Investing in Happiness

by James Lange, CPA/Attorney

The pandemic has spurred a lot of rethinking about priorities. What do you want to spend time on? Who do you want to spend time with? For many people, it was about evaluating jobs and family/work balance. And what was the huge motivator? Searching for happiness—or maybe just more happiness.

Those questions couldn’t be more relevant for retirees and people approaching retirement. I recently ran across a short article that I found fascinating and wanted to share with you. For Happiness In Retirement… was published online by Jennifer Lea Reed in Financial Advisor magazine.

Three Core Elements for Happiness

Michael Finke, a professor, and researcher of wealth management at the American College of Financial Services drew his observations from the University of Michigan’s longitudinal Health and Retirement Study tracking 20,000 people in America. Analyzing the data on life satisfaction revealed three core elements: money, relationships, and health.

  1. Having enough money is critical, but interestingly it seems to top out at about $4 million — More money doesn’t hurt, of course, but it doesn’t correlate to greater satisfaction. With $4 million, most people will experience peak happiness.
  2. Relationships with peers and community are very important.
  3. Health, pretty obviously, is also critical.

But perhaps one of the most significant takeaways was thinking about these elements as “investments” that need to be developed and “built-up” before and during retirement. The money part is obvious. Exercising and healthful eating are investments in health. Cultivating rewarding friendships is an investment in relationships. Combined “investing” in all three elements seems to provide the key to retirement happiness.

Investing Isn’t Always about Money

My high school buddies—best friends scattered across the country—are still a gang. Every year for 25 years (minus one for COVID), we have been getting together for long weekend reunions. When most of the gang had living parents, they combined the weekend with a visit to their parents and usually stayed with their parents. Now, only one of us has a living parent, and most of the gang stays at my house.

We used to play ultimate frisbee (which requires a lot of stop and start running) and stay up until 2 a.m. playing bridge. Now we play frisbee golf. Some of us even have a glass of wine with dinner. Then, we play bridge until 9 p.m. We are a bunch of wild and crazy guys.

Obviously, the past 18 months or so have seriously curtailed in-person visits. I proposed a weekly Zoom call with the gang, and once a week at 9 p.m. on Sunday, we hang out for an hour on Zoom. Most of the talk is inconsequential like sports, TV shows, bridge, and books we’ve read. But we also talk about the pandemic, politics, and what is going on in our lives. Occasionally, we even talk about feelings, but honestly not much. My wife sometimes asks what we talked about, and I usually say feelings, and she knows I am being sarcastic. But whatever we talk about, we almost always laugh and have a good time. It just feels good to stay in touch and know there are other people in the world who care about you.

I also try to stay in touch with family. As the pandemic has eased a little, and we have all had our third vaccine, we have a regular “cousins’ lunch” either at my house or outside. That includes two of my cousins, George Lange, a nationally renowned photographer of four presidents (and the photo below!), Burt Wald, my brother, Jeff, and my wife, Cindy, and me. Again, I am the organizer.

I hadn’t thought of what I have been doing over the years to organize gatherings and staying in touch with my good buddies from high school, my brothers, cousins, and friends as “investing.” But it’s a handy way to encapsulate and place value on all the effort and, I might add, the satisfaction that comes from being “the organizer”—even if at times it feels like herding cats! But, even with the negatives, it is still rewarding and now I have a vocabulary for this type of activity—making an investment.

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