From the May 2004 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Happily Ever After

If your client's retirement is fully funded but he has no idea what he's going to do when he gets there, those golden years may not be so golden

Have you ever asked a client what they would like to do after they retire, and had them say something like, "I don't know, but I won't be working at this darn place. I can't wait to get out of here"?

Surveys show that over half of Americans don't like their jobs and want to leave. It's very common for people to work 30 or 40 years at a job they don't like with the sole goal of retiring. Then, when they retire, they don't have any idea of what they want to do.

Without a clear vision of what they do want, they can only move away from what they don't want. This can have serious consequences, because the lack of a new purpose for living may even shorten their lifespan.

Emotions urge us to action, and we only have two types of emotions. Negative emotions repel us from threats, while positive emotions attract us to new opportunities.

Our natural behavior urges us to avoid threats and pain. The problem is that this natural behavior turns people into old fogies. If you touch a stove and get burned, you probably won't touch that stove again. If you fall in love with somebody and they leave you, you'll be reluctant to get romantically involved again. The older you are, the more experiences you've had. But if you allow your life to be directed only by your negative experiences, you'll become fearful and withdraw from life. By following your natural tendencies, you'll become an old fogy.

I have a little dog named Kiwi who loves to go for walks. She only weighs about 12 pounds, and when we explore different streets, sometimes larger dogs scare her. When this happens, she won't go down that street anymore, and as she gets older, there are more and more streets that she won't go down. Now she seems to be walking less and eating more. Do you have any clients who are be-coming old fogies like Kiwi?

If you or your clients make decisions based on what you don't want, then your past becomes a database of painful memories. It reminds you of all the things that you want to avoid. Your present existence becomes focused on trying to avoid things that cause pain, and your future is clouded by worries about the possibility of those things happening to you again. This natural behavior creates anger about the past, negative emotions in the present, and pessimism for the future. It is guaranteed to turn you into an old fogy.

But if you have a clear vision of a positive future, then that positive future becomes your "emotional lighthouse." Every time you think about that positive future, you are inspired by it and drawn toward it. With this scenario, your actions in the present are guided by your future vision. Your past becomes full of wisdom and insights. Your past is now full of those things that will help you to achieve your vision for the future.

The key is that this way of thinking is not natural. Rather, it must be learned. It may require a coach and a formal process to help people create a positive vision of the future. But if you do this, it will turn you into a "wise happy" instead of an old fogy. This way of relating to life creates positive emotions, which have been shown to enhance the immune system and increase health, optimism, and longevity.

So, how do you help your clients determine what will make them happier, now and in the future? Well, since 1998, scientists all around the world have been studying positive emotions. Based on my research into the science of positive emotions and my decade of coaching financial advisors, I have identified six "happiness factors." If you help your clients identify each of these happiness factors for themselves, and then encourage them to live in alignment with their happiness factors, you will turn them into "wise happies" instead of letting them become old fogies.

Your Inner Happiness Factors

The first happiness factor encompasses your strengths. Each one of us has unique strengths, which come from our genetic makeup. We also have learned skills. When we understand what our unique strengths are and use them in our daily activities, we experience a deep engagement with those activities, whether they involve work or play. When we perform activities that utilize our unique strengths, we are intrinsically rewarded. That means we would continue to perform these activities even if we weren't getting paid to do so.

The scientific term for this is deep engagement is "flow." One of the founders of the Positive Psychology Network is Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. He has spent 30 years researching this deep and highly rewarding positive emotion that athletes call "the zone."

The second happiness factor comprises your passions. Everyone has specific areas that we are deeply passionate about, that make us feel excited. When you are clear about what you are passionate about and are able to do those things on a daily basis, you experience a deep sense of pleasure and enthusiasm. Understanding what creates passion in your life and arranging your life to get more of it creates positive emotions.

Number three is your purpose. Psychologists have found that when you utilize your strengths and do the things you are passionate about for a greater purpose you experience a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment. Without a sense of purpose, people are likely to become depressed and turn to drugs, alcohol, and other means of escape.

A classic example of this is Mel Gibson, the actor and movie director. At the peak of his career, he had all the money, fame, and power that anyone could ever hope for, but he was miserable. He says now that he was addicted then to pretty much anything that he could consume and was even considering suicide. But then he reconnected with a higher purpose for his life, which was a religious commitment. That drove him to make a compelling film, The Passion of the Christ. Now his life is filled with a sense of meaning and fulfillment because he has found a higher purpose than just making money.

Your External Happiness Factors

In addition to inner happiness factors, you have external happiness factors. These factors (numbers four, five, and six) comprise: positive people, positive environments, and sustainability. When you surround yourself with positive people, you experience love and empowerment. More than just inspiring and encouraging you, these people empower you to follow your authentic self and your positive emotions. Remember, toxic people can make you miserable, but positive people are a big part of what makes life worth living.

Positive environments are the homes, communities, and regions where you live. When you are in positive environments, you experience inspiration and enhanced creativity.

Last but not least, the sixth happiness factor is sustainability. If you and your investors identify your strengths and utilize them every day in your work; understand your passions and do things you are passionate about daily; and do it all with a higher purpose, with people that are positive for you, in environments that inspire you in a sustainable way, then you will experience security in the present and optimism about the future.

Now, if you help your clients create a vision of a positive future where all these happiness factors are working in alignment and then coach them to reorganize their resources and their lives so that they can live in alignment with them, they will experience deep and rewarding positive emotions.

The Higher Purpose for Financial Advice

The foundation of financial planning is helping people make smart choices about their money so they can retire with financial security. But this foundation is based on an unstated assumption: They don't like the work they are doing.

If they got intrinsic rewards from the work they were doing, and felt it was in the service of a higher purpose, why would they retire? The Pope is not waiting for retirement; neither was Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer. Now, we can't all be saints, but we can all become happier and more fulfilled with a framework for living that is based on positive emotions, rather than getting rich so we can stop working.

I saw a PBS special on Edwards Deming, the American management consultant who helped the Japanese master statistical process controls in their manufacturing processes after World War II. In his late 80s or early 90s, he was still making group presentations, breathing oxygen with a mask to keep his strength up. He clearly was passionate about his work, and the Japanese audiences loved him. Why would he want to stop doing the thing that gave meaning and purpose in his life?

If you help your clients define their six happiness factors, and encourage them to make changes in their lives so they experience more positive emotions, you will be providing a much more valuable service than just managing their money so they can retire and do nothing. In the process you will create a higher purpose for your work, create raving fans, and help your clients and yourself live happily ever after. That is something we all want to do.

I invite you to become a "wise happy" and spread more happiness and fulfillment in the world. You'll be happier and more fulfilled, you'll attract better clients, and you'll probably even live longer if you follow this simple framework for your life and work.

Steve Moeller is president of American Business Visions and author of Effort-Less Marketing for Financial Advisors. Call American Business Visions at 800-678-1701, or visit www.businessvisions.com.

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