Podcast: Jim McCarthy — A Simple Guide to Happiness

Jim McCarthyEpisode 27 of the NewRetirement podcast is an interview with Jim McCarthy who’s a TEDx speaker, Stanford MBA and best-selling author. Jim had a complete life reset after getting a cancer diagnosis and we discuss his story, best practices from his new book Live Each Day and what’s next.

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Full Transcript of Steve Chen’s Interview with Jim McCarthy

Steve: Welcome to NewRetirement Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Jim McCarthy who’s a TEDx speaker and best-selling author. He is a Stanford MBA, and most of his career has been in Silicon Valley. But he did a major life and work reset after getting a cancer diagnosis in 2003. Jim now teaches people how to create their happiness by blending mindfulness techniques and timeless wisdom with simple science-based practices. Finally, he lives in San Francisco, but is about to start a long-term, global, nomadic journey, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. So with that, Jim, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you join us.

Jim: Thank you very much, Steve. I really appreciate being here. Quick correction. My cancer diagnosis is actually in 2013.

Steve: Okay, I’m sorry.

Jim: So, a little more recent, but still just over six years ago.

Steve: Off by 10 years. All right, well.

Jim: Yes.

Steve: But I’m glad you’re here-

Jim: Thank you.

Steve: … and looking really healthy.

Jim: Thank you.

Steve: I was jealous of your… Sounds like you got a two-hour workout in this morning.

Jim: Well, the real working out was a little over an hour, but I feel like I need to do everything I can to be in the best mood I can whenever I do something important like a podcast like this.

Steve: Totally. You’d fit right in here up in Mill Valley because we’re surrounded by these super fit people that are always out there optimizing themselves.

Jim: Well, you look pretty fit yourself, Steve.

Steve: I have work to do, so I don’t think about that a lot. Okay, well, as we get started, I’d love to just learn more about your history, how you grew up, and your journey. We’ll talk a little about your career and then how you had this big inflection in your life. Then after that, we’ll get into the book and then some lessons and practices for our audience. But yeah, we’d just love to hear like how you grew up and where you grew up and-

Jim: Well, yeah, so I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska to an Irish Catholic family, went to Catholic schools my whole life through high school. Got a dad, mom, two brothers and a sister, and then I went to University of Iowa for college, study political science. I had the good fortune of studying in Vienna for a junior year abroad. As a result of that, I was able to get a Fulbright scholarship to study in Germany after I graduated from college. Then after that, I did a hippie backpacking trip by myself to India for six weeks during my Fulbright year in Germany, and that was a life-changing event, a real eye-opener of how one can travel with very little money and have remarkable life experiences as a result of that.

Jim: Afterwards, I decided I want to get a Ph.D. in political science, so I hung out in Frankfurt for a couple years and taught English. Then I moved to Spain and worked as a business journalist there for a couple years. I met a woman from the Bay Area and wanted to come back to the U.S. and get more serious about my career, which led me to the Bay Area in 1991, and then just really briefly worked in sales for a few years and was lucky enough to get into Stanford for business school. Graduated from there in 1996, which was just a great time to hop onto the internet revolution.

Jim: As that was taking place, I was employee 258 at Yahoo, starting there in 1997, which was just an incredible time to be there, and certainly I was very fortunate in a lot of ways financially, but also just having that experience of doing incredible work, working very passionately with great people.

Steve: Right, wow, and what made you decide to go off to India when you… I mean, you growing up in Iowa. I’m thinking of making it… because this isn’t 25 years ago, right? That was a-

Jim: Yeah, 30. This is 1987, so-

Steve: Times were different. No, iPhone to give maps and everything, right?

Jim: Right. No, travel was quite more adventuresome in a different way, and I think nice in that you didn’t have to have everything perfectly packaged and planned and researched. It was like, “Okay, I’m flying into Bombay.” I’m sorry. “Flying into Delhi, flying out of Bombay six weeks later and then make it up as I go.” So, I had traveled through Europe before during my junior abroad, and I had very little money, and the winter is in March and April and Europe. Even in Southern Europe, it can be cold, and I thought, “Well, where can I go that’s really fascinating where I can travel very, very cheaply and really be busy for six weeks doing amazing travel?”

Jim: India was incredible. It was incredibly cheap, and the people were remarkable, and I think one of the biggest insights from that was to realize that people could have materially really nothing, really nothing. I remember this brother and sister who were tailors on the beach in Goa making shirts, and materially they had nothing, but they were so joyous and happy and loving and kind people. Family was very important to them, friends and community, and that was just a huge insight for me about what makes people happy and what doesn’t bring happiness to people.

Jim: So that was a big insight. In my book, I write about how if you have money, to the extent, you can buy happiness is generally through experiences. It’s not through stuff, and that was a big insight that I had really when I was 23 and just this hippie backpacker in India.

Steve: Right. It’s definitely become a much more widely accepted concept. I think the millennials have embraced it. I saw that in your… One thing that jumped out of me I was going to ask you about later was that you have the stat that millennials, 80% of them want to be rich, and 50% of them want to be famous, which was surprising because when I think of millennials, I think of them as like a lot less focused on stuff. I mean, maybe they want money, but they don’t want stuff. They want experiences, and they seem to act in that way too.

