As Americans, we embrace the concept of the ownership society. We love to think that we own our homes, our cars, our investment accounts, and our retirement accounts.  The more we own, the more successful we feel.

The challenge is we don’t really own anything.  Ownership implies permanence, and nothing in life is permanent.

We are not owners; we are stewards.  We have control over our possessions for a brief period of time, and then we don’t.

When we see ourselves as stewards, our perspective changes.  We stop focusing on the accumulation of ever more stuff and money, and start focusing on how to use our wealth to create the life we desire.

As our focus shifts, we open ourselves to new possibilities.  Maybe we can finally take that long-delayed European vacation.  Maybe we can start our own business.  Maybe we can give more to help disabled veterans.

Most importantly, our time perspective shifts as we embrace stewardship.  As stewards, we understand that tomorrow is promised to nobody, and time, not money, is our most precious resource.

Living simply can free us from the bondage of the non-fulfilling career.  It frees us to choose a less financially rewarding, but more satisfying, more meaningful job.  It often give us the freedom to work less, earn less, and spend more time doing what we love with the people we love.

Living simply is not easy.  We sometimes purchase things we don’t need because we are exhausted from working so hard, and it feels good to treat ourselves.  We can easily get caught in a downward spiral:  the more we spend, the more financial pressure we feel, the harder we work, the more exhausted we feel, and the more we spend….

Live simply.  There’s a lot of wisdom in doing that.

We can, however, live too simply. We can become so focused on building our net worth and saving for the future that we deny ourselves life-affirming experiences such as traveling to new destinations with our loved ones and creating lifelong memories.  We might deny ourselves the satisfaction of helping a friend in need because there is a chance, however slim, that we might need that money later.

The challenge is that when we miss out on these life-affirming experiences, we miss out on them forever. We can’t change our mind and go back in time. Often, the loss is permanent.

Live fully.

Are you overwhelmed with ambivalence about where stocks are headed next? To give some perspective, the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) said the average investor bullish sentiment has been below 39% (historical average) for 15 of last 17 weeks and the investor bearish sentiment is below 30.5% (its historical bearish average). Are you “thinking about the right action,” confused about what to do given the lack of direction?

What did you do last Thursday (7/31/14) when the market dipped 1.8%, wiping out in a single day all the 2014 gains for at least one major index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average?  Did you buy in at cheaper prices or did you sell thinking a correction is in the wings? Did you take any action?

At GV, we strive to take emotion out of the picture. We take immediate action only when and where needed. Yes, hypothetically speaking, we would have bought stocks had last Thursday’s sell-off breached our proprietary rebalancing bands. Market swings give our rebalancing processes an opportunity to sell what has appreciated and buy what has gone down.

Whether in bull or bear markets, reallocating assets from better-performing asset classes to worse-performing ones can feel counterintuitive to the retail investor. Develop a disciplined process to take action so that you are not caught watching from the sidelines as the markets provide opportunities. Because investing can at times be challenging and difficult to overcome emotionally, we believe an advisor can provide you the discipline to buy low and sell high, enabling you to meet your long-term goals with lower risk.

If you wish to understand more about the processes in place at GV Financial that are designed to take the stress out of the equation so you can invest with more confidence and take advantage of opportunities, join us for our next Lunch and Learn on August 19, 2014.  Click here to register.

I first ran across the phrase “Happiness takes work” in Dennis Prager’s 1998 book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, and knew I found a nugget of wisdom.

We all want to be happy.  Aristotle went so far as to say, ““Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

Yet, all too often we look for happiness in all the wrong places. We somehow believe that pursuing fame, wealth, and pleasure will lead to happiness.  As Albert Brooks points out in his recent New York Times op-ed, Love People, Not Pleasure, “We look for these things to fill an inner emptiness. They may bring a brief satisfaction, but it never lasts, and it is never enough. And so we crave more.”

Happiness is built on the foundation of a stable lifestyle, but in what Brooks might concur is part of “Mother Nature’s cruel hoax,” an increase in lifestyle beyond that modest level does not generate more happiness.  Happiness stems from the quality of our closest relationships, our ability to engage in activities that ignite our passions, and from capturing the ever-present opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others.

Pursuing the intrinsic goals that bring us happiness is difficult, especially in a culture that all too often mistakenly defines personal success – and happiness – in terms of wealth, fame, and pleasure.  Inside, we know wealth, fame, and pleasure are false idols, yet it is hard to swim against the cultural tide of insanity.

As Brooks notes, it takes “a great deal of reflection and spiritual hard work” to resist these cultural currents and to focus your attention on what will bring you meaning, satisfaction, and a deep feeling of joy.  It requires each of us to build into our lives regularly scheduled times to pause and reflect, and to remind ourselves of what really matters to us.

Happiness takes work.

My favorite part of staying in hotels is the daily maid service.  I love coming back to the room and having the bed made, the bathroom cleaned, and everything picked up.  I often quip to my wife Heidi that the magic fairies have come again.

The truth is the “magic fairies” are mostly women who have very physically demanding jobs for a modest hourly wage.  They work long hours, five or six days a week, and are often just happy to have the work.  It shows.  They often greet me in the hall with a smile on their face and good wishes for my day.

Recently, I decided to thank the housekeeper personally and to hand her a $20 tip.  The experience invigorated me.  Her initial reaction of shock quickly morphed into a big bright smile that was contagious.  I felt great for the rest of the day.  It was the best $20 I had spent in a long time.

When we stop and notice another person, and thank them for their efforts to make our lives a little easier, they feel great and so do we.  While it doesn’t take a lot of time or a lot of money, it can bring a smile to their face, and ours.  And don’t we all want to smile a little bit more.

Generosity flows from confidence and leads to confidence.

