In mid-November I had the privilege of traveling to India with Richard Salmen as a co-leader of a delegation of financial planners organized by FPA. As with similar past trips to Russia and China, I returned a few pounds heavier from the great food, re-energized about my profession, and never more grateful to be an American. The trip was a great lead-in to a very happy Thanksgiving.

It saddened me a little to return to the states and talk with so many anxious, even miserable, people. Opponents of Obamacare are not happy and neither are its supporters, and public discontent with Washington seems as high as it’s ever been.

Financially speaking, I hear continued complaints about low interest rates, high taxes and a weak economy. I’ve also seen a rash of advisors reporting that with markets at all-time highs, their clients are anxious about a drop in the markets. Talk about a “first world problem.” Really? An all-time high is a bad thing, a reason to fret?

Isn’t that what we want when we invest in stocks? Despite all the educational efforts, coaching, admonishments to focus long term and tons of fancy software, we are still obsessed with guessing the direction the market and allowing it to diminish our happiness. What a waste of time and energy. Seriously.  

I met a lot of people in India with little money who were very happy. Studies on happiness, particularly for retirees, reflect the old adage that money can’t buy happiness. They also show us the factors that affect happiness the most.

Most of us assume that our circumstances, such as our status in society, the job we have and other factors would account for a large percentage of our happiness. According to the 2011 documentary Happy, our circumstances only account for 10 percent of what’s described as a “happiness quotient.” Half of our quotient is a product of genetic makeup. The other 40 percent comes from “intentional activities.” These are things we have control over and can do on a regular basis.

Three of these are physical activity, connecting with others and service to others. Exercise and play increase the dopamine in our system, which makes us feel happy. People who spend their time and energy connecting with friends, family and their community are demonstrably happier. So are people who focus on helping the needy or improving their community.

One recurring theme in these studies is the issue of control. The happiest retirees tend to be ones that controlled the timing of their retirement. They chose to retire rather than being asked, or forced, to leave their jobs.  As a result, they were able to replace many things they got from working beside simply the paycheck.

When I ponder the documentary’s list of intentional activities again -- physical activity, connecting with others, and service to others, I can’t help but notice it sounds like work. Those are all significant elements of having a job, or at least a good job.

I love my job. It may be a little lacking in the physical activity arena, but it is energizing and it is fun. Where it lacks for physical exercise, it more than makes up in the areas of connection and service.

In order to do financial planning well we must form meaningful connections with clients, their families, prospective clients, other professionals, our networks, and of course, the members of our team, with whom we interact every day.

Financial planning is a service profession. We help people be good stewards of the resources available to them, the assets they are responsible for, and the money they earned. Clients of a good financial planner have far fewer financial issues than those that do not. We reduce anxiety and stress. We reduce risk and waste. We enable people to support themselves rather than place a burden on society. We help people attain an education. We facilitate philanthropy and community service. We bring perspective and objectivity to subjects fraught with emotion.

It’s personal to me. I had an elderly relative ripped off in a classic roofing scam. People work hard for their money and they shouldn’t have to ward off a constant assault on their financial security from bad information, bad strategies, bad products, misleading sales tactics and outright frauds. For me and my partners, it is our mission to serve as protectors.

In short, we get from our profession what many people get from their jobs and what many researchers say is important to enhancing happiness. It should be of no surprise to us then that the notion of fully retiring doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. They may or may not have thought about these happiness factors, but I think these factors are part of a person’s intuition about whether they are ready to retire fully.

Really, if we are getting these happiness factors from going to work and are happy about it, why retire? Apparently, a lot of people have decided not to retire fully. I see a number of surveys that attribute this to anxiety caused by concerns over health, fallout from the financial crisis, a weak economy, and uncertainty regarding the viability of Social Security. That all makes sense, but I don’t think we can simply blame the Great Recession.

We are living longer and are experiencing vitality to older ages. If one has knowledge and skills of value, and the energy to use them, it seems reasonable one would want to continue to do so.

Further, the trend toward working later in life didn’t start after the financial crisis. In early 2007, clearly before the recession and financial crisis, a Northern Trust study “Wealth in America” made the rounds of the financial press. It reported that even people in their 70s were returning to the workforce and these were not really folks that went back to work because they had to. The survey questioned more than 1,000 households  across the country with $1 million or more in investable assets. 29 percent of them had gone back to work after retiring. The most important thing they sought from retirement? An active lifestyle.

A big part of our work will continue to be helping clients make the transition out of the workforce. This transition is easier when the client has replacements for these happiness factors in place outside of their jobs. They aren’t just retiring from something, they’re retiring to something.

I see great potential value in helping people get what they need from these happiness factors from their working life. Good conversations about these factors may be just what they need to find contentment with their jobs, serve as a catalyst to find more fulfilling work, or in some cases, help them identify replacements outside the labor force and actually retire.  

Most people simply do not consider very often what they get out of work other than the paycheck. These conversations may help people prepare themselves, their spouses, and their families for one of life’s biggest transitions. The number crunching is easy compared with dealing with these issues.

Yes, the money is important, but good financial planning is about more than the mathematics of safe withdrawal rates, Monte Carlo simulations and other such things.  It is about getting the money to support the life.

There is one other happiness factor the documentary mentioned -- being grateful. I can attest that this happiness factor is very real as well. Between India and Thanksgiving, I experienced a surge in my happiness level that persists. I wish the same for you and that you can help your clients increase their happiness as well. God bless America.

Dan Moisand, CFP, has been featured as one of the America’s top independent financial advisors by Financial Planning, Financial Advisor, Investment Advisor, Investment News, Journal of Financial Planning, Accounting Today, Research, Wealth Manager, and Worth magazines. He practices in Melbourne, Fla.  You can reach him at