Life After Full-time Work Blog

Learn about preparing for life after full-time work through posts from Don's upcoming book.

#4: Life’s Abundance is Not Just About Money

Of course money is important.  But life is about so much more.

As a geek, there was a time when all I thought about was numbers.  And in particular, numbers connected with investment and with pensions, because that was my job, and I loved it.  But life is about more than numbers, and about more than money.

Certainly my happiness research brought that home to me.

What I discovered is that money does have a positive influence on happiness.  Of course, that’s hardly a surprise.  But it’s not as simple as: more money means more happiness, and lots more money means lots more happiness.  It’s much more subtle than that.

If there’s very little money, and it’s all focused just on surviving and making ends meet, then yes, more money means more happiness.  But once there’s enough money to survive, and the focus changes from surviving to thriving, then typically it takes a lot more money to increase happiness noticeably.  And when you have a huge amount of money, having even more money matters very little.

Why is this?  It’s because, once survival is assured, we tend to look around at people we admire (or even envy), and see what they have; and our target is no longer something absolute (like survival), but something relative, something that we compare with what others have.  That’s why, no matter how much we may have, a relative comparison with others may not enhance our happiness.

But there’s something else that hit me between the eyes, because it’s so well expressed and I encountered it accidentally.

I was speaking at a conference, and came across another session that looked interesting.  It was about financial professionals having successful meetings with clients.  And a man named Ed Jacobson laid out a notion that he called the “life abundance portfolio”.

I hope he expands it into a book.  It’s a reminder that life is about so much more than money.  He reminds us that we have all kinds of interactions and experiences in life.  I can’t remember the labels he used, but here are the words I use to remember his concept.  He said there are seven aspects of life to consider.  I remember them in pairs:

  • family and friends;
  • work and play;
  • physical health and mental (including spiritual) health;
  • and, oh yes, finances.

I think of them as the seven asset classes in the portfolio of life’s abundance.  And when we’re considering life’s abundance in the way Ed Jacobson suggests, it’s clear that money is only one aspect.

I commend Ed’s notion to you.  I’ve even suggested to financial professionals (expanding a role that Ed launched) that they use it, right from the start, to establish with their clients that the professional part of what they do is only one aspect of your fulfilled life.  So, before they review your financial portfolio, they should review with you your life’s abundance portfolio.  I add (as Ed did) a practical angle: they need to establish this broader context when the financial side is going well.  Otherwise there’s a big (and legitimate) danger that you’ll view it as a cynical distraction, a way to conceal bad financial news.

All of this allows us to remember how lucky we are in the rest of our life abundance portfolio.  Thank you, Ed Jacobson.


Let me be explicit about the destination of this stage of the tour of life after full-time work: there’s more to life and happiness than money.


I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.

6 Responses to “#4: Life’s Abundance is Not Just About Money”

  1. Richard Austin says:

    Ed Jacobson’s “life abundance portfolio” makes perfect sense at an individual level. It is a good idea to evaluate ourselves based on the factors Ed Jacobson recommends and your pairings are good ones. But I wonder what particular expertise financial professionals have that qualifies them to help with the non-financial questions. It also makes the job of choosing an advisor much more complicated. I was comfortable accepting recommendations from colleagues as to potential investment advisors, interviewing several and then selecting an individual I thought had the appropriate level of expertise. I am less certain about how to choose someone who can review with me my “life’s abundance portfolio”.

    • Don Ezra says:

      Thanks, Richard. I’m glad you liked Ed’s “life abundance portfolio.” I’m not sure if many financial professionals go as far as Ed recommends — that’s one reason he gave his talk and one reason why I was so struck by it. It’s also not quite the same thing as life coaches offer, if I understand their role right (which I’ll need to teach myself more about). So I appeal to readers: if you have any ideas of where to find someone who fits Ed’s description, or if you know how to start the search process, do let us know. I know that’s a bit of a cop-out on my part, but I don’t think the state of the art is very far advanced.

  2. J. J. Woolverton says:

    Don, you state you that what you did “was my job”. Over the years I found I could classify people into two working categories: those who had jobs and those who had careers. My experience (for what it is worth) tells me that 95+% of the people in the workforce have jobs while less than 5% have careers. People in jobs would love to have careers — they just don’t know how to get there. Those with careers seem to be the happy ones out there. I think you would agree that you have had a career.

    With “a relative comparison with others may not enhance our happiness”, it is because we do not “compare” ourselves with “others” who have less than what we have. We never think to ourselves that: “I am happy because I have a bigger house than my neighbour down the street”.

    Don, as I go through the various sections of your blog, I write down what my Takeaway is before I read yours — just to see how closely we match. My takeaway was the importance of balance in life and how to weight the various “aspects of life” effectively to increase the chances of achieving happiness (given whatever your specific definition of happiness is).

    • Don Ezra says:

      Thanks, JJ. Yes, you’re absolutely right, for me it was much more than a job. Perhaps even more than a career — it has become a passion. I like your takeaway — in so many aspects of life, balance is so important. I never got into how to weight the life abundance portfolio — I’ll leave that to each individual! For me, simply the awareness that that there are so many worthwhile aspects was a big advance.

  3. Jim Carr says:

    I find the framework of these seven life asset classes to be a useful way to think about how to lead a full, balanced life at the individual level. On top of that, I would add that that for many, their purpose extends beyond their individual selves. Their connection to society at large, to the environment, or to their spiritual selves (God, however they defined it) is also important. So, while this doesn’t in any way take away from the seven classes of the individual, it probably extends it to a broader context.

    • Don Ezra says:

      That’s a profound point you make! These seven aspects are (mostly) inward-looking. Some can of course include outward-looking aspects, but somehow that feels like it needs an added dimension, worth more than an “also” reference. I don’t know how to adapt Ed’s seven themes appropriately.

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