Steve: So, anyway, the lesson that you learned when you were 23 is now being widely adopted by a lot of these folks, I think.

Jim: Yeah, and I think the fascinating thing about the FIRE movement and what you’re talking about, Steve, is that… I mean, when I was in Madrid, I got tired of being poor. So, after India, I was in Germany working for a couple years, and I was in Madrid, and I loved the work I was doing as a business journalist, but I couldn’t afford to go to nice restaurants the way I wanted to, and I looked at the life I had. I was like, “I’m not making much money, and I’m not saving much, and I think I’m pretty smart, and I think I’m pretty hardworking.”

Jim: I thought, “Well, maybe if I go back to the U.S. and get a corporate job and get an MBA from the best school I can get into, then maybe I can come back to Europe and have some sort of a international business guy kind of job.” Things pretty much followed that path. I decided to stay in the Bay Area, but I’m very grateful that I was lucky enough to get into Stanford for business school and really lucky enough to go to Yahoo.

Jim: So, it’s not like I hate money, or I hate finances. I just try to be aware of what it can do for me and what it can’t do for me. I certainly like the idea of financial independence and security that comes from being smart about spending and investing in savings, so that you can do what you want to do if you get a cancer diagnosis, and then you realize, “Wow. I don’t ever want to work for people again who are jerks.”

Steve: Yeah, and just for our audience for a little background here, Jim and I were talking about the FIRE movement, and he listened to the Jonathan Mendonsa ChooseFI podcast to prep for this and learned all about FIRE, and a lot of what’s in his book resonates with me and I think with a lot of audience, because a lot of the concepts are similar and aligned with things that are happening in the FI community.

Jim: Definitely.

Steve: Okay, awesome. Yeah, and one other quick comment before we move on tonight. How much from the geoarbitrage perspective, like do you remember how much per day it was costing you to live in India?

Jim: I know exactly, so let me think now. When I went to India, it cost me $600. This is 1987. $600 to fly from Frankfurt to Rome, and Rome to Delhi, and then later to go from Bombay back through Rome to Frankfurt, so that was 600 bucks. Then I was in India for six weeks, and in that six weeks, I spent $600.

Steve: Wow.

Jim: So, $100 a week, and that was everything. That was hostels. That was buses and trains and food and shopping and clothes. Although it was all very hippie and funky and really, really cheap. I encourage anyone really at any age to travel as much as they can, and I think that… I remember for years afterwards even before Yahoo or anything, people say, “God, all this traveling you’ve done, Jim. You must have had a ton of money.” I was like, “No. No. I just learned that you can travel very, very cheaply,” and I think the irony is that sometimes…

Jim: This is one of the approaches that Lonely Planet has had is budget travel is not just better. It’s actually better. Not only is it cheaper, but in many ways, it’s better. Now, I have no problem with luxury. My wife certainly likes fine dining from time to time, but I learned that when you travel cheaply, you meet more people. If you’re at a Ritz-Carlton somewhere, you’re not going to be striking up so many conversations with fellow travelers who are hanging out by the pool reading their book or reading my book.

Jim: But if you’re in a little bit funkier, cheaper environment where you’re interacting more with people, you’re going to meet other fellow travelers and probably have a lot more fun that way.

Steve: Yeah, no I think that’s a great lesson to get out there, and a lot of people that are considering retirement for our audience, they’re definitely thinking about this kind of geographic arbitrage and many people are realizing, “Oh yeah, I can go to Mexico. I can go to Spain. I can go to parts of Europe and/or Asia and live really cheaply.” Also, when you’re younger or relatively younger or so, in your late 50s, 60s. It’s a lot less risky because you may probably need a lot less medical support, and yeah, I know one quick side story.

Steve: Here was a guy that I worked with earlier in my career, and he told me, “Okay, I’m going to retire for… ” He was 30. He’s like, “Okay, I’m retiring for 10 years.” I was like, “Okay, how much you saved?” He’s like, “I’ve saved up 40,000 bucks.” I was like, “All right. Sounds great.”

Jim: Well-

Steve: But he did that and then he was like, “Yeah, but I’m going to go to Asia, and I can live for $4,000 a year.” This was like in the early 2000s, right?

Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steve: He did it. I mean, he went off. He’s like, “Oh my God. I’m taking a boat.” He took a boat to China, and then he traveled all over the place, and he was sending all these pictures and doing his thing, and he eventually got a little bit bored of it after a few years, but he was able to do it. I think for a lot of folks who are like, “Oh, yeah, you need millions of dollars.” No, I mean, try it once. Go on a six-week trip and see how cheap you can do it, and then it opens your eyes to what’s possible out there.

Steve: All right, cool. Well, so, you had this great background, won the Fulbright. I mean, that’s pretty impressive. Go into Stanford. I mean, that’s also-

Jim: I was just lucky.

Steve: … super hard. I mean, that’s not trivial, right? I mean, worked at Yahoo, employee number 258, made a bunch of money, right? So, you’ve had this great career to this point. So then in 2013, you had this life-changing event. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jim: Yeah, so in 2013, I had been fired from the previous job I had for the first time in my life at a mobile advertising startup, which was quite humbling, and I just really didn’t feel like working 70 or 80 hours a week, and it wasn’t the fault of the CEO or the company that… They wanted someone like me to be working 70 or 80 hours a week, but I just wasn’t onboard with that. So, a little bit after a year, I was fired from that job for the first time and did little bit of travel.

