What 'Best Life' Choices Do You Recommend?

Despite difficult economic times and tears in the social fabric, good choices are ours to make.

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Many of us are still struggling with the effects of an anemic economy. Investment markets have not recovered past losses, let alone permitted us to sock away gains for our later years. We may be trapped in our homes, unwilling to sell them at depressed prices but stretched in our continuing ability to afford them. These are not the best of times, to say the least. But it is precisely at these times that people need to step up, and resolve that they will shape their future and not let circumstances box them in and shape it for them. Easier said than done, I know.

[See Best Affordable Places to Retire.] It can be easy, and perhaps comforting at times, to take a passive approach. Look at what "they" have done to me! "They" have ruined our financial institutions while carting off enormous bonuses. "They" have spent our nation into effective bankruptcy while they talk and talk and talk. They have abandoned the core values that made the United States so great for so long. The airwaves are filled with this, and even if much of it is true, its cumulative effect is culturally corrosive and toxic to the spirit.

Yet, if you allow your life to be overtaken by these thoughts and attitudes, "they" will have won, won't they? So, I will ask you, what are you going to do about it? What decisions are you going to make to improve the rest of your life? What steps will you take? Once we've all agreed on the problems out there, what are we to do with the rest of our lives?

Do you lead what you consider to be the best life you can have? What makes it that way? What's preventing you? What can you do about it? If you could provide advice to a younger person or couple about how to prepare for the later stages of their lives, what would you tell them? The Comments window is open for business.   

Money is an important part of our life decisions, I know. But money cannot guarantee a happy life, nor can its absence guarantee unhappiness. Remember this inspirational one-liner: Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent what you do about it. Wise words. Health also plays a growing role in lifestyle choices as we age. You don't need money to take good care of yourself, but it sure can help. And once you've lost your health, getting it back can become a mountain too steep to climb.

[See Best Places to Retire.]

Having enough money and the health to enjoy it are common attributes of people who have a ball in the last 30 years of their lives. But these conditions flow from the same attitudes and sets of decisions. I don't know of anyone living a great life today who did not make sacrifices in the past. They saved money. They planned. They resisted the allure of calories and couches in favor of a fit or at least fitter lifestyle. In doing so, they were able to take a long-term view of their life, and were willing to do what it took to position themselves to truly enjoy their later years. Sacrifice is often portrayed in our society as a value for suckers. Successful people know better.

Let me tell you a story about friends of mine -- two couples of retirement age who are anything but retired. Their stories provide different paths to Best Lives.

One couple is wealthy, and able to afford pretty much whatever they want. They don't wear their wealth. They take very good care of themselves, and are very fit. Personal trainers do work! They travel a lot, winter where it's warm and, as they age, spend more and more of their time in sunny climes. They have established residency in another state to save money on taxes, and keep a small condo in their hometown so they can regularly visit family and friends. They worked very hard and planned very well. The downturn cost them a lot but they still have a lot. The uncertain fate of future estate taxation -- allowed by Congress to lapse this year -- is not a hypothetical discussion for them. Beyond typical retirement pursuits, they stay engaged, with business and social connections and with strong interests in civic affairs.

The other couple is comfortable but by no means wealthy. Their careers were in social services and academia. Both continue to do work in their fields. This earns them money to augment their retirement income. But more importantly, it permits them to stay engaged in work they love. They also have a strong commitment to their faith. Right now, they are spending several months overseas in a global hot spot, on a church-based mission. There is some risk to their personal safety but they are leading the kind of life they decided on some time ago. I doubt giving them a lot more money would change their interests or the way they live. Not that they would turn down the money!

Interestingly, these couples live in the same town but didn't know one another until I introduced them. It turns out they share an annual tradition of attending a well-known writers' workshop to hear lectures and meet authors. It is great fun. My wealthy friends purchase their admission tickets. The other couple volunteers to help run the workshop, and goes to all the sessions for free.

Good lives. Different paths. What path are you taking?

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