In this episode of The Year You Retire podcast, hosts John Bever and Jim Uren delve into the topic of retirement happiness, drawing from extensive research and insights to provide valuable takeaways for retirees. Listen along as they discuss the positive trend of happiness during retirement and emphasizes the importance of finding meaning and purpose beyond your financial circumstances. Explore the transformative aspect of aging, the complex relationship between money and happiness, the role of relationships in retirement happiness, and the potential benefits of religious involvement. Furthermore, discover the positive impact that volunteering and practicing gratitude can have in retirement to boost happiness. This episode offers practical advice and actionable steps and is a must-listen if you want to maximize your happiness and fulfillment in the year you retire.
In this episode, you will:
- Discover 7 scientific principles to help boost happiness in retirement.
- Understand why the simple act of getting older can help boost your retirement happiness
- Learn what some researchers say is the optimal level of income for happiness.
- Explore the latest research on relationships and happiness and discover which types of relationships are most likely to increase your happiness in retirement.
- Uncover the transformative power of volunteering and gratitude in bringing joy and fulfillment to your retirement.
The key moments in this episode are:
00:00:18 - Introduction to Retirement Happiness
00:05:11 – Benefits of Growing Old
00:08:08 – Relationship Between Happiness and Income
00:15:01 - The Easterland Paradox and Wealthiest 20%
00:17:38 - Nurturing Meaningful Relationships
00:21:28 - Key Takeaways on Relationship Research
00:22:36 - Strengthening Faith in Retirement
00:24:38 - Buying Memories Over Materials
00:30:34 - The Benefits of Volunteering
00:31:44 - Practicing Gratitude
00:33:58 - Importance of Gratitude
00:36:42 - Thankfulness
Mentioned on the Show
America’s favorite ice-cream flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and mint chocolate chip – https://today.yougov.com/society/articles/43178-americas-favorite-ice-cream-vanilla-chocolate?redirect_from=%2Ftopics%2Fsociety%2Farticles-reports%2F2022%2F07%2F19%2Famericas-favorite-ice-cream-vanilla-chocolate
The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50 by Jonathan Rauch – https://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Curve-Life-Better-After/dp/1250078806
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0374275637/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1703280317&sr=8-1
“High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being” by Daniel Kahneman & Angus Deaton – https://www.pnas.org/doi/abs/10.1073/pnas.1011492107
“Experienced well-being rises with income, even above $75,000 per year” by Matthew Killingsworth – https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2016976118#core-collateral-info
“Income and emotional well-being: A conflict resolved” by Matthew Killingsworth, Daniel Kahneman, and Barbara Mellers – https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2208661120
“Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being” by Ed Diener and Martin E.P. Seligman – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00501001.x
“An 85-year Harvard study found the No. 1 thing that makes us happy is life: It helps us ‘live longer’ – https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/10/85-year-harvard-study-found-the-secret-to-a-long-happy-and-successful-life.html
“Achieving Well-Being in Retirement: Recommendations from 20 Years of Research” by Mo Wang and Beryl Hesketh – https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/special-reports-and-expert-views/documents/siop%20-%20achieving%20well-being%20in%20retirement,%20final.pdf
“Never mind the grandchildren, friends help us grow old happy” – https://www.independent.ie/regionals/herald/never-mind-the-grandchildren-friends-help-us-grow-old-happy/27948630.html
“Religion’s Relationship to Happiness, Civic Engagement and Health Around the World” – https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2019/01/31/religions-relationship-to-happiness-civic-engagement-and-health-around-the-world/
From Strength to Strength, Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life author Arthur Brooks – https://www.amazon.com/Strength-Finding-Success-Happiness-Purpose/dp/059319148X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1MOE0T4CAWWXV&keywords=from+strength+to+strength+book&qid=1704031924&sprefix=from+stre%2Caps%2C132&sr=8-1
“Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?” by Brickman, Philip & Coates, Dan & Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie – https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1980-01001-001
“Happiness for Sale: Do Experiential Purchases Make Consumers Happier than Material Purchases?” by Nicolao, Irwin and Goodman – https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1334312
“The Impact of Volunteering and Its Characteristics on Well-being After State Pension Age: Longitudinal Evidence from English Longitudinal Study of Aging” by Matthews and Nazroo – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32888024/
“How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental Health” by Elizabeth Hopper – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_volunteering_can_help_your_mental_health
Hymn: “Count Your Blessings” – https://hymnary.org/text/when_upon_lifes_billows_you_are_tempest
Jim Uren: This is The Year You Retire podcast for people who want their first year of retirement to be right on the money. Your hosts are me, Jim Uren and John Bever, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals with Phase 3 Advisory Services. Retirement is one of the happiest times of life, but getting the most out of it requires you to be properly prepared.