Jim: Then through a series of tests and diagnoses, I ended up being diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer. As you might know, it’s pretty common in a lot of men. But about 25,000 men per year die in the U.S. die from prostate cancer. When the doctor called me up, he was talking about radiation and survival rates and surgery, and that was really the first time in my life that I ever viscerally felt my own mortality, and I talk about this in my TEDx talk, which is entitled What Cancer Taught Me About Happiness.

Jim: So, in that process I really started thinking suddenly about how long am I going to live. Literally, you have a birthday, and you will have a death day. When you start thinking, that’s a day. Maybe it’s October 6th, 2050 or July 4th, 2025, but it’s a real day. It’ll happen. I never grasped that before. So, I started thinking about my life, my legacy, my purpose, my regrets, the work I’m doing, my financial situation, how am I spending the time I have whether I’ve got another year to live or another 50 years to live.

Jim: Soon after that, I met a friend of mine named Diane who I used to work with at Yahoo, and she was a very smart, successful woman, and she had lung cancer, which has spread to the walls of her chest. We got together with her for lunch in Los Gatos, and I said, “Diane, I don’t even feel like I’m in the same league with you.” I mean, I’ve got early-stage prostate cancer. We’re probably not even going to treat it yet. It’s that early stage, and she had a very serious situation. Her lung cancer had metastasized.

Jim: She said, “Jim, it doesn’t matter when you get a cancer diagnosis whether you have two weeks to live or 20 years to live. It changes your life.” Then she said, “But when I go to my son’s lacrosse games, and I see the blue in the sky and the green on the leaves, and I hear the laughter of the boys running on the lacrosse field, I just have tears running down my face from the pure, simple, intense beauty of that moment, and I wish we all could live like we had cancer.”

Jim: And certainly, Diane doesn’t mean… She wishes that we had the fear of having cancer or the pain of the loss from having cancer, but that we’d all live so richly, deeply and intensely right here and right now. So, she was practicing mindfulness and gratitude and just a lot of courage in the face of some very tough situations. Now, unfortunately, Diane is no longer with us. She did pass away a couple years after that. But having her tell me that just gave me permission to not brush it off and not say, “Oh, whatever. Okay, I’m fine now. I’m healthy,” but really absorb it and internalize it and realize that.

Jim: I think the important thing here, Steve, is… How do I want to put it? At that moment, I realized that I had enough financial security, very likely to do what I really wanted to do, and nothing changed from one day to the next financially. What changed from one day to the next was mentally and emotionally and psychologically just realizing, “Holy cow. Maybe it’s five years I have to live. Maybe it’s 15. Maybe it’s 50, but wow. Am I really doing what I want to do? What’s keeping me from doing what I really want to do?”

Jim: Honestly, I’ve always loved public speaking. I loved being an English teacher in Frankfort. It was fun. As you can tell, I like talking, and I thought, “There’s these motivational speakers who I admire whether it’s Wayne Dyer or Brian Tracy or a lot of the, really, people who’ve helped me enormously by sharing their insights about life and purpose and meaning and happiness.” So, I thought, “Okay, I’ve got a cancer diagnosis maybe Lean Startup style.”

Jim: I was like, “Okay, let me just talk to a little group of people and see if I have anything to say, and if they like it.” I did and people liked it. So, from there, I started realizing, “Okay, I can start doing public speaking, professional speaking, talking about my diagnosis, and that evolved into my Happiness Workshop.” So I’ve been doing that pretty much for the last six years, and then I got to the point where people liked it a lot, and I got great feedback. I continued to tweak and improve it, and then I thought, “Okay, now comes the time to properly do a TEDx talk, and then also write a book, which really encapsulates the workshop.”

Jim: So, I wrote my book called Live Each Day: A Surprisingly Simple Guide to Happiness, and that came out just last month, actually.

Steve: Nice, and it’s a bestseller on Amazon. That’s good.

Jim: It is a bestseller on Amazon, yeah.

Steve: That’s cool. So, really, the cancer diagnosis was a trigger for you to really reassess this, and it is great to hear your story, and I think it does resonate from… when we were talking, I was thinking about this for… I think everybody or most people will run into this at some point in their lives where there’s suddenly the balance between how they’re traditionally brought up to like, “Hey, I’m going to work. I want to make money, and then we’ll see what the future holds,” to like, “I only have a limited amount of time left on this planet. What am I doing with it? Oh, that’s my scarcest resource. Hey, let’s really be thoughtful about this.”

Steve: So, for you, was cancer and saying, “Oh, okay, I might have a lot less time than I thought,” instead of having this kind of amorphous-like, oh, 30, 40 years left to go because you’re 49 years old.

Jim: At the time, yeah.

Steve: Hey. Maybe it’s single digits. Who knows?

Jim: Right.

Steve: For the FIRE folks out there, I think they may get educated and realize, “Oh, I can get control, and it does… ” Part of the whole FIRE thing is people are really starting to… For whatever reason, they start to think about it, and then they really start to say, “Can I get control over this over my time?” But I think for most people, it’s really they go through a traditional life arc. It’s driven by time or downsizing or something to get to their late 50s. They look around. They’re like, “Oh, my friends are retiring,” and then they at that point, they start to really think about how they’re going to use the rest of their time.

