The Amazing Half-Full Glass

OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve been practicing saying that I am 70 years old for the last 363 days. I’ve only got today and tomorrow left. After that, we’ll just have to go with it. As the half-empty glass crowd sees it, I’m starting down the dark path of “longevity risk.”

Given the alternative, I’m hoping to give longevity risk a good, long run. Today, most people will live well beyond this age, so let’s take inventory.

  • 70 as a Milestone. Seventy is a pretty disappointing life marker. Other ages mark being able to drive, being able to drink, being allowed to have sex without breaking the law, and being able to vote. All great events, far superior to the need to take Required Minimum Distributions from qualified plans. So I think about it this way: 70 is the new 50.
  • Some impressive and daunting facts of life. Check out the United States Life Tables and you’ll learn that of every 100,000 Americans (of all races and both sexes) born in 1940, only 49,655 were expected to be alive at age 70. The number is higher if you are white and female (58,363), but much lower if you are black and male (27,236).  For 2005 the figures are much better, clocking in at 76,315 for everyone, 82,347 for white women and 56,832 for black men. Much improved, but the stark differences tell us we have plenty of room for improvement.
  • One great thing about growing old. It takes years to figure out that life is not about us. Then we can discover the sublime joy of knowing that it also isn’t all our fault.  
  • Working. Unless you work with a jackhammer, carpet installation tools, or some other trade that wears out your body, don’t worry about it. I could easily retire, but the thought scares me. Despite the national hand-wringing about the millions of people who can’t afford to retire, there is a major chance that working is a good thing. Working is connecting. Connecting is good. If you don’t get to Florida for a long time that’s not so bad. Odds are you’ll still spend more time retired than your parents did.
  • Living low on the hog (1). There is little evidence to support living anywhere on the hog, high or low. So figure out how to enjoy your broccoli, your virgin olive oil and your heritage tomatoes. If all of us did, the greatest problem facing this country— healthcare— would be smaller.
  • Living low on the hog (2). How is it that those who sell financial products routinely worry us about not having enough money— but surveys show older people enjoy a higher degree of life satisfaction than younger people? The answer is that life isn’t as money-centered for most people as the financial services industry would have us believe.
  • Being poor is not a blessing. Neither is being rich. Basically, money is a tool that we learn to use. It’s convenient when we have it, but not much more. I had as much fun this year as part of a sweaty church crew helping a young couple move into a new house as I had sipping champagne at the Four Seasons. Life isn’t about whether your glass is half-full or half-empty. It is about drinking from the glass.
  • If you have a problem that can be solved with money, count your blessings. Problems that can be solved with money tend to be trivial problems. They may seem big at the time, but when you look back, they were silly. The biggest problems in life are the ones that break our hearts. I have a long list. I’m sure you do too.  The only thing we can be certain of is that someday we will experience one, more, or many of those problems.

Will anything solve those problems? Maybe not. But we can take a deep drink from the amazing half-full glass. It’s in front of us every day.