While on vacation at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, I had an opportunity to take a workshop about joy. It’s a little word for such a big concept. Without that je ne sais quoi that puts a smile on one’s face and pep in each step, life can become a series of “must do” items instead of “let’s go” moments. That’s not an ideal outcome for individuals or their friends and families. Companies have a stake in the happiness game as well.

Motivated and satisfied employees can add to the bottom line through productivity gains. Employees on the other end of the spectrum can add to health care costs and reduced output due to excessive absences. According to the Global Wellness Institute website, “The world’s 3.2 billion workers are increasingly unwell.” This explains why companies around the globe spend upwards of $40 billion on wellness programs.

A few years ago, the Rand Institute carried out a large-scale survey of nearly 600,000 individuals who participated in wellness programs offered by seven companies. What they found may surprise some. While the lion’s share of wellness budgets was spent on improving lifestyle skills such as smoking cessation or losing weight, return on investment (“ROI”) was significantly higher for disease management efforts. The take away is that employers are not allocating monies wisely and need to modify accordingly.

If true that organizations should budget mostly on addressing existing illnesses or preventing new realizations, there could be a heightened demand for psychological or behavioral specialists. Those individuals who can afford to seek outside help will clamor to understand their malaise and emotional deficit, even when their bosses look askance.

In his Forbes opinion piece, Dan Pontefract discusses the importance of sharing a vision that excites and empowers. He cites surveys that demonstrate a C-suite awareness of the purpose-profit connection even when these same executives do little to activate their team around a shared vision. Instead of rewarding people for short-term bottom line advances, this author and researcher urges companies to ratchet up their efforts to do well by doing good. Whether the metric is excellent client service or operating with better ethics than a peer, his take is that managers should address more than the quarterly bottom line.

Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a optimistic concept. White background.

Most of us are disciplined enough to put together a financial plan or seek the help of an advisor. While true that retirement planning is important, the future should not give way to living life in the present. If you agree that every day is a gift, check out a new movie called The Hero.

Starring Sam Elliott, the recipe is straightforward. Take one aging actor who learns he has a serious illness. Add a younger love interest, a friend with a questionable work ethic, a caring ex-wife and a disappointed daughter. The result is a tale of redemption and a story about hope. The audience sees a man who is sympathetic because he wants a second chance to make a difference in the lives of those around him.

The Hero is a quiet film and likely too slow-paced for some. However, for those who crave solid character development and a ride towards grace, grab some popcorn and head to the theater without delay. Your reward is a chance to watch someone grow by recognizing his limitations and then being willing to ask for help. Lucky for him, he gets it aplenty.

There are flashbacks to the hero’s glory days as a celluloid cowboy, motivating viewers to distinguish good deeds from bad ones and understand that reality and make-believe can collide.  The scenes of this lanky “everyman” eating, sleeping and appreciating the nearby ocean are far from mundane. They reflect the “extraordinary ordinary” moments, something I describe in my book The Big Squeeze.

Sam Elliott refers to this gem of a movie by Brett Haley as a career brass ring in his June 2017 interview with Variety. I concur. The film is an enjoyable wake-up call for anyone in the doldrums. We root for the main character to live a rich and fulfilling life among friends, family and business associates for whatever time he has left. May we all be so lucky to renew and refresh, even when it seems like life hands us more lemons than we can squeeze into sweet lemonade.

 

I had a chance to watch My Cousin Vinny on television the other night and was reminded how humor is such a powerful storytelling tool. How many times do we remember important concepts because the speaker or writer makes us laugh? Tickling our funny bones is a great way to convey ideas and keep the audience coming back for more. In the case of this 1992 movie starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, we have screenwriter Dale Launer to thank for lines that never seem to go out of style. He inspires us with his tale of a hero and heroine who never give up in the pursuit of justice.

Grab the popcorn. The movie is worth seeing again for entertainment. However, it turns out that lawyers use the movie for training purposes. As Mental Floss executive editor points out in “29 Fun Facts About My Cousin Vinny,” educators and litigators employ this celluloid textbook to "discuss criminal procedures, courtroom decorum, professional responsibility, unethical behavior, the role of the judge in a trial, efficient cross-examination, the role of expert witnesses and effective trial advocacy." That’s a lot of value for two hours of viewing time.