Steve: So, I think it is, and it’s an awesome lesson for people to try to get this early to take a step back and imagine themselves in a different situation, right?

Jim: Yeah.

Steve: So, in some ways that was a gift to you.

Jim: Oh, yeah. I know. I’m very grateful that I got my cancer diagnosis because it was really the catalyst for me too. It’s funny. I was talking to a friend at the time, and I was thinking… I was saying, “You know what? Should I do this? Should I do that? What about motivational speaking?” She said, “Jim, you got cancer. You can do whatever the eff you want.”

Steve: Right.

Jim: I need to be aware a lot of people can’t. I mean, I had been fired from my previous job, so I was like, “Okay, what do I do next?” I started doing leadership consulting, and I realized that the keynote speaking and the happiness workshops is really what I wanted to do. Part of the message I get from people is, “Do what only you can do,” right?

Steve: Right.

Jim: I mean, there are a lot of folks who can do internet advertising. There’s a lot of people who can do online marketing and what have you. But as much as possible, I encourage people to try to figure out what is the thing that you love, that you’re passionate about, that puts you in the 99th percentile, that you’re just phenomenal at it, and you would do it for free even if you are financially dependent, or when you get financially dependent, which I know is a big thing of the movement as well.

Steve: Right. Yeah, I think that’s something that comes out loud and clear from people that are really successful. Many of them will tell you, “I would be doing this even if I wasn’t getting paid for it,” or, “I was doing this and then people discovered it, and now I’m getting paid for it.” I remember talking to Ben from the Wealth of Common Sense. He’s like, “Yeah, I’d be blogging and writing about finance and all this stuff, and then people just discovered it.” All right, well, let’s jump into your book. I mean, I read it, the whole thing.

Jim: Thank you, Steve.

Steve: Or I would say 80 to 90% of it.

Jim: No, I saw the notes that you wrote up beforehand. I mean, you clearly read it, and you absorbed a lot of it, so I appreciate that.

Steve: It was great. It was a very well-written book-

Jim: Thank you.

Steve: … and with a lot of good lessons and a lot of things that resonated. So, I do want to dive into it. The book is Live Each Day: A Surprisingly Simple Guide to Happiness. Here’s the most basic question. For you, what does it mean to be happy?

Jim: Right. What does it mean to be happy? So, the short answer I would say is to be happy is to have the right balance between pleasure and purpose in your life, and the example I like to give is if you think of the day where you’re sitting on the beach sipping cocktails with your loved one, maybe you’re going dancing, and you have a great dinner, night of romance at a resort or whatever. A lot of people think of that as like your great vacation day. For me, at least, that is a great example of an ideal day, and that I think epitomizes a day of pleasure.

Jim: It’s fun. Maybe you’re in party mode, or you’re kicked back, relaxed, just chilling with someone you love. That’s pleasure, and that’s important for being happy. On the other hand, the example I give is day two is where you wake up early. You work at a senior center or a skilled nursing facility for elderly people. You’re working hard. You’re seeing that you don’t earn a lot of money, but you’re seeing the direct impact you’re having on people who you’re helping out, and my wife’s dad is actually in a nursing facility in LA right now.

Jim: So, for the first time in my life, recently, I’ve been seeing an octogenarian have his diapers changed. You realize that is awaiting many of us if we live long enough to get to that stage.

Steve: Right.

Jim: But the staff there are people who are very committed and very caring. None of them make a lot of money, but their lives are filled with purpose and meaning. So, that’s what I call purpose, and purpose is also very important for happiness. If you had a life which was just kicking back on the beach drinking mojitos, that would feel empty. It might be great for a week or a month or even a year, but eventually life is a health… Their lives are filled with purpose and meaning, but they can get very burned out because they don’t have enough pleasure, right?

Steve: Yeah.

Jim: They need to take a vacation. They need to go to the spa. I say that happiness is this balance between pleasure and purpose.

Steve: That’s a great definition. I really like it.

Jim: Thank you.

Steve: It totally resonates. Our first podcast was with Jay Roth, and his whole thing is about helping people find purpose. Have you ever read his blog [crosstalk 00:23:20]?

Jim: Not yet.

Steve: It’s called Get Rich Slowly. It’s actually…

Jim: I’ve heard of that.

Steve: Yeah, no, he’s got an interesting story about it. He really talks about the salon, and I think that’s exactly right. There’s this balance between pleasure and purpose, and I think about our business, I think we’re trying to help people balance between money and time, right? Because you spend initially a lot of your human capital trying to make money, and then you realize that, “Hey, I might want to get more control of my time, and can we help people negotiate a better balance point?”

Steve: I mean, if you can get to be financially independent, great. You don’t necessarily need to work as much or maybe at all for money, but you still want to use your time effectively, and that I clearly see in the FIRE community. People might be like… I actually see two things. So one is people are like really intent on reaching financial independence. Then they’re really thoughtful about, “Okay,” and ideally, they thought in advance, “How am I going to use my time because to stay occupied and do something purposeful,” right?

Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steve: There are people that also don’t think about it and then get depressed because they’re suddenly like, “Okay, I don’t have to do anything.” I was actually having dinner with a friend of mine who also… Side note, he invests in a business, and he was sharing… He’s gotten to be financially independent. His kids have moved out, so suddenly he doesn’t have to be a caregiver. He doesn’t have to work for money. He doesn’t have a schedule. So, he was getting insomnia, and there are all these second-order negative things, and he’s like, “Okay, great. I can go heli-skiing in Italy on a whim,” right?

Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Steve: “But on the downside, I really need to be thoughtful about how I’m going to use my time.”

Jim: Yeah, so in the book I give different examples of where people create more purpose in their lives, and for many people, purpose whether they had purpose or not, the minute they have children, they suddenly have a lot of purpose because they want to be the best parent that they can for their kids. Or there’s a lot of people whereas their parents get older, and the parents need more help. Then there can be a lot of purpose from giving back to your parents and being grateful for all the things that they did to help you.

Jim: But in addition to those things, however, the research indicates that people who do some kind of volunteer work or a part of a community or doing volunteer work within a community are much happier than people who don’t do that. I mean, I think it was like 94% or 96% of people, after they do volunteer work, they feel better about themselves. So, you’re helping other people, but in doing that though, you feel better about yourself, and there’s also studies from Stanford that… It was a long-term Stanford experiment, which showed that the people who lived the longest were the ones who were often very committed to the work they’re doing, had a great sense of purpose and meaning for the work they did, but also had very strong community ties.

Steve: Yeah, you had a couple of great quotes in here around the helpers’ high. So one is from Albert Schweitzer. I hadn’t heard this before, but I really like it. He said, “I don’t know where your destiny will be, but one thing I know, the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve,” which I thought really summed up… You know?

Jim: Yeah, that’s a good one.

Steve: Yeah, and also the Dalai Lama with selfish altruism.

Jim: Yeah, the idea that helping someone else, it does help them. At least most the time, hopefully, with whatever you’re doing, you’re helping someone else out, but you help yourself. So that’s the selfish component of the selfish altruism, and I think when one realizes that, then I don’t know. There’s less struggle. I mean, it’s strange we had a carpenter in our home last night, and he was talking about he had this day of volunteer work he does once a year. He said, “Well, the dirty little secret about volunteering is that I feel great afterwards.” Said, “Those people really know how to party.”

Jim: My wife and I know that when we’re going to be doing traveling going forward internationally… I mean, she said many times, “Jim, I really want to give back.” She came to this country from Vietnam as a refugee in 1975, grew up without her mother who died on the boat, and really had some very, very tough times of struggle in her life, and yet she’s just the sweetest, kindest, most loving compassionate person, which is why I married her.

Jim: She’s aware that as we go into this new phase of our lives, it’s like, “Well, maybe we’re going to volunteer in an orphanage in Vietnam or do some Habitat for Humanity things somewhere,” and my hunch is that, yes, we’ll go to Bali, and we’ll be hanging out on the beach, or we’ll go to Thailand, and we’ll be staying at a resort and doing great stuff, and that’s… I’m looking forward to that. But I’ve done enough volunteer work through my life to know that sometimes the deepest friendships, the most meaningful insights in life are not from sipping cocktails or drinking good wine although I like doing that as well. But it’s from helping people out.

Jim: I did some volunteer work at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in the early ’90s, and the people I met and the kind of experiences I had there are absolutely priceless.

Steve: Yeah, I think a couple quick thoughts. So, one is on your spouse, that’s great. I did see in your book that the most important attribute in relationships or for your significant other is that they are kind and understanding. I think that’s what’s universally true. On the travel side, I would say, yeah, doing work in other communities and other cultures, it gets you out of the tourist bubble, and it puts you into their world, doing work in their environments, which is where you really get to know people in a different way.

Jim: Yeah, and you’d meet people you would never meet otherwise. I mean, it’s very sad that many people who travel, though they might go to Mexico or wherever from the US, and the only people they interact with are employees at the resort, and some make an effort to at least chat with the employees at the resort, and some don’t even bother, and they don’t meet a single person who isn’t serving them, and to get beyond that is… And ironically, as I think about volunteer work, you’re actually flipping the equation.

Jim: So, instead of the local person is serving you your cocktails or your dinner, whatever, you’re serving the local people in terms of your volunteer work, or you’re helping them build a home or doing that sort of stuff. So, it’s good to develop some humility, but again, along the selfish altruism lines, I think you yourself will benefit enormously from doing this kind of volunteer work.

Steve: Do you know any data about what’s the right frequency to be volunteering?

Jim: Yeah, so I touched on that in the book a little bit. I think the idea is roughly about 100 hours a year. So, just about two hours a week is considered to be the efficient sweet spot. Now, obviously, if a person wants to volunteer all the time or three days a week, that’s great, but I think the research indicated that people don’t feel a whole lot better doing three days a week versus doing two hours per week, and that’s not a lot to ask, really.

Jim: Now, I also say that you can have it all, but not at the same time, and I talk about that a little bit in the book. So, there might be that you’re in a role where you’re working 60, 70 hours a week, and you like what you’re doing, but you need to really bust your butt in order to have extra income or do the sort of savings you need to do for it to fire, right?