We are generous when we are feeling confident about the future.  We give our time and money freely when we have the confidence we can overcome life’s future challenges.

When we are generous with our time and money, we also remind ourselves of our own good fortune, and of all the resources we have at our disposal as we face an uncertain future. When we see the world from a place of gratitude and abundance, we feel more confident.

Build your confidence; be generous.

Fear is the single largest obstacle that stands between us and investment success.  Intellectually, we understand all the logic behind creating and maintaining a diversified portfolio, sticking with stocks for the long run, investing money on a regular basis, and not getting swayed by short-term market swings.  But all that logic seems to go out the window when we watch our portfolio decline in value as the market plunges. Our brain might say to hold on, but our stomach screams SELL, SELL, SELL.

The antidote to fear is not logic.  Strong emotional reactions need strong emotional medicine.  The next time you feel that pit in your stomach as the market drops precipitously, try asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Can I predict the future? (Hint: The answer is always no.)
  2. What do I rely on as I face an uncertain future? Is it my close relationships with family and friends, my intelligence, my faith in God, my resilience, or something else?
  3. What ten things am I most grateful for in my life?

When you finish answering these questions, see if you feel a bit calmer.  My bet is that you will, and you’ll be less likely to overreact to a short-term market move.

We all have our challenges.  Our children are driving us crazy.  Too much going on at work, and not enough time to get it done.  Our body sends us daily reminders that life is not what it used to be.

Few of us, however, face challenges comparable to Susan Spender-Wendell’s.  Susan was a well-respected journalist at the Palm Beach Post, happily married with three young children, when she learned at age 44 that she had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.  ALS is a gradually debilitating motor neuron disease. There is no cure and most people die of respiratory failure within three to five years.

Susan faced a choice about how to live the rest of her life; the same choice each of us faces every morning.  Susan chose to embrace life, to focus on what she could do, and to live with joy as she so inspirationally shares in her new book, “Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living with Joy.”

Susan prioritized. She focused on doing the things she could still do before her disease eliminated those options.  She traveled to the Arctic to see the Northern lights, went on a cruise with her sister, toured around Greece to meet relatives she tracked down after finally learning about her biological father, now deceased, and planned a trip with each of her two older children.

The most poignant moment in the book may be when she takes her 14-year-old to New York where they make a trip to a bridal shop. Susan asks her daughter to try on wedding dresses, knowing she won’t be there when she gets married.

As we age, we all face a similar, although far less traumatic, and dramatic challenge. While we may not know when or what we will die of, as Susan does, we slowly lose our ability to do what we once could. No matter how well we eat and how much we exercise, we all suffer physical and mental losses as we move into our later years. That is just life, unavoidable.

We do have a choice, however, in how we live our lives as we age.

Like Susan, we can choose to focus on doing the things that require physical and mental exertion sooner rather than later. If you have always dreamed of visiting America’s national parks, going to Machu Picchu in Peru or taking a bike trip with your adult children, there is no time like the present.

We can also embrace and be grateful for what we can do, instead of lamenting what we can no longer do. I have a friend who loved to golf.  Between his hips and knees, golfing has become too difficult. Instead of bemoaning the loss of golfing with his buddies, he has taken up bridge and created a whole new set of friendships.

Susan writes of taking a dip in her pool and while floating on her stomach, realizes she no longer has the strength to lift her head. After her friends pull her to safety, she realizes she can no longer swim. “So how shall I handle it? Pine away for something I can no longer do? Something I adored? No,” she writes. “For that is the path to the loony bin. To want something you can never have.”

Time is our most precious and scarcest resource.  For those dreams that require strength and stamina, remember that a dream delayed might become a dream denied.  Instead of lamenting over what you can no longer do, focus on what you can do to add meaning and joy to your life.

And don’t wait to do what you have always wanted to do.  Because, as we all know, tomorrow is promised to nobody.  Choose life.

I don’t think anybody grows up hoping to be mediocre.  We all want to be successful.  We want to feel proud about our accomplishments, our life.

When we start a new endeavor, we typically imagine what success would look like.  I remember enrolling as a freshman at Emory University and defining success in purely academic terms.  I wanted to graduate near the top of my class and be admitted to a top five law school.

My definition of success served me well, and it served me poorly.  On the plus side, it motivated me to go to class and study.  I graduated near the top of my class and was admitted to two of the top five law schools.

On the negative side, my definition of success blinded me to other opportunities.  Although I had a small group of great friends, I missed the chance to connect with more people and I never got involved in any student organizations.  Maybe most importantly, I passed on numerous opportunities to experience the joy of being a college student by just having fun.

We all want to be successful.  How we define success impacts how we choose to live our lives.  So, my question to you is simple.  How is your definition of success working for you?

We crave freedom.  The ability to do what we want, when we want to do it.

We equate freedom with money.

All I need is enough money to get to the Promised Land. 

With enough money, I can live in the home I desire, drive the car of my dreams, and stay in the finest hotels when I travel. 

With enough money, I can stop being a slave to my work. I can do what I want to do.

But it’s all an illusion, a mirage.  When we equate freedom with money, we deny ourselves the opportunity to feel free.  Why?  Because we all have an infinite capacity to imagine scenarios where we lose our money.  When we imagine those terrible scenarios, we feel scared and anxious, not free at all.

It’s an illusion that distracts us from a compelling truth:  We already have the capacity to be free. 

Freedom is the ability to face an uncertain future with clarity, courage, and confidence.

We need clarity about what really matters to us, and about what we want our life to be.

We need courage to take that first step from what we know to what we want.

We need confidence that we will figure out how to deal with whatever adversity comes our way.

What can you do to get the clarity, courage, and confidence you need to be free at last?


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