Whether we appear in a courtroom, an office, a classroom or elsewhere, we are almost always trying to persuade others. Adding humor can’t hurt and many times can help.

For anyone who is stressed out and needs a literary cupcake or other type of relaxing break, check out my new inspirational gift book. I hope you enjoy The Big Squeeze: Hugs & Inspirations For Every Grown-Up Who Loves Teddy Bears. You can click here to order a copy on Amazon or contact me if you are interested in buying in bulk for a client event, sales meeting or fundraiser.

Here are a few of the reviews rolling in:

  • “What a chaming book! I like that it is addressed to grown-ups (even though I’m sure kids will love it). We are living through times in which most of us feel the need for a “security blanket” like a teddy bear, and this book is heart-warming. The pictures are wonderful (!), and the text flow is quite nice and easy. This will make a great gift.”
  • “Essential Guide for a Professional Life (and a fun read, too!) Do yourself a favor and get this book to read and keep handy – especially at those moments when you are entirely stressed with a difficult client, a difficult colleague or staffer, or facing the challenges of having to deal with the day-to-day stress in a professional life. This terrific book’s basic premise is “to ACCEPT that everyone has ups and downs, CELEBRATE triumphs, HEAL the hurts, LOVE one another, SHARE the good times and bad and TRY new adventures when it feels right.” These messages are presented in a fun and interesting way that begs revisiting it as a “sourcebook” for carrying on! Of note is that, while this author is a nationally renown economics and finance professor, lecturer and author of significant literature on pension risk matters, I believe that The Big Squeeze : Hugs & Inspirations For Every Grown-Up Who Loves Teddy Bears, may be one her best contributions to the canon of literature. I have purchased two copies already – one for me and one for a friend. I’ll be ordering more for some of my clients and colleagues. Highly enjoyable read!”
  • “I loved the book, The Big Squeeze. As I read through it my heart actually began to warm. The words and bright pictures are very cheering. During a period of loss in my life, this book is a source of comfort and inspiration.”
  • “I greatly enjoyed this book, and will turn to it often to read again. It is a perfect gift for anyone who would appreciate cheerful words and colorful photos, especially after a difficult day. As a book about the importance of kindness, The Big Squeeze places things in proper perspective, and is beautiful in its simplicity.”

Let me know how you like The Big Squeeze: Hugs & Inspirations For Every Grown-Up Who Loves Teddy Bears.

Hot off the press, The Big Squeeze (Happy Day Press, 2017) by Dr. Susan Mangiero is the result of many months of research about positivity. Inspired by the enduring appeal of teddy bears for grown-ups of all ages, The Big Squeeze is a sweet and uplifting gift book focused on the undeniable truth that kindness to ourselves, and others, matters. Combining enchanting photos with motivational messages, The Big Squeeze invites readers to ACCEPT that everyone has ups and downs, CELEBRATE triumphs, HEAL the hurts, LOVE one another, SHARE the good times and bad and TRY new adventures when it feels right. Every page is designed to generate smiles and to offer a relaxing break from everyday stress. The Big Squeeze is a great gift for anniversaries, baby showers, birthdays, engagements, holidays, promotions, weddings and any time a hug is welcome.

This first Monday in September finds millions of Americans and Canadians celebrating Labor Day 2016 with a day off from work or school. For some it marks the end of summer and a return to "no play" for awhile. Smart employers know otherwise and are implementing policies to encourage playtime at the office or plant as a way to boost productivity, encourage innovation and lower healthcare costs.

According to business executive Paul Harris, implementing play at work policies can be challenging, in part due to gender and age differences. Drawing from recent survey results, he explains that "While 51% of 16-24 year olds would like allocated ‘fun time’ at work, this drops to just 19% for 55-60 year olds." The good news is that certain activities such as shared birthday celebrations or board games appeal to broad groups and ought not to be overlooked by employers. Read "Why it pays to play: workplace fun breeds employee wellbeing and productivity" (HR Magazine, April 12, 2016).

Snack Nation, a commercial delivery service, has a snappy visual on its blog entitled "11 Shocking Employee Happiness Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind." Citing research from organizations such as Gallup, they reference greater sales, employee engagement and fewer sick days as some of the positives associated with workplace improvements. NPR extols the virtues of adult recess and Today Money highlights why big companies, "not just startups" are focused on fun at work. The National Institute for Play consults with business leaders who want "to more effectively access innovation in their operations," asserting that "science already provides data to show that playful ways of work lead to more creative, adaptable workers and teams."

