How to Shape a Life of Money and Meaning

wealth

Happiness & Wealth

How does money figure into a happy life? Behavioral finance expert Brian Portnoy delivers an inspired answer based on the idea that wealth, truly defined, is funded contentment. It is the ability to underwrite a meaningful life.

His latest work, The Geometry of Wealth , bridges the philosophical and practical gap in managing money in our lives.

 

“Money does buy more happiness when spent wisely, especially when directed toward experiences, others, and time.” -Brian Portnoy

 

Millions are Not Ready for Retirement

You point out that millions of Americans have not saved a dime for retirement. Why is this? Will this eventually cause a crisis or is this typical and then people catch up?

The lack of retirement preparedness stems from a combination of opportunity and mindset. In the context of real wages for many Americans having not risen in more than a generation, many are barely able to make ends meet, let alone build a nest egg. Beyond that, financial illiteracy is a major problem. As a society we don’t take seriously the need to understand the many facets of saving, spending, and investing. Further, humans are generally wired with biases that undermine smart money decisions. This mix of factors is at the root of the looming retirement crisis in America. Far too many have saved far too little, and there are no obvious solutions that don’t involve quite painful decisions.

 

“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.” -Epictetus

 

The Importance of Purpose

Your model is in three parts: purpose to priorities to tactics. Part one is purpose, which is not a typical starting point in many financial books. Talk about the importance of purpose in this context.

Let’s step back and ask, “What are we all trying to accomplish here?” I think an answer that mostly everyone would get behind is that we want to be happy; we want to lead a good life. Okay, fine, but how do you do that? It’s obviously a massive question, with countless angles from philosophy and religion and other domains. Money, for better or worse, is an inescapable part of the discussion. There are certain unavoidable practicalities of what we can afford and how those help to underwrite the lives we want to lead. By putting purpose first, by being thoughtful – not just once, but over time – about where we find joy, then we are much better able to have our financial decisions support that quest. This is the opposite of what many unfortunately do, which is let the desire for and experience with money determine what we do in life.

 

“True wealth is the ability to underwrite a meaningful life.” -Brian Portnoy

 

How is fulfillment and happiness related to financial well-being? Talk about the intersection of money and happiness.

5 Thieves of Happiness

Be Happier This Year

 

What if happiness was your natural state?

What if we are seeking something on the outside that is found on the inside?

How do you recognize and lock out the five thieves that want to steal your happiness?

That’s what John Izzo teaches. He believes that happiness is being stolen by mental patterns. Five thieves are working to destroy your happiness.

All of us can recognize these thieves and learn to lock them out of our lives.

John Izzo, PhD, is a speaker and author of six books. I read his latest, The Five Thieves of Happiness and enjoyed its thoughtful approach. I recently asked him about his latest work.

 

“Happiness is our natural state.” -John Izzo

 

The Science of Happiness

Why is the study of happiness and the pursuit of happiness such a rage today?

Well, I think some of the things that used to make us happy such as a sense of community and connection have been lost. So, a loss of place and being more urban is now a contributor. Also, a rising middle class focuses more on happiness. They say there is also something bigger when things in the larger society seem out of control—things like climate change, terrorism, the pace of change. We realize we cannot control these things so we often focus in where we can change—which, by the way, is a good instinct because it is where all societal change begins anyway. Finally, I think the fact that science has started to study happiness in a serious way helps because maybe people feel that you can actually hardwire happiness rather than thinking that some people are simply happy.

 

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” -Shakespeare

 

“Attention without attachment” immediately pulled me in. How do we best make this a daily practice?

It is a critical concept for happiness. Attention is about the actions we take, the intention we have moment to moment. Attachment is a focus on a goal or what is called in yoga a “sticky desire.” Here is a simple example: I play a great deal of tennis. Attention is about being in the present moment at every point in a match. Being aware of my body, how I want to hit the ball and seeing what is happening around me. There is great happiness in playing and even the artistry of the moment-to-moment intention to improve. Winning the match is attachment and is something I cannot control. The more I focus on my attachment to winning, the less happiness I will have and, ironically, the less likely I am to win. The way we cultivate this is to first recognize the difference when it shows up. When we feel that happiness is in the outcome we must stop that thought and instead have this mantra: “I choose to be in the present moment accepting whatever is. The outcome is not in my control.” This takes training of the mind which we have trained to focus on attachment to what we cannot control: the future. When our intentions don’t lead to our desired outcome, we must then simply re-choose how to be in the present moment again. So, you lost the match, the relationship, the promotion, or even playing golf this afternoon when the rainstorm ruined it. Once you see that unhappiness is resistance to whatever is at any moment. Happiness is being present in each moment and open to what might arrive. Never confuse this with some resigned passivity. I am still going to practice hard for the next match, but it is attention without attachment.

