We are all confronted by death. But I have noticed something with some of my older clients. They are aware of their mortality, but are not chastened by it. They don’t look forward to death, but they also don’t fear it. And many express that they have few regrets. Why is this?
I recently attended a talk by noted psychologist and author James Hollis on living an examined life. One of the questions he asked is “How do we live more fully in the face of mortality?” Since I get to see this question addressed regularly by a number of people, let me share some observations.
The quality of our lives is partly determined by our ability to push past the boundaries that fear creates. Fear keeps us stuck. When it comes to money, it usually means mindlessly fighting to protect what we have, just because we have it. Change is even more inevitable than death or taxes, so fighting to keep what we have disrupts the natural order. Make a list of the things that you love about your life and review it. You can be grateful for what you have even though none of it lasts forever. More important, think about the things that you feel a need to change and look at what is stopping you. Living fully means that you determine what is important to you and act in service to those values. If you are afraid of money, give some away. The act of giving is a tacit acknowledgment that you have enough.
Hollis says that our greatest pathology is denial. I see this all the time with clients as they avoid their unfinished business. We all have loose ends that nag at us yet we ignore. These impact our financial health. I often see clients who end up making financial choices as a way to distance themselves from what is bothering them. Maybe they overspend because they feel controlled or unworthy or they underspend because they don’t believe that their good fortune can last. Clients who feel unsettled with one aspect of their lives get more vigilant in others. We don’t tug on the thread because we worry our lives will unravel. If you think of the worst day of your life, you have somehow overcome it. Close the loops and you will be surprised by how enriching (although difficult) this can be.
Living more fully means blending the material and the spiritual. These ideas should not conflict with each other. Hollis believes the first half of life is social (how do I fit in) and the second half is spiritual (why am I here). Our clients who have best handled the end of their lives are those who tried to answer why they are here as they learned to fit in.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.