Mark Schiff, a dentist friend of mine, credits his success as an award-winning painter in part to an ability and willingness to embrace his inner child and freely express himself. My husband, one of the hardest working people I know, regularly takes time to play. (He’s a keen competitor in Scrabble.) I’ve attended lots of business development workshops that include seemingly silly exercises designed to encourage adults to think outside the box as a way to advance goals.

I love these words from Thomas A. Edison, inventor extraordinaire. I hope you do too: "I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun."

If you are looking for a few hours of musical fun and a good rags to riches story, I recommend Jersey Boys. I had the pleasure of seeing the stage production in Las Vegas last year. I liked it so much that I am seeing the Broadway show later this summer. The movie is equally fine although a theatrical aficionado may find the drama with music less exciting than music with a bit of drama. Besides the entertainment factor (and I give the film a thumbs up), the original endeavor and global touring companies continue to spin foot-thumping sounds into commercial gold. According to "‘Jersey Boys’ has been a windfall for all involved" by L.A. Times writer David Ng (June 21, 2014), worldwide grosses exceeded $1.7 billion in March with more than "20 million people in 10 countries," counting themselves as lucky audience members.

What you may find notable is that some of the talented contributors passed twenty-one a long time ago and yet demonstrate that one can keep working, if desired, for many years. Clint Eastwood was both a producer and director of the movie. He is eighty-four years old. Frankie Valli was an executive producer of the movie, helped to develop the stage deliverable and is still singing live at the age of eighty. Christopher Walken does a marvelous job as a celluloid version of Valli mentor, Gyp DeCarlo. He is seventy-one years old. Bob Gaudio, the magical hit-maker for the Four Seasons and member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, has been front and center in the making of the play and movie. He is seventy-two years old.

These individuals are not alone in continuing their presence in the work force. Forbes staffer Halah Touryalai cited a Wells Fargo study that 30% of polled "middle-class American[s] believe they will need to work until they are at least 80-years-old in order to retire comfortably" but may not have the okay from employers. See "More American Say 80 Is The New Retirement Age" (October 23, 2012). New York Daily News reporter Heidi Evans refers to 80 as the "new 50." NBC News recently reported that creative seniors are setting up consulting practices, starting businesses, seeking jobs with non-profits or working part-time. See "Retirees Keep One Foot in the Workforce" by Shelly Schwartz (April 8, 2014). Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ by Kerry Hannon addresses opportunities by category such as snowbirds or retired teachers as does the AARP in its 2011 guidance for those who head south for sun when bad weather in winter looms.

Some say that age is an illusion in terms of what one can do. Famed wit George Burns is quoted as saying that "You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old." Sadly Mr. Burns did not appear for his famed booking at London’s Palladium to celebrate 100. A bad fall led to its cancellation and he celebrated this marker elsewhere. In "Curtain Falls: George Burns Dies at 100" (Seattle Times, March 10, 1996), reporter Howard Reich writes that Burns extolled the virtues of passion about what one does, adding that "If you can fall in love with what you’re going to do for a living, you got it made." Hear, hear for the motivational cue.

From an economic perspective, global demographics open the door wide to tremendous business opportunities for financial service companies. Providing advice to seniors as well as employers that want gray matter is one promising area. Restructuring existing retirement plans is yet another. Consider the recent announcement that BT Retirement Saving Scheme has arranged for longevity insurance and reinsurance "to provide long term protection to the Scheme against costs associated with potential increases in life expectancy of members." The 16 billion GBP is "the largest ever in the UK and involved the creation of the BT Pension Scheme’s own insurance company." See "BT Adds Longevity Insurance to Limit Risks of Pension Plan" by Amy Thomson and Sarah Jones (Bloomberg, July 4, 2014).

Enjoy the popcorn, watch the summer flick and then ponder what you intend to do with the rest of your life. If that means putting together your business plan for creating value-add services to companies and individuals in this new era, go for it. There are lots of ideas for profit.

Wow – eight years and counting since I started www.PensionRiskMatters.com. I have worked with the Lex Blog team for half a dozen years and credit them for wonderful technical support and customer service.