Listen along as we explore the financial topics, tips, and strategies that will help you make your first year of retirement your best year yet. Now let's get planning.
John Bever: Do you envision a retirement though goes beyond the routine exit from work? One that's rich in purpose and joy? If that's the dream you're chasing, you're in for a treat this episode. We're delving into the most recent and cutting edge happiness research to uncover the keys to a retirement bursting with greater joy and significance. Brace yourself as we explore seven transformative principles that can help turn your retirement into a more exhilarating adventure.
Remember. It's not just about clocking out. It's about embarking on a new chapter, teeming with greater meaning and happiness. Join us on this journey. Hey, Jim.
Jim Uren: Hey, John. How are you today?
John Bever: Good. What do you have for us for a welcome?
Jim Uren: Well, I'm excited to tackle this topic. This is something we've been working on for a while, and I think folks are going to really like it. And so eager to get into the details, but, I know we often like to start with the trivia.
John Bever: Yes.
Jim Uren: And I'm thinking, you know, speaking of happiness, what brings greater happiness than ice cream? Would you agree, John?
John Bever: Oh, is that a trivia question? Because that's an easy answer. You know, my dad, when he would sit down for ice cream, it wasn't just a bowl of ice cream. He would take out the half gallon, cut it in half. And that was his serving.
Jim Uren: My kind of guy. And that's probably when they actually were half gallons, right?
John Bever: Yea, that's right. Exactly.
Jim Uren: Well, I found a 2022 survey from YouGov. They surveyed a thousand Americans and asked them which ice cream flavor was their favorite. Which three flavors do you think got the most votes as some as being someone's favorite?
John Bever: Well, the first one that comes to mind is Rocky Road, but I'm sure that didn't get the votes. Probably vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.
Jim Uren: Very close. Very close. So yeah, vanilla and chocolate right at the top of the list and not a surprise. But it's actually vanilla chocolate and chocolate chip mint ice cream was actually the third one listed as most favorite.
Now, you're actually kind of right because the, the three flavors that got the most votes as being liked or not liked were actually chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. And actually I think cookies and cream tied strawberry. So if you rank, you know, ice cream that people say they liked or not, it was up there. But if you actually ask people their absolute favorite, force them to choose. Number three comes up as mint chocolate chip. And, hey, I think they're all wonderful, frankly.
John Bever: Well for me, it is that mint chocolate chip. That is the number one for me. So that's great.
Anyways, welcome to episode six, “Seven Principles of Retirement Happiness: How to Spend Your Time and Money for Maximum Happiness.” Today, Jim, we're going to discuss a variety of research on happiness and retirement and give some principal advice on ways that you can help boost your retirement happiness. Jim has reviewed a lot of research on happiness and retirement, and has come up with seven principles based on that research.
And, Jim reviewing research is nothing new to you, correct? You have a master's degree in psychology
Jim Uren: Well, yes. I've done a lot of coursework, but I do have a master's degree in psychology. And so, yeah, a lot of my training was of course, learning to review academic research. That's certainly on the psychological side, but also helps certainly on the financial side. And part of that training was just evaluating the strengths of the published research, the strengths and weaknesses. So that was certainly helpful as I reviewed the happiness research that we're going to be discussing in today's episode.
John Bever: Okay. Now, before we dive into the list of seven principles, I'm just curious myself, is this like the list? These are the seven things?