Steve: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Jim: So, this isn’t always the case, and it might be that for 10 years, you’re just working really hard, and then after that, you get to the point where you say, “Oh, now, I have the luxury of doing a lot of volunteer work and maybe doing for a month out of every year.” So, I think I always encourage people to be forgiving with themselves and not feel like they have to constantly be checking off all the boxes in order to meet other people’s approval of what they’re supposed to do to live this perfectly balanced life.

Steve: Right. Got to avoid the comparing mind.

Jim: Yes.

Steve: I learned that in your book.

Jim: Right. I write about that.

Steve: All right, so this is really interesting. Can we quickly touch on the U-bend and wellbeing? Because we’ve read about that a little bit, but I’d love to hear your take on it.

Jim: Sure, so the U-bend of life, and I blog about this as well, is the idea that around age 45, 46, 47 is the least happy that people are in their whole lives. Generally, as you’re a baby and a child, you’re quite joyous, just naturally, very in the moments, and that’s just the way humans are in the world. Then as we get older, we get a little bit more stressed out, a little bit more anxious. We got more baggage. It goes this downward trajectory until like mid to late 40s, and this is research from all over the world by the way. Different cultures, different societies.

Jim: Then at that, it bottoms out in the late 40s, and then from that moment onward, you start feeling better and better and better, and really, but you keep on getting happier until you die basically.

Steve: I wonder if that’s programmed into us so that we can be comfortable like, “Okay, we’re going to… ” I mean, it’s crazy. We all know we’re going to die, right? We’re cranking through life, like not thinking about it too much, and then, yeah. You’re getting maybe a natural life high that you’re, “Okay, I’m in a good mood.”

Jim: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean there’s different theories on it. One is if you think about raising children can be very demanding. Your parents getting older can be very demanding, and also like the proverbial mid-life crisis whether it’s your marriage isn’t working right, or whether your career’s not working right, or you just realize, “Well, I thought I was going to be a Fortune 500 CEO someday,” and that’s not ever going to happen. I think for some people, they really struggle with that.

Jim: But then when they make peace with some of these things, and they say, “Well, okay, maybe I don’t want to be a Fortune 500 CEO.” There’s research that shows that Fortune 500 CEOs, even though they’re way wealthier than the people that work in their organizations, they’re not much happier in average, which I’m not saying a person should have that as a goal, but it’s just very good to be aware of what are the drivers of happiness and making so many sacrifices in order to make so much more money. Is that really worth it? Are there ways to enjoy your life without having to do that?

Jim: I think when people get older, they start seeing their friends passing away, and I mean even… I mean, I’m 55 years old, and I think this is the decade where you start seeing people die quite suddenly and tragically, and once you start seeing some of your friends go, then it’s like, “Whoa. Wow, gosh. I’m glad I’m alive. I’m glad I have a wife that I love, and I’m glad that we have our time together,” and I look at my parents who were both in their 80s back in Omaha, Nebraska, and they’re very grateful just to still be alive. So, I think that’s part of the trajectory.

Steve: Yeah, the perspective that you get, I think, as you age, is interesting. When you’re younger, you feel like Superman, and you’re going to live forever, and time is endless, right? Then yeah, I agree that the 40s are a challenging time for lots of reasons, and I do want to ask you about. That’s a little bit more. But then I could see as you get into your 50s, you’re like, “Okay, I’m hopefully still moderately healthy. I have a little bit more self-awareness. I realize that time is not limitless, so maybe I should take advantage of the healthy years I have left.

Steve: That by the way is a big thing that I think about a lot is that you see these folks. They’re anticipating, “Okay, if I make so much more money, or if I do this or that, and then I’ll be able to enjoy my life at some future point,” right? But if you work your whole life, and you retired at 65 or 70, and then you’re not healthy, and you’ve been stressed out your whole life, and you can’t enjoy it. What’s the point of having $10 million at 70, right? Or 80 or whatever. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter, right?

Jim: Yeah, and I mean one of the things I say… One of the main parts of the book is I talk about presence and living in the moment and enjoying the journey. If you can’t learn how to be happy at age 20 or 25 or 30 or 35 or 40, or if you can’t learn how to savor and appreciate where you are in your life, then it doesn’t matter what’s going to come your way because that’s one more thing you won’t be able to appreciate. Now the good news is that in the book I talk about different practices you can do in order to enjoy your life and savor it right here and right now, and mindfulness practices whether it’s meditation or all the different variations of how to do that is one thing that I go into quite a bit of detail on.

Jim: Also, gratitude practice, right? Every day, there’s a lot of different ways you can do that as well that I write about, and those are just very simple ways. So, whether you’re a college student, whether you’re 25, and you’re early in your career, whether you’re 70 years old and dealing with a whole different set of challenges than you might have had when you were at 25 or 55. But you can still learn how to appreciate every different season of life.

Steve: Right, yeah. I think that’s super important for people to remember. One thing that resonated, and we were talking about how people are bottoming out and having more challenges in their late 40s, and I saw the stats on drug overdoses, which I’ve imagined biased, little younger, but also suicides and depression, especially among mid-life males who are divorced. I mean, this is my life. I’m late 40s, approaching 50, and it’s like, “Okay, I see friends getting divorced, and I’m watching the impact on them, and I’m hearing the stats about suicide and stuff like that.”

