It's Not Money That Makes People Happy

Want to retire a millionaire? Try Peter Drucker's solution: "The best way to predict the future is to create it." But will your New Years resolutions help you create this nirvana?

Fuggetaboutit: Promises toasted at midnight, in a party mood, tipsy from the champagne, tossing confetti, blowing noisemakers, wearing a silly hat, hugging everyone ... hoping the loud music will drown out the problems of 2005 you desperately wish would go away?

Sorry, New Year's resolutions don't work! Remember, every January there's a big spike in new memberships at health clubs, gyms and Weight Watchers. But the good intentions fade fast. Obesity quickly returns to haunt us. Not just with weight, food and health. Egos are also obese. We want to retire a millionaire ... yet less than 4% of us ever do.

And still fate demands we go through this absurd annual ritual of denying reality and deceiving ourselves with fleeting promises about mending our ways. But when it's time for action, the resolve and discipline disappears. Washington does it with out-of-control spending. We do it to ourselves with a zero savings rate.

The truth is, New Year's resolutions reveal more about what you failed to do last year than what you will make happen next year. Harsh but true.

Gratitude and acceptance, not millions

So let's shift gears: There is a much better strategy for retiring in 2006, or anytime! Your new strategy: Try a little acceptance and gratitude ... and forget the million bucks.

Seriously, accept reality and be grateful for what you have. You know, soak up a little of that sappy stuff that made George Bailey realize how lucky he was in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Remember, his guardian angel Clarence helps George see how much he had to be grateful for, how wonderful his life really is.

Accept the fact that you're just one of 287 million Americans (out of 295 million) who will never retire as a millionaire. Accept that and you'll be a lot happier. A healthy, spirited blend of gratitude and acceptance is the single most effective retirement strategy for any American.

Of course that's not what Wall Street and Washington want you to believe. They want you to keep struggling and pushing, get more productive (and more anxious), make more money, pay more taxes (and commissions), and keep your nose to the @#%& grindstone!

So listen closely, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Most people really don't want to be millionaires! They aren't paying attention to Wall Street and Washington. That's what I hear from other sources. Not just spiritual folks like the Dalai Lama and Pope, but also economists and psychologists studying what makes people happy. Hint: It's not money.

One groundbreaking study was done some years ago by AARP, a nonprofit organization representing more than 30 million Americans over fifty. Its survey of people's attitudes toward wealth is an important reminder of what's really important as we look ahead to the dark, murky New Year.

According to the study "most Americans are basically content," and say that financial success isn't what matters. "The happiest weren't necessarily the wealthiest. They were the ones who learned to be satisfied with what they had." In fact, the vast majority of Americans are actually content with their financial situation:

Very happy with their lifestyle: 34%

Relatively happy: 41%

Just average happy: 18%

Somewhat unhappy: 5%

Very unhappy: 1%

In other words, a grand total of 93% score themselves "average happy" or better. Only 6% were unhappy. That's a pretty high score in any game, folks!

Looks like the big reason only 4% of Americans are millionaires may be because most don't want to be millionaires. Of course that's not the conventional wisdom! But it sure looks like Wall Street, Washington and the financial press have distorted America's reality! Listen to some other intriguing observations from AARP's survey:

In spite of the highly touted entrepreneurial spirit that's made America great, most of us just are not driven to do all it takes to become millionaires; we "just want to be comfortable and secure."

And get this: 75% worry that a lot of money would give them a big, fat ego — even make them insensitive and greedy.

Although 52% said money can't buy peace of mind, "it all depends on what 'peace' means to you," and money may sabotage your sense of peace.

When asked what they'd do with a $1 million windfall, 41% of women and 32% of the men would use it to help family, friends or make a donation to charity.

The big financial issue? Two-thirds said health care was the biggest money issue, after basic family support. Stuff like travel and "buying things" was way down the list.

Although many admitted they weren't saving enough for retirement, and half said they hadn't even calculated how much they need for retirement, about two-thirds believe they will have "enough" to retire. That's acceptance, folks.

Let's make no judgments one way or another. If you want to retire a millionaire, great. If you're like the other 96% of Americans, that's OK too. But please don't straddle the fence, put yourself in a double-bind, and set yourself up to feel like a failure. New Year's resolutions will do that to you. Don't buy into the hype that you need a million bucks to be happy. That's the big con job Wall Street, Washington and Madison Avenue want you to believe is the "American Way of Life." It's not.

Materialism is not in fact the way most Americans live ... or want to live. That's a myth, a fleeting New Year's resolution that's just a big fat tipsy ego talking. It'll just leave you with a big hangover and a lifetime of frustration. Stick with what really counts, gratitude and acceptance of what you already have.

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