Jim Uren: Good question. No, not at all. So this list is simply the results of research collection I started probably, I don't know, six to nine months ago. So it's important to know that these seven principles that we'll be discussing are not in order of importance. It's also important to know that there are other principles supported by research that we just don't have time to cover in this podcast episode.
And I also just want to, as another disclaimer, say, we'll be using the term happiness but a lot of the research uses terms like wellbeing. But for our purposes, you know, they're pretty much the same thing. So we're just going to stick to the term happiness because it's much, much simpler.
John Bever: So on to principle number one on your list, is to grow old. That seems obvious, but what does that mean?
Jim Uren: So I wanted to start with an easy one. And this one is overall really good news as we think about retirement, because you don't have to do much about it, right? So the good news is that there is loads of research from around the world, actually, that support the idea that happiness tends to be in an upward trend during the typical ages of retirement.
So in other words, generally speaking, people do tend to get happier as they approach and enter retirement. And this is true, whether they're actually still working or officially retired. And of course, you know, everyone's situation is unique, but the current, so to speak, is heading in the right direction.
Now, there was an interesting book I read this last year called, “The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50” by author Jonathan Rauch. Now, he discusses the concept of what's called the happiness curve and its prevalence across cultures and generations. Now, it's interesting because he points out that happiness tends to be higher in youth, but then dips during middle age, let's say in your forties and fifties, but then begins to rise after reaching your early to mid-fifties. And this rise tends to continue for two or three decades.
So this observed happiness curve is not what we would expect based on stereotypes. We tend to think of older people as sadder and lonelier than those who are younger.
John Bever: Yeah, the grumpy old man thing.
Jim Uren: Exactly, exactly. But what's interesting is that even people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s also tend to think other people of similar ages are also sadder and less happy, even though they themselves are not. Isn't that funny? So they're actually happy, but they assume everyone else who's old too is not happy because they're older.
But, what Rauch points out in his book is that the research shows that getting older can be very transformational. So as we, as we age, we tend to get more accepting of life's ups and downs. You know, we focus more on having a greater appreciation for meaningful relationships. And we, we generally tend to develop a more positive outlook on life. So we tend to be more content and grateful. And all of this increased happiness is happening. Even though our bodies are not as healthy as they used to be.
And I don't know about you, but I find that very encouraging. So everyone, the good news is you're already following principle number one, because guess what? We're all getting older. And what the science is telling us, contrary to popular stereotypes and beliefs, is that getting older is actually something to look forward to. So how about that, John?
John Bever: Well, that's great. And you know, anecdotally, I can attest to that because both my grandfathers got happier as they aged. That's interesting. Never thought about that.
All right, so principle number two, increase your income. Well, that sounds good. What does the research say about the relationship between money and happiness, Jim?
Jim Uren: So I found this really fascinating, but it is a little bit more of a complex answer. And one, to some degree, has some disagreements. So generally speaking, the belief is that if you start with nothing. Increasing your income or wealth definitely improves happiness. So for example, if you live in poverty and your wealth increases enough for you to buy food, to feed your family and just provide basic medical care, obviously your happiness significantly improves. And the research is pretty clear on that.
Now, thankfully, most of us aren't living in poverty. However, economists also generally recognize that money has what is called diminishing marginal utility. So that's a big word, but this is an economic principle that suggests that the more wealth one receives, the less satisfaction or pleasure one receives per unit of wealth.
So for example, let's, let's say you've got someone who earns $30,000 a year and someone who earns $250,000 a year. What happens if they're each given a $5,000 raise? Well, if money did not have a diminishing marginal utility, they would both be equally happy about the raise. However, as we can imagine, the person who's making $30,000 a year is probably going to be much happier with a $5,000 raise and likely see a much bigger life improvement than the person who had been earning $250,000, who now got the $5,000 raise. That person's certainly pleased with it, but it's not going to change their life a whole lot.
John Bever: That's true. That's true. I have to say, I still am kind of happy when I find a penny on the floor.
Jim Uren: Yes.
John Bever: So, all right. What is the ideal income level then for happiness?
