The Pursuit of Happiness
By: Sam Swift, CFA, CFP®
We have a tendency to think that when change happens to us (whether it’s within our control or not), we simply adjust to the new status quo in a fairly smooth fashion. This is rarely the case. Most people will alternate between delight and regret during the transition phase before hopefully coming out on the other side satisfied with their new circumstances. There is always the danger, of course, of failing to adjust to the change and trying to hang on to the old status quo when that’s really not possible.
Life changes in many ways—both dramatically and inconsequentially so—but when changes do happen I’ve found it helpful to revisit the three most important planning questions in an effort to get through the transition phase and comfortably into the new reality:
What brings you happiness and fulfillment in your life?
What role does money play in your life?
Is your financial strategy supporting your pursuit of happiness?
TCI recently put on a Life Strategy Conference in Santa Monica that I was fortunate enough to attend. The driving tenet of our Life Strategy offering (www.lifestrategybytci.com) is the following:
Maximum Chances of Happiness = Clear Priorities + Efficient Resource Allocation
Your priorities and your plan must be in harmony with one another. It sounds simple, but many view their financial plan and allocation of investments completely separate from their values and goals.
For example, say someone is considering purchasing a rental property as an investment, but they’ve clearly defined their priorities as wanting to spend more time with their family and simplify their lives. In this case, they’re looking at the rental property solely as a stand-alone investment and not as a means to achieve what they want. Owning a rental property certainly won’t simplify their life and will more than likely take away from family time. Had that person defined their priorities as wanting a second career in real estate or wanting to own a vacation home in retirement, then perhaps owning a rental property is an efficient allocation of their resources.
In my case, I know my answer to the first question changed considerably over the past five months which in turn changed my answer to the next two questions. Having a child transforms your life in a lot of ways, but the most profound for my wife and I has been the immediate transition from selfishness to selflessness. To be clear, I don’t mean selfishness in an overly negative sense, but simply that our wants (relaxing on the couch, working out on our schedule, watching a movie) now take a major backseat to the needs of our little kid—and don’t think I whisper in his ear all the time how much we’re doing for him and how great he has it! This is a development we expected, wanted, and prepared for, but it certainly didn’t go exactly according to plan.
Through that process of change, however, we’ve both revisited our priorities and what makes us happy. For me, time has easily become my most valuable commodity. Because of the value I place on that, I have to put serious thought into each endeavor—is this worth my time? It’s been a transformative experience to think about what role money now plays in my life and what I can be doing in order to spend time doing what makes me happy—namely making silly faces and noises to get a laugh out of the kid…and my wife.
Change will never go perfectly according to plan, even when that change is something you greatly desired as in our situation. When it happens to you, revisit your priorities. Truly defining what matters to you will greatly simplify every decision that’s thrown your way and allow you to navigate turbulent times with greater ease.