Wes Moss: Why I study happy (and unhappy) retirees

Wes Moss is the host of the radio show “Money Matters,” which airs from 9-11 a.m. Sundays on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB. (Courtesy of Nick Burchell)
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Wes Moss is the host of the radio show “Money Matters,” which airs from 9-11 a.m. Sundays on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB. (Courtesy of Nick Burchell)

Credit: Nick Burchell

Credit: Nick Burchell

I often write here about the financial and lifestyle habits of the happiest and unhappiest retirees—wise lessons from those unshackled from their 9-to-5′s that can be applied to folks of all ages.

Do not be fooled into thinking these habits are limited to the shuffleboard-playing members of senior living communities. I encourage everyone I encounter to begin practicing these habits posthaste.

Recently, a friend remarked that for someone who loves his career, I seem obsessed with retirement. “When are YOU leaving the workforce?” he inquired. I had to clarify that, for me, retirement doesn’t necessarily signify “stop working.” It just means spending more time focused on the things I love. For most people, those types of activities fall outside the work category. For me, it’s what I do every day — helping people work toward retiring sooner.

I realized at a young age that I was interested in the intersection of money and happiness. And now here I am, an undisclosed number of decades later, still trying to better understand where these two points meet. So maybe, in a way my wife would argue against, I’m already retired!

It took more than a decade of hosting the “Money Matters” radio show and almost as long studying happy retirees on the block (HROBs) — conducting countless research surveys, analyzing data, and then creating the “Retire Sooner” podcast — for me to harness the tools necessary to convert a blueprint into a treasure map. I’ve compiled all of it into my new book: “What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits For a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life.”

It has become my calling to find the best way for retirees, and humans in general, to find happiness. The origin story for this quest goes back to when I was a kid, living in a very dichotomous part of the country: Coatesville, Pennsylvania. To give you a sense of the geography, parts of the HBO show “Mare of Easttown” were filmed there. To call it drab would be an understatement — big steel factories, smokestacks, rust, and chain-link fences. But go less than a mile from the center of town and you’ll find yourself surrounded by rolling hills, miles and miles of open horse fields, pastures, and roaming cattle. Absolutely beautiful landscapes.

Then, just a skosh beyond lies the Amish country of Lancaster. The movie “Witness,” starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, was filmed in some of the same Amish dairy farms my dad took me to during his days as a large-animal veterinarian.

This world of extremes — from the lower-middle-class Rust Belt, to the quaint simplicity of the Amish, to the opulence of $50 million horse farms — was confusing in my youth. I assumed, as most do, that it was better to be wealthy than not. But the older I got, the more apparent it became that the rich folks weren’t any happier than the rest. I became preoccupied with investigating whether more wealth actually led to more satisfaction.

Helping people work toward financial freedom in the world of investment planning, I’ve been able to turn this obsession into practical data points. It turns out that money can indeed buy happiness, but the price is lower than you might think.

I saw some of this in practice when working through the great financial crisis of the late 2000s. While the world flipped upside-down for most Americans, I had many clients who didn’t allow these challenges to impact their retirement plans and happiness. It was inspiring!

This realization catapulted my pursuit to find others who knew how to weather tumultuous financial times and find joy. Maybe, I thought, I could reverse engineer the recipe and share it with others.

Technology and experience made it possible for me to access thousands of sample sets, find families in relevant situations, and ask in-depth questions about financial and life habits. My team and I boiled the data and distilled its vapors until we had extracted the information we needed.

There are 30 things you can do and 30 things you can avoid to increase your chances of a happy retirement. “What The Happiest Retirees Know” organizes all of this into 10 categories. While my last book, “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think,” focused more on the financial habits of the happiest retirees, this one takes a closer look at how lifestyle habits can affect both happiness and the financial bottom line.

This new book runs the gamut from family and finances to love, health, and even faith. It answers the critical questions: How much financial assistance can you give your adult children without risking their independence and your well-being? Which activities can double your chances for contentment with very little effort? How often should you be attending your place of worship to maximize peace of mind in retirement?

Because financial planning provides space for so many different strategies, I use my research as a set of tiebreakers that can help us make life, social, health, and financial decisions based on more than just money. And that’s why I’ve spent so much time and effort over the years learning from HROBs. They are proof it can be done and the more we emulate them, the better off we’ll be.

There isn’t a perfect formula for the happy retiree, but there are 30 different traits that really do move the needle. While few happy retirees nail every trait, they do get a lot of them right. So can you.

I’m very excited about this new book and proud of the research and work that has gone into it. I hope that it will help many readers discover how to live a healthy, secure, and joyful life. Get the full story in my book: “What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits For a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life,” available on Amazon or at your favorite book retailer now.

Wes Moss is the host of the podcast “Retire Sooner with Wes Moss,” found in the podcast app right on your smartphone. He has been the host of “Money Matters” on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB in Atlanta for more than 10 years now, and he does a live show from 9-11 a.m. Sundays. He is the chief investment strategist for Atlanta-based Capital Investment Advisors. For more information, go to wesmoss.com.

DISCLOSURE

This information is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and is not to be viewed as investment advice or recommendations. This information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. This information is not intended to, and should not, form a primary basis for any investment decision that you may make. Always consult your own legal, tax, or investment adviser before making any investment/tax/estate/financial planning considerations or decisions.