Jim Uren: So again, this, this gets a bit tricky, but also interesting. So back in 2010, Princeton University professors Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, they published a major paper that suggested at the time that the magic number was somewhere between $60,000 to $90,000, which the popular press just kind of averaged, right, and they reported it as $75,000 a year.
So that's the number we'll kind of use for our discussion. So their research seemed to show that happiness continued to climb as your income increased toward $75,000 a year. But once your income exceeded that number, your actual happiness seemed to stop increasing.
Now, these professors are no slouches, right? They are both Nobel prize laureates and they're both very well known. In fact, Daniel Kahneman wrote the book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” which is probably one of the most influential books on behavioral finance. And I would say even just on how our brains work in general, when it comes to thinking and decision making. Which is, of course, key in our line of work, John.
And just to kind of put it in perspective, $75,000 when they wrote the paper in 2010, that would be about $100,000, $105,000 today. Okay, so that was kind of the standard.
However, what's interesting is in 2021, a Dr. Matthew Killingsworth, who is a senior fellow at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he published research that seemed to show to opposite. So his research shows that happiness or wellbeing actually continued to rise as one's income rose. So he found no evidence of an income happiness plateau, so to speak.
Which is right? How do we resolve this conflict? Well, this is where it gets interesting.
So, Kahneman, one of the authors of the original study, actually got a hold of Killingsworth, and they teamed up to author a new second study, and included even a third more neutral researcher, a woman named Barbara Mellors, who tried to resolve these seemingly conflicting research conclusions. Which I thought was really interesting and a good way to approach it.
They got together to say, “Hey, let's resolve this.” So what they figured out was that the income affects happy people and unhappy people differently. Isn't that interesting? So I'll say that again, income affects happy people and unhappy people differently.
So generally, unhappy people benefited the most as their income increased toward the $75,000 level. But the happiness of the generally unhappy people did start to plateau and stop moving around that $75,000 level. However, for those people who were generally happy an increase of income towards $75,000 did improve their happiness a bit, but not as much as the generally unhappy group.
However, for the generally happy people, their happiness didn't plateau as their income reached $75,000. It actually keeps climbing as their income increases. So there's a difference between whether you were happy person or an unhappy person as to how much that raise is going to make you happy.
John Bever: Wow. Well, I know I'm happier when my income goes up. So what can we say? So money can buy happiness, but how much depends on whether you're happy or not to begin with?
Jim Uren: That's basically accurate. So, however, we do need to keep in mind that all of this research shows that money is a factor in happiness. So yeah, money may arguably be used to buy an improvement in one's happiness, but that improvement may still be, relatively speaking, pretty minor.
So you can be a very happy person with very little material wealth. And we've all met people like that. And you can also be a very unhappy person with great material wealth. And we've all met people like that.
So to get a little bit more personal, John, the work you and I do in helping people grow and preserve their wealth, it can actually be a pretty powerful force in helping people improve their happiness over their lifetime, which I find fun. And you know, that's certainly one of the things that we just love to do.
However, more wealth is not a sufficient condition to ensure one's happiness. And in fact, I would argue wealth is not even a necessary condition, right, to ensure one's happiness. Now it helps, it helps. And in some cases it can help a lot, but there are many, many other factors that are just as important as well.
John Bever: I would agree as we work with clients from all different socioeconomic levels that seems to be true. Now the research also suggests that social comparison is a big factor in the relationship between money and happiness. Can you elaborate on that?
Jim Uren: Yeah, that is absolutely correct. So one of the first economists to identify this was a guy named Richard Easterlin back in like 1974. So about 50 years ago. Now he noticed that if you took any given country, you would find that the higher income people in that country are happier than the lower income people in that country. Not a surprise. What he also found, was that higher income countries were happier than lower income countries. Not a surprise.
However, he also found, and this is the kicker, that although the wealthiest members of society are the happiest, their happiness does not actually improve as their wealth continues to grow. So in other words, wealthier people are happier than poor people, but as wealthier people get even wealthier in these countries, they didn't get happier. So this observation is what economists now call the Easterlin paradox.
