Designing for a Wealthier (and Longer) Life
The current life expectancy for adults in the U.S. is around 76 years old.¹ We have gained roughly 25 years of additional life expectancy in this country over just the last century. This is an amazing statistic when we think of how our lives have expanded in such a short period of time.
For some of us, the concept of longevity can be intimidating and, for others, inspiring. I know I have been on both ends of this spectrum and I want to share a few reflections with you on this subject in the hope that they will offer some value as you contemplate your own longevity and design your life accordingly.
Time–Not Money–Is the Most Valuable of Life’s Resources
I was given a unique perspective on the gift of time as a teenager. After I lost my father to cancer–he died at the same age I am today–I quickly realized that time, not money, is our most precious resource in life. Time is the one resource we cannot accumulate, replicate, or store for later use. And we can’t buy more of it, no matter how much money we have. Time is truly priceless.
When we give our time judiciously to someone or something, it becomes an investment. When we give it to family and friends, we invest in those relationships. When we give it to volunteering, we invest in bettering our community. Giving our time to those things that enrich our lives is an investment in ourselves, and one that can actually improve our health and life expectancy.² So, by giving our time, we may actually be getting more of it.
Perspective Is Within Our Control; Aging Isn’t
While it’s important to appreciate that time is fleeting, I also had to learn not to dwell on that fact. After I lost my father, I developed a real fear of aging and mortality. For a while, for better and for worse, I lived life like I was running out of time. I felt like the game clock was racing down to zero. I had to put in the work to change my perspective and find better balance if I was going to extend the game to live past middle age – unlike my own Dad.
So, I became extremely intentional about how I used time and I tried to learn from others I admired and respected who were living long and, what I considered, truly wealthy lives. People like my Grandpa Lew, who lived to the age of 98 despite being an immigrant to this country and born in 1910, when life expectancy was only 50 years old.³
I noted some common characteristics among Grandpa Lew and others close to me whom I observed living long, meaningful and balanced lives. They made it a priority to nurture what they deemed as their true wealth in life: developing their whole self (mind, body and spirit). They had deep and intentional relationships with family and friends, they devoted their time to purposeful careers and they gave back to their communities. They allowed themselves to savor the things they already had, versus always searching for more (financially and beyond).
The realization of these fundamental building blocks led to the foundation of our process and the creation of Wealth Architects in 2005.
A Long and Wealthy Life Consists of These Essential Elements
Evidence from around the world⁴ supports that our well-being really comes down to five essential elements and they can contribute to how long we live.
- Self: If we don’t take care of our physical and mental health, what else matters? Being unhealthy is a huge factor in our longevity and can come with significant economic costs, especially as we live longer.
- Family and Friends: Cultivating and maintaining deep relationships with people enhances our lives and nourishes our souls. Studies show that positive, committed relationships (platonic and romantic) can boost happiness and add more years to one’s life.⁵
- Career: Unfortunately, only 20% of people say they like what they do every day.⁶ Whether the majority of our days are spent at an office, volunteering or raising kids, feeling invigorated and purposeful on a daily basis is worth working toward, so we have something that truly fulfills us as we extend our lifespans.
- Community: Engaging with our surroundings–e.g., our neighborhood, place of worship, retirement home–can play a major part in our overall well-being and happiness. Giving back to our community and being a part of something bigger than ourselves may be the key difference between a good life and an exceptional one.
- Financial: Our inherent psychological weaknesses and desire for immediate gratification, at times, can lead us astray from our long-term financial well-being. It can distract us from the ultimate goal, living a life of meaning, making us lose sight of how much is really “enough.” Enough is often much less than we think, but it’s easy to overvalue our desire for more money at the expense of these other essential elements.
What is striking is that, based on Gallup’s global research,⁷ less than 10% of people are thriving in all five areas. Why? Because it requires recognition that these five areas are so important in the first place, and then hard work to properly balance them all.
This is why we founded Wealth Architects; to help people align their time with their money, so they can pursue greater meaning in life beyond just financial stability. In this deeper sense, we founded our company to build truly wealthier lives.
Extending Your Lifetime on Your Terms
So back to our initial question, “How can we make the most of this gift of life?” There are so many things to think about if we dare to live to 100 years. How much money will we need? Where will we live as we age? How do we build the endurance to play longer and what can we do with our additional time? And, most importantly, what should we consider doing differently today?
We want to help answer those questions. We feel our most important job is to help clients articulate their values and vision for the future so we can map out a plan for how to get there. The idea is to develop a financial-life blueprint with a focus, above all, on long-term fulfillment.
Our lives are precious gifts and, while they may be short, we should plan for them to be long. I hope you will make the time to design for a longer and wealthier one, as what we do with our time will ultimately be the ripple effect we have on others and the legacy of our lives.
If you would like to hear more on this topic, please watch this video of my opening remarks from our recent Wealth Architects University symposium, “A Long Bright Future – 100 Years to Thrive,” with Dr. Laura Carstensen, Founder of the Stanford Center for Longevity. To learn more about Wealth Architects University, check out our executive summary here.
² https://www.health.harvard.edu/; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
⁷ Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements
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