Right now, when I run, walk or drive, I am listening to an audio book called Thrive, by Dan Buettner. In it, he analyzes why we seek love, wealth, health and stuff and he explores whether or not these things actually make us happy. Don’t go away just yet though. He has some science behind his theories. We can find out what makes us happy in retirement and in life.
He identifies the final goal as happiness … we are all essentially seeking happiness. We seek the other items like love, wealth and stuff because we believe that they can contribute to our happiness. We want money because we think it will buy us the things that will make us happy. We seek love because we think it will make us happy.
But we want to be happy just for its own sake. Happiness, he says, is an end goal in itself. And it is the reason that we do all the rest of the things we do. (Our North American socialization may have misguided us on exactly what we should do to attain that elusive thing called happiness.)
I like the science behind his analysis. He looks at unique pockets of population where people tend to live meaningful lives past 100. And he is immersing himself in those populations to discover what makes the thrive. In doing so, he identifies the factors that we can build into our lives so that we can thrive.
Buettner suggests that changing the way we think and act can change our life quotient of happiness. The things that we think will affect our happiness, like a pay raise, a new job or a new car, tend to provide fleeting happiness. And some of the things that we take for granted like socializing with good friends, observing something beautiful, or just experiencing the joy in the moment, accumulate through repetition, to sum to increasingly higher levels of perceived happiness. It turns out, it is the things we think are small and relatively unimportant that affect our outcomes on the happiness scale.
His two key takeaways are that the ‘happiest people’ socialize for seven hours a day. And the happiest people spend their time and money on experiences rather than things. The small stuff turns out to be the big stuff.
Buettner implies that we can make our lives happier by bringing more breathtaking moments into our days. Somehow we intuitively know that and in midlife we set out to find the things that make our soul sing.
I left my job because I needed more satisfaction in my life. And I found a more peaceful, less stressful way to live life on my own terms. But just like the happy people in the communities that ‘thrive’, life is never trouble-free. It is just better.
Moving away from an overwhelming job gave me back my life. So now I can fill my days with the moments that matter rather than squeezing them in between my obligations. And somehow making that bold step (it wasn’t easy) opened up my days. So now I invite those magic moments into my life. And I can savor the magic that they bring. It took me off the auto-pilot setting that was running my life. And now I choose.
Early retirement gives me lots of high-quality time with good friends and family.
And experiences rather than stuff. It is simpler than it seemed…..