Now, let me try that again, cause I know that's a bit confusing, but let me explain it this way. So if we look at the top, let's say 20% of the wealthiest people in the United States today and we compare them to the top 20% of the wealthiest people in the United States from 1970 we would discover two things.
First, the wealthiest 20% today, they're far wealthier than the wealthiest 20% for 1970. And yes, that's even adjusting for inflation. They're just by every measure far wealthier. But the second thing we notice is that even though the top 20% today are far richer than the top 20% from 1970, today's top 20% are actually not any happier than the top 20% were in 1970.
And the same is true for most countries. So even though a country like the U.S. is far richer than it was 50 years ago, we're not any happier. And the best explanation for this paradox is simply, as you alluded to John, social comparison. That is to say, wealth leads to happiness more so because of how it allows me to compare myself to others more favorably than it does for the actual material benefits that it provides.
So our second principle for retirement happiness is to increase your income. For sure that helps, but it would be more accurate to say to increase your income in comparison to other people. So if you can't increase your income, if you could lower all your neighbors’ income, the research would suggest that would also make you happier.
John Bever: Got it. But we also know that money isn't everything. So principle three is to nurture meaningful relationships. How do you do that?
Jim Uren: So, one of the longest research studies on happiness ever conducted is actually the Harvard Study of Adult Development. It began, actually, back in 1938. It's currently led by researchers, Robert Waldinger and Mark Schultz. Now, this study has been looking at what makes us happy now, as I mentioned, for well over 80 years. And in their summary of what this decades long study has taught us, what they write, to kind of summarize their most important finding, thyy say, “The most consistent finding we've learned through 85 years of study is positive relationships keep us happier, healthier and help us live longer. Period.” How's that for clarity, John?
John Bever: Yeah, that's great. And I noticed in there you said positive relationships. Not just relationships, but positive relationships. So your social health then sounds like it's even more important than your financial health in determining your happiness. Interesting.
What other research did you review on happiness and relationships, Jim?
Jim Uren: Yeah. So on the relationship side, there was a white paper recently summarizing 20 years of research on happiness and retirements by professors, Mo Wang and Beryl Hesketh, if I'm pronouncing her name, right. And that indicates that married retirees usually enjoy better psychological wellbeing than single or widowed retirees. However, they also indicate that this disappears when a spouse is still working. And of course, it's also important that the marriage is a happy one to begin with.
Now, there was also a more recent study published in 2023 by Sam Peltzman from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business that looked at a variety of demographic information and how these various demographic factors affect happiness and by far the most influential factor was marriage and this had a bigger influence on happiness than even did money or educational level.
And there was another research study by an Oliver Robinson at the University of Greenwich, which indicated that friends are actually more important in retirement than children or grandchildren. So don't send hate mail yet, but children and grandchildren, interestingly in the research, and kind of surprisingly, had no measurable effects on life satisfaction.
Now, please understand this does not mean that grandchildren are not a considerable source of joy for many grandparents. I'm sure you can attest to that, John. But what it does mean is that retirees that do not have grandchildren on average were just as happy. And presumably because they found other people and activities to make them happy. However, what it did find in the research is that there's no substitute for friends. It's really hard to have a happy retirement if you don't have good close friends.
And, in retirement, other research also suggests that relationships with spouses tend to have the strongest association with mental health. And ties with friends were also more important to mental health than were other relationships with relatives. So marriage is very high on the list. If you've got a good marriage, that's a big factor in terms of relationships. But if you don't have grandchildren, if you don't live near your grandchildren, you can still live a very happy retirement if you have friends.
But if you don't have friends, it doesn't matter if you live next to your entire family, the happiness just was not there. So very interesting, interesting research on relationships and happiness in retirement.
John Bever: So there's a lot there with relationships, Jim, how would you summarize the key takeaways on relationship research?
Jim Uren: Three takeaways would be one, if you're married, heading into retirement or in retirement, make your marriage a high priority. Make that a high priority, that strong marriage. A key factor to happiness.
