In the spirit of New Year’s reflections, I recall a friend of mine telling me once that the meaning of success for him was to be comfortable with his story. A striking idea, I thought, because I was not a person who associated success with comfort. For me, success was about overcoming obstacles and achieving more than I thought I could. But, as I get older, I realize that I am actually comfortable with my life story, too, and that gives me a sense of satisfaction and peace.
Making peace is a life skill.
Satisfaction and peace are not states of being that arrive out of nowhere; they usually are the result of years of personal and professional evolution, trial and error, and hopefully, wising up through tough life lessons. Byron Katie, in her book Loving What Is, has helped me to make peace with the thoughts I have about being hurt, disappointed, and resentful. She is a strong proponent of the assertion that since we can control our thoughts, we can change them, and we can let them go. What could be more helpful than to realize that our feelings can actually follow our thoughts, and that by taking command of them, we can positively change our experience?
Ms. Katie has a very pragmatic approach to learning how to let go of painful thoughts. She suggests that we ask ourselves: “How do you feel when you have that thought? What do you get out of holding on to that thought? Who would you be if you let go of that thought?” Through our inability to forgive others and let go of being hurt, disappointed, and resentful, we diminish ourselves and the arc of our lives.
For many years now, I have asked myself at the beginning of a new year if I am happy with my current situation and the current direction of my life. Gratefully, for many years, my answer has been in the affirmative. Whenever I can affirm that I am happy with my location and my direction, I can acknowledge that all of my past experiences made my current happiness possible––so it is inappropriate, and ultimately a waste of time––to feel bad about anything that brought me to where I am today. This is very different from denying painful feelings or experiences. It is more like facing into them, accepting them, and being willing to let go.
Being satisfied is a life skill.
Part of being at peace is developing the capacity to be satisfied. In their book, How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life, British father and son economists Robert and Edward Skidelsky write, “Insatiability and restlessness lead us away from the good life,” and, “We celebrate acquisition at the expense of enjoyment; we over-produce work and under-produce leisure and the good things that go with it: friendship, hobbies, volunteer work,” for example. Think about that. . .
There most certainly is a financial reality to life, but worrying and wondering about it does not help to alter anything, and it can last a lifetime. This produces neither peace nor satisfaction. Facing one’s financial reality is a very different thing.
Perhaps the most important dimension of our financial planning process is that it helps individuals and couples think through and eventually specify for themselves just how much is enough. This most often results in opening up new possibilities for the future by providing actual answers to these types of questions:
- How much should I be spending per month?
- How much should I be saving per month, in order to reach this or that goal?
- Do I need to develop my career in order to produce more income?
- What would be the impact on my financial future if I stayed in my house?
- What would be the impact on my financial future if I sold my home?
Financial planning software can provide the actual data necessary to pragmatically ground financial decisions.
The financial planning process itself can create peace of mind, even if the outlook is less than ideal. The purpose of our life is “to become,” not to consume. One of our clients from Southern California sent us this thought from writer Melody Beattie:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Gratitude itself is a skill that can be developed.
May satisfaction, peace, and gratitude be with you in 2013.