Well over a million viewers and nearly a thousand posts later, I am told that my analyses and educational insights about a host of timely topics have been helpful to others. As I look back on what I have written over the years, I am struck by how much of what was deemed critical in its day remains immensely important now. Indeed, one might assert that topics such as pension risk management, service provider due diligence, fiduciary education and fee benchmarking have taken on a new life. There is more scrutiny of what goes on inside the investment committee meeting room and litigation seems to be on the rise. According to the producer of the upcoming American Conference Institute about the topic of ERISA litigation, he is facing a sell-out crowd this year. (I am happy to announce that I will be a co-panelist for a session at this conference and will address the topic of how to work effectively with an economic expert.)

I am deeply grateful for the feedback from this blog’s many readers and always welcome comments and suggestions.

Happy 8th birthday PensionRiskMatters.com!

In case you missed it, March 20, 2014 was International Happiness Day. Sponsored by the United Nations International, the Day of Happiness is a reminder that there are lots of good things in this world and a moment of reflection is a nice way to celebrate our gifts. Interestingly and not surprising, eighty-seven percent of people who took the online poll at www.dayofhappiness.net say that happiness trumps wealth. Is this bad news for the financial community? No it is not and here’s why.

Research studies repeatedly link emotional well-being with economic productivity. In his informative book entitled "What Happy Companies Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Company for the Better," Dr. Dan Baker (with Cathy Greenberg and Collins Hemingway) extols the virtues of businesses that recognize the importance of motivating workers with carrots and not sticks. By extension, happy workers will remain employed and their incomes typically rise as they carry out their duties with a smile. This is great news for the advisers who want to help those with money to invest.

Happiness is certainly a big business. A quick search of Amazon.com for books on this topic yields nearly 40,000 results. There’s even a magazine called Live Happy. One of my favorite tee shirt companies is called Life is Good. You can watch "The Economics of Happiness" documentary and follow along with a study guide.

Some people keep a gratitude journal. Setting aside a few minutes of quiet time is likewise popular. ABC reporter Dan Harris must have struck a nerve as his book about meditation is a best-seller. Click to learn more about his 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story.

As readers of this blog know. I am a devotee of yoga and try to take a class whenever I can. My reasons include a desire to be fit and numerous advantages of taking deep breaths and focusing on the moment. The boost to concentration levels, especially for challenging projects, is a significant plus. The medical community continues to pay attention to the benefits of mindfulness. In late 2013, Bloomberg wrote about Harvard Medical School researcher, Dr. John Denninger, and his research about yoga, brain activity and immune levels. Since six to nine out of ten visits to see a doctor are cited as stress-related, costing companies roughly $300 billion per year, his federally-funded science can be helpful indeed to both individuals and employers. See "Harvard Yoga Scientists Find Proof of Mediation Benefit" by Makiko Kitamura (Bloomberg, November 21, 2013). Also check out "Take a Deep Breath," posted on the American Institute of Stress website.

Have a good day!

Despite a softer economy than in the past, Valentine’s Day is still celebrated by millions of people with money to spend, billions of dollars in fact. According to information provided by the National Retail Federation, aggregate monies spent on flowers, candy and other tokens of affection are estimated at $17.3 billion, with the typical purchase in the amount of $133.91, a modest increase from last year’s $130.97.

Candy, flowers, jewelry, cards and dinners out top the lift of favorite gifts to give. The U.S. Census Bureau sheds more light on Cupid’s holiday spending bonanza. According to "Valentine’s Day 2014: Feb. 14" (Profile America: Facts for Features, January 14, 2014), there were nearly 1,200 chocolate and cocoa product manufacturing establishments in 2011 that accounted for $13.5 billion in shipments that same year. Over 15,000 florists accounted for an estimated $355 million in fresh cut roses. The History Channel website counts 150 million cards that are sent each year, "making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas." That’s a lot of affection for your favorite friends and family members.

Besides gift giving, a survey carried out by the National Confectioners Association reveals that six out of ten people "agree that celebrating holidays like Valentine’s Day brings happiness in tough economic times." See "New survey says Americans will choose chocolate over flowers this season" (January 29, 2014). The United States is not alone when it comes to February 14. See "Valentine’s Day around the world" for a nice wrap-up, courtesy of New Zealand 3News.

Here’s to a fun day of celebrating good things. In case one day is not enough, National Gumdrop Day follows on February 15, along with a continuation of the Random Acts of Kindness Week that runs through February 16, 2014.