But two, if you're single, you can still enjoy an amazingly happy retirement. The research supports that. Maybe you've never been married. Maybe you've widowed or divorced. Don't count yourself out. The research suggests you can still have an amazingly happy retirement, particularly as you nurture wonderful caring friendships.
Three, I would say the third and final takeaway would be for everyone, whether you're married or single, continue to nurture meaningful relationships, particularly with close friends. And my hunch is that it's quite likely, because retirement does provide more time, I think as people retire, if they use some of that time to be able to do more social activities with friends, I think that's one of the reasons that we see a boost often in happiness for people.
John Bever: Yeah, makes sense. Makes sense.
All right. Principle number four on your list here is to get more serious about your faith.
Jim Uren: Yes, and here's why. So, according to a Pew Research study, people who are active in religious congregations tend to be happier and more civically engaged than religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups.
So this finding seems fairly consistent, actually, with lots of research that has been done over the years. And when you think about retirement, it can be a great time, again, to get more serious about your faith. You've got more time to get involved in your local congregation, more time to read, study, or pray.
In a recent book written called, “From Strength to Strength, Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life,” author Arthur Brooks discusses how further embracing his Catholic faith led him to lead a more happy and meaningful life. Wonderful book. I'd recommend it. There's more to it than that, but you know, it's, it's our faith that helps provide us often with meaning and identity in life.
And one of the things that Brooks talks about in his book is the challenge of transitioning into retirement because so often our identity and meaning are wrapped up in our job. And ironically, in fact, the more successful we are professionally, the harder that transition can often be. It could be a hard transition in a retirement when you're leaving a workplace where you were extremely well respected.
So, here's the takeaway, is that retirement is a great time to dedicate more time to your faith. The ability to give back to other people, to make the world a better place, to find deeper meaning in your own life and to form deeper friendships with others are all just tremendous ways to boost your retirement happiness.
John Bever: Yeah, that's great. That book again, “From Strength to Strength, Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life” by Arthur Brooks.
Jim Uren: Very good book.
John Bever: Alright, yeah. Principle number five is to buy memories more than materials. What does that mean? How do I buy a memory, Jim? I'd love to buy a bunch of memories that I've forgotten.
Jim Uren: I can sell you some, John.
John Bever: All right, good.
Jim Uren: See me after the show. So seriously though, generally speaking, research has also demonstrated that spending money on positive experiences actually tends to make us happier than spending money on material purchases.
So to understand the difference, it's important to have a little bit background. So the challenges with material purchases, and experiences included, is that as human beings, we're very adaptable. Which is great generally speaking, but we experience what the researchers call hedonic adaptation. So whatever our circumstances or whatever we spend our money on, our pleasure or pain tends to eventually moderate.
So anyone who's bought a new car can confirm this, right? The day you drive that car off the lot, you know, drive it home from the dealer, it's an extremely pleasurable experience. However, what happens just a few months later, right? Yeah, you're still enjoying the car quite a bit, but it's not nearly as exciting as it was the day that you drove at home. You don't get anywhere near the pleasure out of it.
However, even a few months further down the road, that pleasure is even less than it was three months earlier.
John Bever: Especially as the repairs kick in.
Jim Uren: Exactly. So this cycle, of the initial spike of pleasure followed by a major pleasure decrease and then the desire to buy something else is what's often referred to as the hedonic treadmill.
Now, what parent hasn't seen this in their young children? Three weeks after Christmas, your kids are already bored, right? Telling you they've got nothing to do. They're already telling you the toy they want for their next birthday.
John Bever: Yeah.
Jim Uren: Now, the good news is, is that hedonic adaptation, actually helps us after negative experiences too. So there was actually a pretty interesting paper from 1978, by Brickman, Coates and Janoff-Bulman, that compared people who had won the lottery to people who had had an accident that left them paralyzed. So you had a group of people who won the lottery, won a lot of money, and a group of people who had a tragic accident that left them paralyzed. Within about a year, there was no measurable difference in happiness from one group to the other. Isn't that surprising?
John Bever: Yeah.
Okay, so if we have this tendency toward hedonic adaptation, does it matter if we spend money on material items versus experiences? Is it like one or the other?