Steve: So, it’s good for people to remember that it will get better. For many people, it does get better, but it didn’t… But you do have to be thoughtful about it because, like can you pull yourself out of the funk that may result from going through these life changes?

Jim: Yeah, and I mean I’m on my second marriage, so I divorced about 10 years ago, and it was very, very hard for many reasons that I won’t go into detail here, but it was tough, but I learned to bounce back. Dan Gilbert who was a psychology professor at Harvard, and he saw some tremendous work, and he talks about the impact bias, and I quote him quite a bit in the book because he’s just so insightful. But basically the good news is that if something, quote-unquote, “bad” happens to you over time, you’re going to bounce back to the way you felt before. If something good happens to you over time, you’ll also bounce back to where you were before.

Jim: So, there’s this set point that a lot of us return to whether really good stuff or really bad stuff happens, and there’s a couple different ways to think about that, and one is that it can give you a little bit more peace and equanimity to think that, well, wow, something happened. I got fired from my job, and I think my career is ruined. My life is ruined, and no, and usually people bounce back, and they figure out another way to proceed.

Jim: The other way is to not think that one particular event is just going to solve all your challenges. I mean, even winning the lottery, it’s well documented that when that happens, that tends to ruin the lives of the people that that happens to. But on the other hand, it is useful to know, and I think one of the main messages in my book is that happiness is a skill you can develop. There is a genetic component of happiness that each of us inherit, but there is a part about 40%, according to the research, is what we do control, and we control it to the extent that it’s what we do and how we think about it.

Jim: So, having a positive attitude, being grateful in your life, doing work that you find very meaningful, investing in family, friends, and community. These are all things that anyone can control independent of money, really. It’s how you think and how you go through life. By the way, the research also indicates that people who are happier tend to be more successful in their lives as well for a whole variety of reasons.

Steve: Yeah, when I was reading your book, it definitely made me think about we’re pretty intentional about exercise and the impact of exercise and good diet on our physical wellbeing. There’s a much more awareness today, I think, about mental health and mental wellbeing, but I think a lot less time is being put into it so far from people, and that’s the opportunity that people get active that you can develop this, but you have to put in your 1%. Just as a side note, this week, I was like, “All right, I’m going to start meditating,” which I’ve talked about and learned about in the past.

Steve: But I’m like, “All right, every day,” because it’s easier to make commitments that you do them every single day. “I’m going to first thing in the morning try to meditate and always try to stretch at the same time for 10 minutes and just think about people that are important, be grateful, get centered.”

Jim: Great.

Steve: I think it does make a difference. I mean-

Jim: Yeah, you let me know how it’s going, Steve, because I think it’s tremendous, and yeah. One of the last chapters of my book, I call it The Magical 1%, and I did the math because I was curious. I was like, “How much of a day is 10 minutes? If I spend 10 minutes meditating or doing affirmations or a gratitude practice, how much of that… ” It’s about 1%. It’s about 1% of your waking hours per day is 10 minutes, and I figure, “Okay, I think the ROI is going to be very high on that 1% of my time that I spend doing meditation, just to be at peace with the way things are.”

Jim: Affirmations, which I talk about in an entire chapter on how you can train your brain for success by thinking positively, and there’s all the neuroscience behind that as well. It might have seemed funky or weird 30 years ago, but there’s now a lot of neuroscience that proves that this stuff works in terms of neurons that fire together, wire together. So, you can develop this sense of optimism.

Jim: Then finally, a practice of gratitude, just thinking of three things that you’re grateful for. I’m standing here. We’re standing because we’re projecting our voices better, and we’re here in Steve’s… What would you call it? Your home studio? Your garage studio?

Steve: Garage studio. Whatever you want to call it.

Jim: I’m looking out. I mean, there’s beautiful trees here in Marin County, which is just a glorious place. You can see Mount Tam in the distance. It’s a sunny day, and that alone is just glorious.

Steve: Yep, that’s true. You do have to take a moment and appreciate it and also recognize that we are very lucky to live here, and we have a lot of privileges that enabled us to be here and hopefully pay it forward with things like the podcast and the work that we’re doing.

Jim: Yes, yes.

Steve: Actually, I’m going to reread or focus on the affirmations part of it because I get that. It’s like exercise a muscle, right? You have to exercise your brain to think in a positive way, and hopefully that helps you stay in that frame of mind.

Jim: Yes, I write about the fact that we have this negativity bias in which, according to the neuroscience, roughly 70 or 80% of our thoughts tend to be negative. That’s just what we default to, and there’s all sorts of good evolutionary reasons for that. But basically, you go through the day basically thinking, “Bad, bad, bad, bad, good, bad, bad, bad, bad, good,” and okay, out in the wilds, a million years ago, that might’ve been okay for Homo sapiens or our ancestors to be super paranoid and scared all the time.

Jim: But today in 2019, having that kind of negativity bias is not good for our health because we’re living much longer than we used to, but we get all these stress-induced diseases from this sort of negativity, and so many people are suffering from anxiety and depression. So, if you can combat that with affirmations, and I did my normal affirmations today when I was working out. Then when I was driving up here over the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s like, “I’m having a great talk with Steve today. I’m having a great talk with Steve today. I’m having a great talk with Steve today,” and it can sound dumb or silly, but I don’t care it because I know it works.

