The Joy of Ordinary Experiences

The Joy of Ordinary Experiences

Saving up for a comfortable and also fulfilling retirement can feel like a daunting quest, partly because it is difficult to predict your discretionary spending needs decades into the future. As a result, you could end up constantly questioning whether you are saving enough. Beyond providing for the basics like a roof over your head and good medical care, it is hard to say exactly how much money you will need to do all the things you want to do but don’t have to do.

You would like to do some traveling, but how often, and to where? The Grand Canyon, Maui, and Antarctica have very different price tags. And what about that boat you’ve been daydreaming of, to cruise the Mediterranean?

Expensive hobbies tend to be the stuff of retirement dreams. There’s nothing wrong with them – they are the reward for a productive working life – but research on the subject indicates that as you get older, you will derive equal happiness from more ordinary, and far less expensive, experiences like reading and gardening and talking long walks with your dog.

Call it the joy of ordinary things.

A recent article in The New York Times cited research by two professors of marketing, Amit Bhattacharjee and Cassie Mogilner, who interviewed people about their life experiences and levels of happiness. Those experiences included ordinary ones like taking a hot shower, receiving a text from a good friend and riding your bike; they also included extraordinary ones like seeing Bob Dylan in concert or diving the Great Barrier Reef. The researchers concluded that, as we age, ordinary experiences make us just as happy as exotic ones.

The important thing to extract from the research is that experiences, be they exotic or ordinary, tend to make us happier than possessions. That is the basic premise behind our posts about living fully, and being good stewards of wealth. It’s not about how much you have, but what you do with it, and whether you use wealth to cultivate connections with your community and loved ones. Built into the joy of any experience are the relationships with other people that are the foundation of most of the true happiness we experience.

This should all come as some relief as we plan for our eventual retirement. A happy retirement probably won’t be as expensive as we think. By the time we’re ready to stop working so much, we’ll probably be just as happy reading a book in front of a fire as we would jetting off to Paris.

It appears the true gift of retirement is simply time and freedom. What we do with it does not have to be unusual or adrenaline-pumping. That doesn’t mean you have to take hang gliding off your bucket list, but you might also consider adding a long walk in the park.

Ben Johnson
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