Jim Uren: Yeah. So I probably should have said that more, but the short answer is, “Yes.”
So in fact, there was actually a paper published in 2009 by professors, again, I'll try to say this name, right, Nicolao, Irwin, and Goodman. And they took a look at this very issue. So they wanted to know if material purchases or experiences were more resistant to that hedonic adaptation. Because there had been a paper published earlier in 2003, suggesting that purchasing experiences did lead to more happiness than purchasing material items. And so they wanted to see if they could replicate that research in their findings.
Now, their results generally did support the original thesis, which was we do tend to hold on to the pleasure of experiences much longer than the pleasure of more material things, which I guess makes sense. But overall, they found that the positive experiences not only live on in memories, but also lend themselves to even more positive reinterpretation over time as the negative aspects of them fade. So thus, positive experiences tend to resist the adaptation and remain more positive overtime.
John Bever: OK, so I get it. Going on a family vacation will likely make you happier than purchasing that new bedroom set.
Jim Uren: Yes, as long as that vacation overall was a positive experience. If however, the vacation goes terribly wrong and it's mostly a bad experience. You might've been better off with a bedroom set.
John Bever: Although I can tell you, even when there's those bad experiences, somehow they turn into great stories.
Jim Uren: They do.
John Bever: And there's something I just thought about as you were talking about this. Our daughters, you know, Pam, my wife is great at taking pictures and documenting and putting books together, and our kids would just sit down and flip through those books for an hour or two reliving some of those experiences. I bet that's related to this.
Jim Uren: Yeah. And as, as you said, John, what vacation is perfect? You have a few negative experiences, but those negative things tend to fade over time. And we tend to focus more on those positive experiences. So absolutely much better for most of the time for us to spend money on that time together as a family then that bedroom set or the big screen TV.
John Bever: Yeah. All right, principle number six, that's to volunteer your time. So what does the research say about that?
Jim Uren: . So another factor that's been shown in a variety of research is the positive effects of volunteering, particularly, interestingly, in retirement. So for example, there was a recent longitudinal study out of the UK by Dr. Katie Matthews and a Dr. James Nazroo from the university of Manchester that confirmed a lot of previous research on the benefits of volunteering in retirement. So just to kind of summarize their findings, one, volunteering in retirement is positively correlated with happiness. Two, the benefits of volunteering decline if you stop volunteering. Number three, the largest benefits were observed for those who volunteered for at least three or more activities.
So volunteering is great. If you can volunteer in two or three different ways, even better. And the other part of their finding, number four, was that even a minor amount of volunteering is still beneficial to happiness. So if you don't do any volunteering now and you're retired or you're about to retire, even just dipping your toe in the water, the research has demonstrated, is likely to boost your happiness because there's something we're just wired to help other people.
And you know, if you're concerned, if you were concerned that volunteers were happier again, as I alluded to, because there were happier people to begin with, there was another study in 2020 from the Journal of Happiness Studies that totally debunked that idea. So the lead author, Ricky Lawton, and a number of coauthors looked at to find out if volunteering only seemed to make people happier because happier people volunteered. And although, they did find that happier people did tend to volunteer more, their studies show that volunteering seemed to improve happiness for everyone, whether they were already happy or not.
So the research on the benefits of volunteering is very, very strong. Interestingly, the benefits are even especially stronger for people who are retired. So in retirement, we can't recommend enough. It's highly recommended that you volunteer often and for a variety of causes.
John Bever: All right, principle number seven, one of my favorites, is to practice gratitude. What did you discover about this?
Jim Uren: So the final principle is one most of us have heard of, but it's also backed up by loads of research. Practicing gratitude improves happiness. And although there's lots of research to support this, I think most of us just know this intuitively, right? If you've ever had a bad day and then stop to remind yourself of everything you have to be thankful for, you know that simple act can really be helpful in improving your mood and perspective.
You know, one of my favorite quotes about gratitude was written by a pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And he was actually in a prison camp for trying to assassinate Hitler at the time. So not, not the happiest of circumstances. But he wrote, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give. And it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It's very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.” And I just find that quote so encouraging.
