4. We'll Be Wiser about What Matters
Having climbed much of the mountain, you now have a pretty good view of life. As we accumulate and make sense of life's lessons, most of us have come to appreciate that the joy that money alone brings is fleeting, and that true happiness revolves around love, relationships, and our sense of fulfillment at work and at play. Most of us reach this basic understanding in our middle years -- sometimes precipitated by the death of a parent, our kids leaving home, or the failure of a career or marriage. But for the most part, by the time we're fifty and still young enough to shape our later years, we understand that money, while it's important, is not what underlies happiness.
Ken recently headed a massive international study with HSBC Bank, The Future of Retirement (www.HSBC.com/ futureofretirement). When eleven thousand people of all ages from regions including Brazil, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States were asked what they believed contributed most to achieving a happy old age, the overwhelming first choice was "loving family and friends." Thanks to the additional longevity we'll be experiencing, we will have both the time and the wisdom to realize what brings true happiness.
In a series of surveys over the past twenty years, Forbes magazine has asked people to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being "not at all satisfied with my life" and 7 being "completely satisfied." No surprise, those on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest people in the world clocked in with a healthy average response of 5.8. But so did the modest-living Inuit people of frigid northern Greenland, and so did the cattle-herding Masai of Kenya, who live in huts with no electricity or running water.
Tom Hagan of Covington, Ohio, sold his pharmacy business at age fifty-six. But he didn't retire. He remains employed in the industry; he simply gave up the headaches and rewards of ownership. "The secret to life is being fulfilled," Hagan says. "It has nothing to do with money. I have friends who are worth $50 million who are miserable. They hate their wives; they hate their children. I love my life. I'm still working, and I plan to work until I die. I love my new job. It keeps my mind active. I couldn't imagine sitting around and watching TV every day."
5. We'll Have New Freedoms
The kids are gone or soon will be. College and the house are paid for -- well, mostly paid for. In any case, you probably have amassed a fair amount of home equity, and hopefully you've been stashing some money in a retirement plan at work. It's not just that your kids' schooling and the mortgage are mostly taken care of. Things like braces and summer camp and all the things you put in your house are largely paid for; you don't need a lot more stuff. With many of your biggest parenting-related financial obligations coming to an end, you'll be endowed with greater freedom to do the things you've always wanted. Meanwhile, your busy schedule is beginning to let up, providing you with a windfall of free time that will let you take on new challenges or pursue hidden passions and long-suppressed dreams.