 

“Routine is deadening to the human soul.” -John Izzo

 

5 Thieves of Happiness

1: Control

2: Conceit

3: Coveting

4: Consumption

5: Comfort

 

Practice Accepting What Is

Surrender is the opposite force from control. But it’s so far from easy for many of us. How do we build up a reservoir of surrender energy to be used just when we need it?

5 Thieves of HappinessSurrendering is very hard for most people. It begins with the realization that all emotional and spiritual suffering is resistance to whatever is happening at any given moment. This may seem like hyperbole, but it isn’t. All the great teachers taught surrender in one form or another. I think you start by practicing with the little things. You had a busy day and can’t wait to get home; suddenly there is an accident, and you’re stuck in traffic for an hour. Practice accepting what is with no resistance, surrendering to the outcome and asking, “How can I find joy or meaning right now?” If you practice surrendering to the small detours in life, you will be ready for the big ones like the death of someone you love or your eventual loss of health. We are a society of doers, so we don’t like surrender, but my idea of surrender is not simply giving up. It is embracing whatever is while trying to influence it as best I can. But surrender comes before action. Acting from what I call “surrender energy” is more powerful because you aren’t taking on the misery of attachment. You begin with the little stuff because if you can’t surrender to that, you have no chance when the big stuff shows up.

 

“The future cannot be controlled, only experienced.” -John Izzo

 

Serve Something Outside Yourself

3 Toxic Habits That Will Cripple Your Productivity

Thai Nguyen is a professional chef, international athlete, writer, and speaker. He is passionate about sparking personal revolutions in others.

More often than not, productivity is synonymous with success. The more quality content you are able to produce, the higher your conversion rate will be. Even talent is no match for productivity. The ever-entertaining Will Smith, with his numerous successes covering television, music, and cinema, was quick to respond when asked what his key to success was:

“I’ve never really viewed myself as talented, where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. When the other guy is sleeping, I’m working. When the other guy is eating, I’m working.”

It is a sentiment echoed by many great figures: If you just keep showing up and doing the work, results will come. When considering what stands against being productive, the usual suspects are procrastination, distraction, lack of self-discipline, and lack of willpower. However, there are three toxic habits that eat these culprits for breakfast:

1. Perfectionism

Striving to be perfect is not a bad thing. As long as you see perfection as the ideal and not the real. The reality is that everything can be improved. That is why you see new iPhones and iPads continually being churned out. That is why records are continually broken in every sport. Perfection is a unicorn that keeps running away.

 

Contentment is the enemy of improvement. -Thai Nguyen

 

Perfection cripples productivity when you spend far too much time working on the product rather than getting it out there. The inevitable question of, “What is the ideal amount of time?” is indeed a tricky one. The resolution is to be clear about your desired outcome as you are working on the project. What is it that you want your customers to experience once they are exposed to your product? If you are able to meet that level of expectation, then you have done your job. If you are able to exceed it, even better. But do not try to go beyond that and revolutionize the world. Not yet, anyway. That will happen when you least expect it.

2. Contentment

Being happy with your current state of being, your achievements and quality of relationships, is certainly a desirable goal—as long as it has a “best by” date on it. Contentment is the enemy of improvement. It is what keeps good from becoming great. You should always be seeking to set the bar higher and improving in all aspects of life. Snow is beautiful until you have to live with it daily.

 

Talent is no match for productivity. -Thai Nguyen

 

You are probably screaming, “What on earth is wrong with being happy with a situation?” That adage, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” may be ringing in your head right now. The reason contentment should only be a spring break is because change is inevitable. Everything is temporal. Change is the very fabric of the universe, and as much as you may strive to stay stationary, the tide will move you. We grow older, and we mature; technology continues to make groundbreaking changes; culture and society will ebb and flow. Thus, change and improvement, not contentment, goes hand in hand with personal development and productivity.