From Surviving To Thriving

What is so exciting about being alive in this era is the potential we all have to thrive.

The steady improvements in technology, affluence and personal freedom during the past 100 year, provide us the chance to lead authentic lives. To discover who we truly our and to make life’s important decisions according to this.

For the first time those of us living in the Western world are not subject to the whims of theocrats, petty tyrants, or other despots. And this freedom is spreading to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. So what stops us from thriving?
Because the paradox of living in the most affluent era of human history is that we have the highest recorded rates of stress, anxiety and depression. Since the second world war, while income per head has tripled, measured happiness has remained about the same. But far more seriously for me as the father of two teenagers, the youth suicide rate has tripled. Happiness aside, we do not seem to have converted affluence into financial security, with even a majority of people lucky enough to earn over $100,000 per year reporting that they spend more than they earn.
This is not to say that many of us are not doing well. But how many of us really use our new potential to thrive? Do you feel that you are thriving? At a time when we seem to work harder and longer for ever more money, people often come to financial planners and the typical question they ask is How Much is Enough? In my experience, working with thousands of clients all over the world over the past 30 years, this question can only be answered meaningfully in the context of an overall plan for life and happiness. The challenge was posed beautifully in the following quote attributed to John Lennon:

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.

The good news is that during this time, happiness has gone from the topic of pop psychology, to attracting some of the world’s finest researchers. Professors of the calibre of Martin Seligman (Uni of Pennsylvania), Shlomo Benartzi (UCLA), Daniel Kahneman (Princeton), Richard Layard (Oxford), to name but a few, have revolutionised our knowledge of the deeper sources of wellbeing. Today there is a rich array of research, from various disciplines, including psychology, evolutionary biology, neuro-science, economics and what is coming to be known as neuro-economics. Many of the Nobel prizes in economics have been won by behavioural researchers during the past few decades.

My interest, and much of the work that I do in my commercial, personal and philanthropic life, is to bring this research to life. To help my clients, readers, the disadvantaged people I work with and last, but not least, my kids, understand it and apply it in their own lives.

Because from experience I believe that the benefits of doing so are significant and potentially life transforming.  There are four key ideas that much of the material in this website relates to.

  • First is the idea that evolution has wired our brains to survive, not thrive and that we need to learn new skills to do the latter.
  • Second is the idea that to master our minds and change our behaviour, we must first look within and really discover what is important to us.
  • Third is translating the growing academic research into practical strategies and tips to help us learn how to thrive.
  • And finally it’s looking at how to harvest our money (including how we earn it, spend it, save and invest it) to improve our wellbeing.

This website complements my book How Much is Enough, which my co-author Andrew Ford and I spent 5 years researching and writing. It has since had a second edition, an American edition, two Chinese editions and most recently a South African edition highlighting the universal aspiration to a life where we free ourselves to thrive.

It shares ideas and material, from the profound and academic to the amusing and insightful, but with a link to the theme of wellbeing. The financial commentary is not aimed at adding to the white noise that befuddles money markets, but at providing insight to help people to develop sensible, disciplined financial plans that improve their longer term wellbeing.

In a world that seems out of control, bedevilled by the prospect of climate change, economic stagnation, punctuated by crises and few great leaders, I gain a lot of comfort from the knowledge that much of my sense of wellbeing is in my own hands. And that there is a great pool of knowledge that can be tapped to help me in mastering my own mind and behaviour.

There is nothing prescriptive in my ideas or philosophy. There are many paths to wellbeing. My aim is, in the words of my friend, the Barefoot Investor, Scott Pape, to help you: Tread your own path.

And as a result, I hope, to live a thriving life, sharing some of your experiences and the wisdom that you gain with the community that follows this website.

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