Who would have thought that a concept taught to me in a University course nearly 30 years ago would raise its head again, and quite prominently now.
My work with clients now is often more focused on helping them attain their retirement needs or to be more specific, where we can help them grow their wealth to a point where they can afford to live the life they want. The distinction between the two statements is quite profound. And it’s here that working through Mr Maslow’s hierarchy of needs creates some clarity around just exactly what their vision of retirement actualises into a tangible action plan with some set milestones that need to be achieved for this plan to be successful.
The question of How much is enough? then appears in the conversation. How much wealth would it take for you to be happy? My reading of the book ‘How much is enough?’ written by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky looks to help cover off on this question. They reviewed the studies of John Maynard Keynes who pondered: Imagine you live in a world in which you spend most of your time doing things you enjoy, and would only work if you wanted to?
Keynes’s essay from 1928 predicted that in 100 years western societies would have obtained so much wealth that no one would have to work more than three hours a day. Imagine, a 15-hour workweek.
So, what happened to the 15 hour week?
Most of us still must work very hard to meet our needs, and struggle to find the time for recreation. How often would you find yourself replacing things like a TV or your car? Do you do this because you must? or because you want to enjoy the new technology? The frequency of these transactions is happening more and more, and always at a significant cost.
Whilst our needs can be met, and it’s fair to say that in our western society, it’s quite reasonable to have attained these needs early in adult life, our wants on the other hand are insatiable. Striving for them becomes an unending process and society finds itself in a perpetual condition of scarcity.
With western society being richer now than ever before, the continual chase to differentiate ourselves from others by acquiring more or better things leads us to be working more and more hours each week, usually at the cost of spending more time doing leisurely activities. Whilst it is up for debate as to what constitutes leisurely activities, let’s run with the concept from C. Neil Strait that “Life lived amidst tension and busyness needs leisure. Leisure that recreates and renews. Leisure should be a time to think about new thoughts, not ponder old ills”.
We live in a capitalistic society where we are conditioned to chase wealth to allow us to buy more and more materialistic items. We value things in terms of cost rather than quality, caring only about what something is worth compared to someone else’s goods.
Curbing the insatiable chase for wants, limits our capacity for leisure and the reduced work time as predicted by Keynes nearly 100 years ago and raises the question, how much is enough?
With our basic needs met, the chase is on to improve our level of happiness.
- Physiological – food, air, water, shelter, clothing, etc
- Safety – order, predictability, and control in life
- Love and belongingness: interpersonal relationships, connectedness, and being part of a group
- Esteem: for oneself and the desire to be respected
For some of us, our work life is fulfilling, purposeful and adds to our happiness, and most certainly meets our Esteem needs, which makes retirement (as we know it – a full cessation of working activities) extremely difficult.
For others, who derive little value from work other than as a means to derive a paycheck, the extra time afforded to them by retirement can provide a kickstart to their purpose (assuming it hadn’t been defined by them earlier in life), or if not managed well, and just provides more time to chase those insatiable wants, more time to reflect now on what material objects they are unlikely to obtain now that the paycheck is less.
Linking this back to my day-to-day, a question often asked by clients when discussing their retirement strategies, how much will I need to retire? “Well, that depends on” is often the answer. Depends on what? That depends on the question you’re “actually” asking. How much do I need to retire on or how much wealth would I like to have to live the life I want to in retirement?
Understanding both of the above questions earlier in life gives one a significant advantage as the timeframe given to accumulating the wealth required is known, the amount of wealth required to meet our basic needs can be achieved and then we get the opportunity to save and invest for more of our wants. Of course, if we can limit our wants to what will actually add to our happiness, we may even be able to start ‘retirement’ much sooner than what society has acknowledged ‘the age when we qualify for a government-funded income stream known as the Age pension’.
It is truly amazing what can be achieved by understanding what makes you happy. The clarity provided in achieving this keeps you focused to then predominantly do the things that are going to add to your happiness and not chase the lifestyle that sees you working more and more to fund purchases of materialistic goods.
Written by Director & Senior Adviser Shane Mitchell.
To book a session to review your retirement plans contact Shane directly on 08 6222 7909 or book a meeting directly via his booking page.