How To Retire Overseas And Be Happy
“Mark Twain summed up common behavior succinctly,” writes Retirement Planning Correspondent Paul Terhorst.
“‘The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either,’ Twain observed.
“The cat is reacting with his gut. You and I might think gut decisions, coming from instinct and emotions, make little sense. We might think we’re better off using reason, analysis, and logic rather than instinct.
“But it turns out that all of us make most decisions automatically, without thinking. Reasoning out every step along the way appears to be too hard. Revert solely to reason and you might have trouble deciding what shirt to wear, for example, or whether your tea is the right temperature. Thinking over every case requires way too much time and effort.
“How do you decide when to get out of bed on a lazy Saturday morning? You could try to reason it out. You could review what you have to do, or want to do, or should do. You could ask what you might gain from drinking more coffee or reading more of the paper. Before too long you realize that just listing what you need to think about could easily take up the day. So instead of using reason, you get out of bed when you feel like it.
“Given that we decide based on emotions and instinct, we need to know ourselves in order to make overseas retirement decisions that support our sense of well-being.
“To put it another way, to make the right decisions we need to know what makes us happy. Then we need to arrange our affairs to achieve that pleasant state.
“Suppose what you most want to do in life is travel the world, to eat, drink, and be merry with people you meet on the road. You want to enjoy the adventure along the way, to savor every random moment. Given what makes you happy, buying a big house on the water takes you away from your goal, not toward it. The big house comes with gardening, leaky roofs, animals, repairs, taxes, and maintenance costs. The big house keeps you tied to it. Since you want to travel, to go out and do stuff, staying in the big house makes little sense. Even if you think the house might be a good investment, buying it would be a mistake.
“The contrary can make sense, too. When my friend Wilbur celebrated his 50th birthday, his wife asked him what he most wanted out of the rest of his life. Wilbur said, ‘I’ve always spent my happiest days on Cape Cod. I guess I’d like to buy a house on the water, and a sailboat. I could teach my grandkids to sail.’
“Wilbur went out and bought a villa on Bass River. He bought a small boat. He sails with friends, he teaches his grandkids how to sail. He bought the house in perfect sync with what he wanted out of life. As it turned out that house went up in value. Wilbur made money in a way that improved his life.
“To make sure your investments line up with what makes you happy, you need to decide what makes you happy. I know that sounds cavalier. Research shows that most people have little idea of what makes them happy. Ask someone about their purpose in life or what they want out of life and they respond with a shrug or simply say they want to be happy.
“If you keep prodding and ask them what makes them happy, they are usually stumped.
“I know. I’ve tried to answer those questions myself. They’re too hard.
“So I’ve come up with a simpler approach. Instead of thinking in general about what makes you happy, think back to your most joyful moments. Think back to your worst moments. Do this over a period of a month or so, and make a list. At the end of the process you’ll likely have a pretty good handle on how you like to live.
“In my case many, many years ago I decided the worst moments in my life had to do with cars. I was caught in traffic, and late getting where I wanted to go. I was in a repair shop. I was stranded when my car broke down. My car was broken into, twice, and my valuables stolen. I waited in line to buy gas. I spent on insurance, parking, fees, parking tickets, and registration. Ugh.
“I decided to get rid of the car and let others drive me. I started taking cabs, buses, airplanes, even a bicycle at times. My life improved a lot. Duh, right? Eliminate what makes you unhappy, and you’ll wind up happier.
“What stands out as your most joyous time? Suppose you think first of your grandchild’s last birthday party. Of watching your granddaughter practice for drill team…or of driving your grandson to his Little League game. You remember your delight when your daughter told you she was pregnant again. With those happy moments in mind, I submit you’d be better off living near your children and grandchildren. Duh again.
“Moving 10,000 miles away to a beach in inexpensive Thailand, no matter how romantic and practical that may seem, takes you away from what’s most important.
“In general, for example, if you like to stay put, buy real estate. If you like to wander perpetually, don’t…
“The point is, before setting off on your live and invest overseas adventures, know yourself. Make choices and decisions that flow from your likes, your dislikes, your preferences. Suit your new life to your true self, rather than the other way around.”
Editor’s Note: Paul Terhorst writes a retirement-planning column each month for our Overseas Retirement Letter…details here.