And some of the specific gratitude research that we found, just a quick recap, it's interesting. Women tend to be more grateful than men. Maybe not a surprise to a lot of people. And women tend to enjoy grateful exercises more than men. However, good news for us, men, people who are the least grateful tend to benefit the most from grateful exercises. So the ladies may enjoy it more than, than us guys, but we need it more than they do.
John Bever: We benefit more.
Jim Uren: So it is helpful if you can take the time to be grateful, no matter your circumstances. And John, I don't know if you remember, you probably remember this hymn, right? The Count Your Blessings hymn.
John Bever: Oh yeah. Um,
Jim Uren: I'm sure you and I sang this a lot growing up in church,
John Bever: Yeah.
Jim Uren: but to kind of quote it, the main line is,
When upon life's billows, you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done.
So, very encouraging, good reminder for us to count your blessings.
And, you know, it's interesting because in our office at Phase 3, we have a weekly staff meeting and everyone, part of that process, we go around and we have everyone share something they are thankful for at that team meeting. And we've been doing that for years. And, John, share with us, what led you to incorporate that practice that we've been doing for years into our weekly staff meetings.
John Bever: Yeah, first of all, I got to get that tune out of my head. I'm going to have that Count Your Blessings in my head the rest of the day now.
Well, actually, in every industry, there can be things that just are very frustrating, and especially when an industry moves fast. And so to keep our focus really on the positive aspects of what we do, because there are so many, we started incorporating that many decades ago. I don't actually remember when we started, but it's been at least several decades because I can think about going around the table with some of the early employees. So it's probably been a good 25, maybe even 30 years that we've been doing that. But yeah, it was really to keep our focus on looking at all of the positive things that are happening in our industry and our clients lives and not get discouraged by the few things that might create some, some challenges ahead for us.
Jim Uren: And that's been great. I can tell you being there, it's a good reminder for all of us because we all have frustrating weeks and it's good to have those reminders. And that's one of the reasons we like to end our show with what we're thankful for.
But before we share what we're thankful for, John, I would like to encourage everyone to listen to our next episode. Our next episode is entitled, Getting the Most Out of Your Charitable Giving” and certainly being charitable to others is another great way to boost our retirement happiness.
John Bever: Yeah.
Jim Uren: John, what, what will our listeners discover on that next episode?
John Bever: You're going to learn why claiming the standard deduction may eliminate the tax advantage of your charitable giving. Number two, uncover the potential advantages of bunching charitable giving to increase your itemized deductions. Number three, discover how donor advised funds work and how they may help you reduce your tax bill. Lastly, we're going to explore how donor advised funds may help eliminate capital gains taxes on those appreciated assets
Jim Uren: Yes, you will not want to miss that episode. I know that the vast majority of our charitably inclined and part of our job as advisors is to really help them maximize the tax savings on that giving. And in a lot of cases, that just helps them give more. And for both John and I, it's one of the favorite parts of our job is helping people to give to ministries and organizations that help make the world a better place.
So John, what are you thankful for today?
John Bever: Well, I tell you after listening to this, I am most thankful for my wife who actually has a tremendously positive attitude in the face of some really challenging medical issues. And that is, I tell you, that is a great blessing to me. As I look forward to the retirement years, I'm very excited about those meaningful relationships because we've got a really good relationship, Pam and I, so I'm very thankful for my wife, Pam.
Jim Uren: That's great. That's wonderful.
John Bever: How about you, Jim?
Jim Uren: I, I will say, I will also echo that thankful for, for my wife as well. And certainly the research would support that and the importance of that. And so I'm very grateful. And of the two of us, I will admit she tends to be the more grateful. I tend to be the grumpier one. So it's a good reminder.
But I will also add, I'm also thankful for academic research. It really helps us, whether it is in happiness research or even in just the financial world. It helps us make better decisions. And I'm thankful for some of this tedious work that people do.
So, well, we hope you've enjoyed this episode and that you've gained some practical insights into what you can do to help boost your happiness as you prepare for the year you retire.
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