Happiness Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All, Neither is Financial Planning

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Over the past two years, we’ve lived through an extraordinary number of challenges—recession; a global pandemic; social, political, and environmental instability—which can leave us feeling uncertain about our future.

 In response, many Americans are having a collective moment of redefining what’s important, rewriting the rules, and taking action to create the life they want. 

Within this new cultural shift, which many are calling “The Great Realization,” now more than ever, people are deciding to re-architect their lives to reflect their values better. In response to the upheaval and uncertainty in the world, people ask: “What’s really important to me?” “Instead of dreaming about something I want to do someday, how can I make that dream come true today?” “How should I balance my short-term goals against my long-term goals?” 

 In fact, in the 2022 Northwestern Mutual Great Realization study, 95% of respondents said that the past two years have shown them the importance of pursuing their dreams now—rather than waiting for “someday.” At the same time, however, many survey respondents say there’s at least one factor holding them back from this pursuit. The biggest of these factors? Finances — cited by 57%. If this resonates with you, a financial plan can help. 

 In the study of happiness, money is one of the most complex and emotionally charged issues that people face. Money can’t buy happiness, but financial freedom can buy lots of things that contribute mightily to happiness. 

When we have the ability to spend on (or save toward) things that matter to us, it can help us boost our happiness. My experience with a trusted advisor from Northwestern Mutual helped me see this connection in a new way. No matter where you are in your financial planning process (even if that means you haven’t yet begun), an advisor can help you navigate uncertainty. Identifying what’s important to you can be an important first step.

For this reason, a solid, well-considered financial plan means that we can work toward creating a life that reflects our values—both for now and for the future. For example, philosophers and scientists agree that having strong ties to other people is a key to happiness. One way that having a financial plan could account for this value might be enabling an opportunity to pay for a plane ticket to visit your sister in the near term or for savings to pay for education or special care for someone we love in the future.

Adventure, travel, and challenge can also make us happier. Financial planning might support a trip to California, a drawing class, or a mountain bike. It might also help with realizing a dream to move to a different city or switch careers. When we have a plan in place, we feel a greater sense of security, clarity, and control.

Is financial planning essential for developing strong ties to other people or having an adventure? No. But it can make it easier. Some of the best things in life aren’t free.

Each of us is unique. We have our own values, our own interests, our own circumstances. So for each of us, a financial plan looks different. A friend told me, “My top priority is protecting my family. I wanted to know I’m prepared for anything unexpected that might come up.” On the other hand, a different friend said, “I had all these plans for great things I’d do in the future, like traveling, and I realized that I want to start doing these things now.”

Many people don’t want to think about their finances. Some feel intimidated or bored by unfamiliar vocabulary and confusing concepts. Some feel embarrassed about the current state of their affairs. Some people feel so anxious about money that they can’t bear to think about it at all. Some people have trouble sorting out what’s most important to them. Some feel worried about trusting an “expert” with such important decisions. For all these difficulties, consulting with a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor can help. Working with an advisor not only helps with achieving financial security, but it can also help with alleviating that stress and feeling a greater sense of control. 

Even so, it can be difficult to take that first step toward a consultation. A question I often asked myself is, “Why is it so hard to ask for help?” I find it hard—yet over and over, I’ve found that when I do ask for help, I get tremendous benefit from working with people who have the skills and experience to advise me. This is true in many areas, including financial planning.

In the financial area, an advisor can help you figure out what’s important to you and how to work toward those aims, with a comprehensive plan that balances the short-term and the long-term. Are you more focused on security? Freedom? A sense of control? A comprehensive financial plan can help you achieve it all. 

An advisor can explain unfamiliar concepts, and help you understand the pros and cons of different approaches—so you know that you’re making the right decisions for you. Your advisor knows, so you don’t have to be an expert! When I spoke to a Northwestern financial advisor, she told me, “Some people want a lot of explanation, and some people don’t. So sometimes I ask, ‘Do you want the high-level overview, or more detail?’ I customize the conversations to what they want.”

When we know ourselves—our own nature and our own values—we can make decisions that reflect what’s most important to us.

Another important way to know yourself? Consider your “Tendency.” In my Four Tendencies personality framework, people typically fall into four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Don’t know your Tendency? Take my free, quick quiz here. More than 3.2 million people have taken this quiz.)

The differences among the Four Tendencies crop up in the financial arena. While the Four Tendencies have different perspectives, a financial advisor can be helpful to all four:

If you’re an Upholder, it’s useful to have a concrete plan with clear expectations and outcomes. Get a list of things you need to do, and start checking items off the list. A financial advisor can provide that list and as well as any help that’s needed to accomplish those tasks.If you’re a Questioner, it’s important to understand why you’re doing certain things. What’s the rationale behind this plan? What’s the most efficient way to achieve a goal? How can a plan be customized to your specific aims? Questioners need to know why, and a financial advisor can give that expertise.If you’re an Obliger, outer accountability is essential. You can benefit tremendously from working with an advisor who can set expectations, impose deadlines, and create accountability.If you’re a Rebel, it’s helpful to reflect on how financial security brings freedom and choice. You can move! You can travel! You can quit your job and try a new career! A financial advisor can figure out how to make those things possible.

Paradoxically, some people find it hard to start dealing with their finances now, because they wish so strongly that they’d started earlier. When I feel that kind of anxiety, I remind myself of the old proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Thinking about a financial plan can feel overwhelming; it can be hard to know where to start. Action can be an antidote to anxiety. Connecting with a financial advisor can show you how to put a plan into place so that you’re achieving the life you want. I found it so simple to set up that first meeting with a Northwestern Mutual advisor—and once I made that connection, it was surprisingly easy to begin a conversation.

The time to start building the life we want is now. 

Learn more here.

This is a sponsored post in partnership with Northwestern Mutual. All reviews and opinions expressed in this post are based on my personal view.

Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and its subsidiaries in Milwaukee, WI. Not all Northwestern Mutual representatives are advisors. 

The post Happiness Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All, Neither is Financial Planning appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

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