflects money well spent: the expensive family vacation to a distant destination. This status-symbol experience, complete with selfies at ritzy hotels, is supposedly designed to create priceless memories.
I WROTE RECENTLY about my wife’s lifelong love of traveling, and of my resolve to get in step with her as she resumes her rambles. To that end, earlier this summer, I drove our family to Charleston, South Carolina, to attend the retirement ceremony for my cousin Chris, and to see a bit of the city, to boot.
As our departure time approached, we learned that the original schedule for retirement day had been altered.
IN THE WORLD OF personal finance, there’s no shortage of formulas and frameworks for making financial decisions. But it’s also important, I think, to see these as guidelines rather than as rules. Consider the textbook view of money and happiness.
What the research says is that, all else being equal, we should opt to spend money on experiences rather than things. Let’s say the choice is between spending $1,000 on a new watch or on a weekend away.
WHEN OUR CHILDREN were little, we had season tickets to the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis. We started taking our older child, and then brought his brother along when he was old enough to enjoy the show. We had tickets in the front row of the balcony.
Before my youngest son’s first show, he looked over the balcony railing at all of the people below. He asked why we were clear up here, when there were all of those people below us.
AS I MENTIONED IN an earlier article, I’ve been writing for HumbleDollar since 2017. Along the way, I set a personal goal of writing 100 articles, not counting the 36 shorter blog posts I’ve penned. This is my 99th article. I’m almost there.
It may not seem like a lofty goal to many people, but to me it’s been a challenge. After I wrote my first article, it took me a year to write another one.
JOY DOESN’T COME easily to me. I tend to default toward melancholy, so I try to ensure my discretionary purchases bring as much happiness as possible.
Like many readers, I’m a firm believer that buying experiences sparks more joy than buying stuff. The dollars we’ve spent on family vacations, sporting events, church mission trips and, more recently, escape rooms—worth trying sometime—have created memories that’ll last a lifetime. Yet obviously not all of our discretionary money is spent on experiences.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE financial freedom? That’s the intriguing question I’ve been asked twice in recent weeks by journalists curious about the new HumbleDollar book, My Money Journey: How 30 People Found Financial Freedom—And You Can Too.
Financial freedom is something that pretty much everybody wants, and yet there’s no agreed-upon definition. Still, I think most folks would focus on two key elements: time and money. But I don’t think it’s a simple matter of having lots of dollars and lots of free time.
MONEY BUYS HAPPINESS—but it may not buy us very much. Indeed, no matter how much we earn and no matter what other steps we take to boost happiness, we may discover the impact is modest and fleeting.
That brings me to a recent academic debate. In 2010, Princeton University’s Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman noted that happiness, on average, didn’t appear to increase beyond an annual income of $75,000 or so—a finding that’s since been widely reported in the mainstream media.
AT AGE 55, I’M PERHAPS a bit young to spend time reflecting on my life. My maternal grandmother died at 101, so I could have many more decades to go. Nevertheless, I find myself more nostalgic now than I was just a few years ago.
I often think back to my childhood and how it shaped who I am today. In 1976, when I was in fourth grade, my parents purchased a two-and-a-half-acre property in a small town outside of Eugene,
NOW THAT I’M RETIRED—and living in a warm desert climate—walking has become one of my favorite activities. Most days, I log between six and eight miles trekking around our neighborhood. I usually listen to a podcast during my journey, but it just serves as background noise. My real focus is contemplating dog training strategies or the subject matter of my future HumbleDollar posts.
Some days, I play the “what if” game.
“DOES MONEY BUY happiness?” That’s one of the questions in HumbleDollar’s Voices section. I hesitate to say that happiness is a commodity we can buy. But studies—and many people’s personal experiences—suggest a lack of money can bring on unhappiness.
A recent paper, “Financial Stress and Depression in Adults” by researchers at the University of Birmingham in England, supports this conclusion. The researchers reviewed 40 studies examining the relationship between depression and financial stress,
IF YOU’RE A HISTORY buff, you know how difficult life was during the 1930s. In our modern American world of plenty, it can be hard to appreciate what life was like during that period. The Great Depression, as it was later dubbed, was a time of incredible strife and struggle.
Today, we have an unemployment rate of less than 4%. During the 1930s, it reached 25% in the U.S. Think about that. A quarter of the country was looking for work to feed their family,
COMPARISONS ARE the death knell of happiness—and they aren’t good for our wallets, either.
If we’re to get the most out of our time and money, we need to devote those two precious resources to things we consider meaningful. But how do we figure out whether something is indeed meaningful to us, and not a reflection of the influence of others?
For “meaningful,” dictionaries offer synonyms such as “important” and “significant.” What we’re talking about are things that have some special emotional resonance,