One of my greatest challenges in life is contentment. I have a strong hunch that I am not alone in this ongoing battle. We believe one’s level of contentment will greatly influence financial decision-making long-term.
But what is contentment?
On one hand, you have people with no material desires, who perhaps accept poverty or a possession-free life as normal. They focus daily on basic needs such as food and shelter. On the other end of the spectrum are the ultra wealthy, people who have accumulated fortunes, including homes and toys beyond most people’s comprehension. They could never spend all the money they have amassed. Does understanding either of these polar extremes help define or aid in experiencing contentment?
Contentment, contrary to popular opinion, does not mean being satisfied where you are. That is to say, it is not all about having financial assets that outweigh financial needs. I believe it goes much deeper, and touches on many more issues deep under the human psyche. One possible definition leans into the idea of life purpose relative to life fears. Having a strong purpose and conviction about your life that outweighs the fears (real or perceived) that occupy your daily thoughts is one element of contentment. In a way, part of Contentment = Thoughts of Purpose – Thoughts of Fear. Additionally, when purpose and deep relationships greatly outweigh fear, then contentment is high. When fear outweighs purpose, then contentment becomes low. In this way, contentment is the attitude you carry daily which is born from internal thoughts of daily purpose and convictions relative to fears.
Not surprisingly, contentment often comes up when discussing financial matters. In fact, studies have shown that next to public speaking, running out of money is the largest fear most people have. The natural reaction to this dilemma is an assumption that solving the fear problem will yield contentment. While it may be part of the equation, it should never be mistaken as the full equation. A person with all the wealth in the world and little purpose or focus on purpose will struggle with discontent. Conversely, a person with high fears will be extremely challenged to find contentment.
Financial guidance can prove helpful in the case of decreasing some fears, but certainly has limitations. Financial guidance can help educate, balance budgets, visualize plans, diversify, and provide decision-making clarity. However, financial guidance will always fall short in the pursuit of contentment because it lacks the ability for the guide to eliminate market and world uncertainty, volatility, overspending, job security, inflation, and other items that lead to fear or deepen fearful thoughts. Further, society has created a false idea that contentment is a linear achievement. The assumption is, the more you have, the more financially content or peaceful one becomes. While we would be hypocrites to not acknowledge that a certain base level of needs being met can help (like having secure shelter), but we must understand that the accumulation or reduction of stuff alone will not lead to sustainable peace or contentment. Linear accumulation or reduction of material items, money, experiences, or perhaps even relationships will not create contentment. It is something deeper within all of us that needs explored.
Take a good look at the clients you enjoy working with the most. Are they naturally content people? What characteristics of theirs do you admire? Usually we find some of our most enduring relationships are with deeply content individuals whom are filled with a life purpose, understand their life calling, and do not let fear drive them behaviorally. When fear does enter the equation, they tend to process it rationally with friendly and solid counsel, always understanding the priority of daily life purpose. The flipside has been an occasional bust of a relationship that almost exclusively is rooted in some form of discontent; I find a general theme of low purpose, changing purpose, or purpose rooted in materialism. There are often large fears that dominate thoughts and eventually outweigh purpose, leading to discontent and often irrational moves. For example, moving to aggressive investments without a need to do so, or becoming extremely conservative based on fear; either often results in sub-par returns relative to goals. In most situations, I have found that irrational moves seem to follow a pattern of discontent, rooted in fear outweighing purpose.
Not surprisingly, most people are square in the middle between logic and emotion when retirement changes begin. For years, a person has been rooted in purpose associated with a skillset, a job, or a team. After retirement, they begin to feel lost and discontent with little understanding of why these feelings occur. A lifetime of purpose is changing, which leads to emotion and can become a challenge, which we are called to navigate with empathy and understanding. Ideally, we try to add some nuggets of wisdom prior to retirement, attempting to encourage a purpose-filled life with focus away from the job.
I do not have a perfect answer and have seen very few resources that do this topic justice, but perhaps the power for advisors exists in understanding contentment has more depth and consequence than first appears. Do not shortcut the conversation, instead take time to understand the role purpose and fear can play in client attitudes and behaviors. Simply understanding the complexity of contentment, and diving deeper into conversations may give you an edge-up on relating better with clients, a factor that has little to do with investments or products.
I hope you find some value in this topic, and feel free to reply and offer any take you may have on tips for helping clients move toward contentment.
Evergreen Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment adviser. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.