Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 309 How Little It Takes

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Sometimes it doesn't take much to make us happy.

It is hard to believe that a simple glass of orange juice and two crackers could bring tears of happiness to the eyes. Several years ago I boarded a Tai Airlines flight in Katmandu and was headed home. I had been eating local food for four weeks, I had been sleeping without mosquito netting in a place where it was sorely needed, I had suffered for ten days with a horrible giardia case brought on from carelessly drinking the local water during the monsoon season. And I had almost died from an allergic reaction to a sulfa based drug the doctor had given me to cure the giardia. My throat started to close up. I had to have a shot in each arm to counteract the drug. Adrenaline in one arm to speed everything up in my bodies effort to  rid itself of the sulfa and an antihistamine in the other arm to relax me and let my throat muscles relax so that I could breath. The doctor told me he hated to do that but it was all he could do. He told me it would make me want to run up a mountain and take a long nap at the same time. When I tasted the sweetness of that juice and the texture of those crackers I knew that my life was about to get a lot better in so very many ways.

What brings us happiness is so very relative. If we have just finished eating food we don't like or doesn't satisfy we can go crazy over something familiar and filling. If our hands are cold a good pair of gloves can seem like a god send. As a young boy one toy under the tree was enough to satisfy my Christmas wish. Happiness is all about improving our condition.

We can be miserable with much if we have been taught to desire everything and suffer even a little less. Our appetite seems to expand with use. The more we have the more we want. Of course this attitude fits in nicely with the economic system we have developed. The more we consume the more the manufactures produce and thus more jobs which means more money which means more spending, etc. It is suppose to be a never ending spiral upward and outward. It is all based on endless consumption.

Of course there are many problems associated with this but one that really bothers me is the assumption that accumulation of more things will bring more happiness. That has not been my experience.

It is interesting to note that many of our historical and religious leaders have rejected this idea in favor of living with the minimum of material possessions. Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi quickly come to mind. They each advised us to concern ourselves with our inner life: forgiveness, kindness, charity and love come to mind. Accumulating material wealth was noticeably absent. A strong case can even be made that the accumulation of wealth in viewed as a negative.

A recent article stated that a certain amount of material wealth certainly is necessary to insure a relatively happy life. It even broke it down into dollars and sense. It claimed that after an annual income of $70,000 money did not significantly contribute to individual happiness. They claimed that with that much money in to days world one could provide food, clothing and shelter and a reasonable amount of material goods. After that number the happiness quotient did not accelerate with added wealth.

This message seems to become better  understood in retirement. Many of us pair down. We sell our larger house and move into a smaller house or condo. We get rid of clutter or things that we no longer use. Our children have trouble finding birthday or Christmas presents for us. We no longer have bottomless appetites. We have all the sweaters, magazines, books, music and slippers that we can use. We are happy with our old chair, our old TV and our old car. A new red Maserratte sits in my condo parking garage and it looks sharp. But I would not trade my 13 year old small SUV for it. We learn to live with less. We have learned to tame our desires. We no longer want whatever the world offers but are satisfied with a simple conversation or smile from a neighbor.

Our anxiety level drops and we come to find happiness in less. At least this is what I experience. My retired friends tend to be the same. It is a relief. Perhaps that is why our anxiety level drops right along with our blood pressure. Perhaps that is why we are living longer today. That and medical and pharmacological creations.

As an example, I write this podcast while sitting at Artigiano, a coffee shop in Vancouver. Perhaps 30 or 40 fellow citizens sit at tables in conversation, reading or writing. Some jazz plays in the background. The smell of coffee and pastries fill the air. One hour we sit here and spend a total of eight dollars. It all seems so simple and yet a measure of contentment and happiness is experienced. If your desires are not endless it doesn't take a lot.

This is Retirement Talk.

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