After slogging through a year of lockdowns, bitter politics, and economic hardships in 2020, 2021 hasn't quite proved to be the big bounce back to normal we were all hoping for. We're still fighting many of last year's fights, COVID-19 is surging again, and we could be entering a contentious new political phase both at home and abroad.
While it can be hard to stay positive during difficult times, never underestimate the power of positive thinking. Making gratitude a part of your daily routine doesn't just lift your spirits, it can also improve your health and clarify your financial decision making, especially if a major life transition like retirement is on the horizon.
For years, as a part of my morning routine, I have made it a point to capture my gratitude. I have a simple process that includes taking out my phone and entering a minimum of 10 things that I am feeling grateful for. I have one long note that is entitled gratitude and each day I date the entry and start typing. It’s NEVER hard to come up with at least 10 and some days many more. This simple habit has been very powerful starting my days off on the right footing. The list includes, people, experiences, accomplishments, health, freedoms, spirituality, and many others.
I’ve found that we are wired as humans to worry about the “next issue”, to take things for granted, and to naturally re-experience negative emotions or resentment which in my opinion all set us up for failure. To combat this, in my experience, it is a must to capture our gratitude and not let it slip away. Being able to now go back and review the thousands of “gratitude capture” moments is an empowering activity and allows me to re-live those experience and feel the feelings as if they were happening yet again - especially good on days where I may not be feeling 100% or I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
1. Be healthier.
The Thnx4.org project at Berkley's Greater Good Science Center created an online gratitude journal that prompted users to reflect on things they're thankful for and share that gratitude on social media. Polling of users who journaled for 14 consecutive days found that the more gratitude experiences users had on a given day, the more positively they rated that day. Highly grateful users also reported a decrease in physical discomforts such as headaches, stress, and stomach pain.
One noteworthy detail is that users who expressed gratitude for people rather than for things were 150% more likely to call their day "glorious." As we've discussed often in our blogs and on our podcasts, even shiny new stuff is still just stuff. It's the people who are most important to you and the experiences you have together that make life -- and retirement in particular -- more rewarding. And from another perspective, that stat is a reminder of how much power each of us has to make a positive impact on someone every single day. Visiting a homebound relative, giving your spouse an extra hug, or volunteering creates a chain reaction of goodness that can spread gratitude throughout your social circles and your community.
2. Make better money decisions.
Another study by researchers from Northeastern University, the University of California, Riverside, and Harvard Kennedy School compared how gratitude affected financial impatience. In one part of the study, participants were offered $54 now or $80 in 30 days. But before they made their decision, they were randomly assigned to write about an event from their past that made them feel grateful, happy, or neutral. Folks in the grateful group were much more likely to be patient and accept larger payouts later. In fact, the happy group was just as impatient as the neutral group!
What I find interesting about this study is that the participants didn't self-identify as grateful. They were put in a grateful mindset by their randomly assigned writing prompt, and subsequently made a smarter money decision. That's the power of a gratitude journal in action!
For most folks, nothing has a greater impact on a financial plan than controlling spending. I wonder how many splurge purchases or snap money judgements we might spare ourselves from if we took a moment to appreciate what we have before clicking BUY or getting sucked into the latest social media panic.
3. Feel better about retirement.
Even a perfectly planned retirement will have moments of doubt and worry. Your relationships are going to change. Your health is going to change. How you think about money is going to change. And as you're making all these adjustments, forces beyond your control in the world, in the financial markets, and in life are going to affect how you feel about retirement as well.
But even in the middle of another tough year, if you've made it to retirement, you have so much to be grateful for!
Despite the constant doomsaying from critics and politicians, Medicare and Social Security are here for you, and probably will be throughout your retirement.
Inflation might be a more realistic concern, but you could also look at the summer surges in consumer prices and appreciate the fundamentals of a strong economy that's ready to boom once the pandemic is behind us.
Incredible advances in medicine and nutrition will hopefully keep you active and able for decades to come.
And whatever our political differences, we should all be grateful to live in the freest, most innovative, and most industrious country in the world.
Above all, I hope retirees feel grateful for all the opportunities they have in this exciting stage of their lives. No, the last two years of your retirement probably haven't been perfect. But decades of hard work and sticking to your financial plan have brought you this far. Call up my team at Keen Wealth and we can talk about any adjustments or additions to that plan that will brighten your outlook for the rest of your journey.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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