Chasing the Carrot: We Catch It In Our Late 60s

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Are you happy? It’s one of life’s perennial questions. The Declaration of Independence promises us the right to pursue happiness, but doesn’t guarantee its attainment. Instead, the Founding Fathers held out a carrot on a stick.

Money, like love and happiness, is one of life’s carrots: sometimes elusive, always sought, deliciously sweet when obtained. But if you believe happiness peaks in, say, our thirties, when we’re in our physical prime and often settled into a cushy career and family life, you’d be wrong.

According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, we’re happiest at 69… which is exactly three times the previous happiest age: 23. The U-shaped curve reflects unmet aspirations: just starting out, people overestimate where they’ll be later in life; post-retirement, people abandon regrets and experience the obverse of a shiny, expectant twenty-something. After age 75, happiness again declines, as people begin to grapple with encroaching mortality.

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Personally, I dispute the study’s findings. At 23, having surrendered the relative freedom of student life for 9 to 5, I wondered, “Is this all there is?” I felt resigned and confined, and didn’t start to feel truly happy until I began awakening to my life purpose in my late thirties. I can’t speak to 69 yet; that’s still a few years off.

But if age is less a measure of happiness than attitude and gratitude, it behooves us all to take contentment (or the lack of it) into our own hands, regardless of how many trips around the sun we’ve taken.

One statistic that may help: 8000 days. Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT’s AgeLab, says there are “roughly 8,000 days between birth and college graduation; 8,000 days between college graduation and a midlife crisis; 8,000 days between a midlife crisis and retirement and, if you do retirement planning, another 8,000 days in retirement.” That works out to 87.6 years. Just contemplating these 32,000 ticking days may be enough to jump-start the happiness clock.

A Man With a Plan

Then there’s the iconic T. Boone Pickens, still happily at work on his encore career at 89, who writes, “I’ve long thought in terms of resurgence rather than retirement. One of my longtime associates likes to say, ‘Boone has been in the prime of his life three times.’ Indeed, an imaginary headline has captivated me for years: ‘The Old Man Makes a Comeback.’ And I have, repeatedly, most recently from mini-strokes I experienced in December.

“I hope that I can serve as a role model for how to live in the fourth quarter of life. The rewards are beyond anything I experienced as a ‘young man.’ Age is meaningless in some instances. I didn’t make my first billion until I was 70. Opportunity comes in many forms, and in America it is endless. We are allowed second, third, fourth, and fifth acts — and who knows how many more.

“I’ve lived by a watch that tells time a bit differently. I embrace change. Those facing retirement age don’t need a new watch but rather a different outlet. You can stay around as long as you stay active — and, of course as I’ve mentioned time and again — you have a plan.”

The New York Times’ New Old Age blog agrees: it’s moments, not money, that make later life memorable. Of course, not having to worry about the money makes it easier to enjoy the moments, and that’s where a HECM comes in.

The Wisdom to Relax

Resurgence requires resilience, and this ability to be flexible springs from a yoga of the mind. An enduring piece of guidance that has helped millions of people of all ages is the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change / Courage to change the things I can / And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Happiness arises when elders are able to relax into change and allow themselves to step into new roles later in life, as Pickens and William Shatner exemplify. This may mean releasing frustrations with technology or the behavior of younger people who may be hurried — or less thoughtful than warranted.

One LO reflects, “I am finding as I get older that I am more easily frustrated with minor mishaps, and more impatient with things such as kids acting up in restaurants, and not being corrected by accompanying adults. People who are so busy looking down at their phones while stopped at a traffic light that they don’t go when the light changes…and because of their delay I get stuck with another light change cycle.

“My solution now is to try to ignore it and recall the Reader’s Digest article from many years ago that asked, ‘Is it worth it?'”

So if you’re meeting with youthful potential borrowers (or their kids) who are planning well as they approach retirement, you can let them know their happiest moments likely lie ahead. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a reverse mortgage per se. But knowing this financial resource is available will certainly make that carrot taste sweeter.


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