Jim: I learned this when I was doing sales 25, 28 years ago in the Bay Area before the science was even there. But the Buddha talks about positive thinking as being more powerful than anything. Henry Ford has quotes on this. So, successful people throughout time have understood the power of thinking for making your dreams come true, and it’s a way of reminding yourself of what you want to be true. So, if my wife texts me and says, “Hey, honey. Can you pick up something at the grocery store today before I get home from work?”

Jim: I’m thinking, “I don’t want to do that. I’m busy.” Then it’s like, “Oh, wait. Today, I’m the best husband I can be for my wife. Today, I’m the best husband I can be for my wife.” “Well, okay, yeah, honey. I can do that,” and the answer is just that simple.

Steve: Yeah, the idea that you can govern yourself or filter yourself a little bit better, I think would make a lot of people happier. I noticed for myself that if I am more reactive to other folks, and I let the lizard brain go off like, “Someone says something, I’m annoyed, and I immediately respond.” Bad, bad things, right?

Jim: Yeah.

Steve: If you can pause, be thoughtful for a second, which I think is what meditation and affirmations give you and then try to say, “Okay, what do you want to have happen here and what’s the best way to get there?” It’s usually not by having a knee-jerk reaction and then like, “Well, that’s annoying,” or whatever and having a tone in your voice. It’s like, “Okay, what does this person want? What do I want and how can we best do this?”

Steve: So if you can take that moment, that extra 30 milliseconds to get it right, that’ll change your life, right?

Jim: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely, and the meditation definitely helps with that. I mean, literally, stopping and breathing for three breaths… Okay. I mean, the blood pressure goes down when you do that, right? The chemical composition, your brain changes just a little bit when you do that. Some people have a practice of just count to 10, which is the same thing. Usually, there’s a few breaths that you throw in there. When you do that, then it’s like, “Okay,” and also just meditation can help with this as well is just realizing what are your reactions.

Jim: Recently, I was upset about something. I was like, “What is this exactly?” I was like, “Well, it’s rage.” One meditation just said, “Name the emotion.” So it can literally be rage, rage, rage, anger, anger, anger, disappointment, disappointment, sadness, hurt, betrayal, sadness, confusion, curious, curious, curious, hopeful, disappointed. If you do that literally for a minute or two minutes, as ridiculous as it sounds, you realize you’re not your thoughts. You realize you can step back a little bit.

Jim: It’s like, “Oh, this is what I feel like when I’m really impatient,” or… Then it’s like, “Well, why is that?” If you step back a little bit, then you can be much more aware and mindful of what you’re doing.

Steve: Right. By the way, I would say this is not easy to do for people and just full disclosure, like I’d suck at this. Personally, for me, I want to do much better, and that’s part of the reason I think about this stuff, and I do believe it works, but I think it’s like getting in shape, like I run up Mount Tam pretty regularly. Now, I can do it without thinking about it. But when I started, it was just a bunch of pain, and it was a bunch of pain for a long time until it became simple, and now it’s easy.

Jim: Well, I thought long and hard about the subtitle of my book, so Live Each Day: A Surprisingly Simple Guide to Happiness. Now, simple doesn’t always mean easy. Now, literally, like I could walk from here to where I live in San Francisco. I could do it. The way I would do it is one step after the other. That’s pretty simple. Now, it’s far. I don’t know 20 miles, maybe 15, so there are things that are simple but not necessarily easy.

Jim: Now what I do in the different practice that I describe is I have a whole separate tiny little chapter at the very end on how to create good habits, and this is from various, various thinkers who’ve done a lot of research on this, and basically the idea of creating tiny habits is, for example, if you want to start meditating and you’ve never meditated before, then maybe the best thing you do is you just say, “Okay, in the morning, after I drink my cup of coffee,” which I do every morning by the way.

Jim: “Then every morning when I take my drink my cup of coffee, which I do every day, I will sit down for five minutes and meditate.” So you build a new habit on top of an existing one that is you just do all the time. If you can just do that, then you can layer one new habit on top of another. Then it’s quite easy to do. Then once you have that reminder or that trigger of what it is you want to do, then doing it isn’t that hard. Then you can reward yourself afterwards and say, “Yay, I’m awesome,” and that actually rewards your brain by saying, “Wow, I had the discipline to do something. It actually wasn’t that hard once I reminded myself I wanted to do it.”

Jim: I layer it on top of one of my existing habits, which I do all the time anyway. Then that is a basis for getting into it and even doing like baby steps. If 10 minutes of meditating is too hard for you, Steve, then start with 30 seconds.

Steve: Right.

Jim: Just ridiculously-

Steve: Low.

Jim: I’ll breathe for three breaths after my coffee, and then I’ll move on with my day right. Then afterwards, it’s like, “Well, this is dumb. I can do 10 breaths.”

Steve: Yep, I like the layering.

Jim: Yeah, it works.

Steve: The whole habit building thing, habit formation. Super important. Just a quick aside, so I had Bill Bernstein who’s this well-known personal finance writer and author and with this idea of simple but not easy came up with him too. Same thing with the path to building wealth and achieving financial independence. It’s pretty straightforward. Save a chunk of your money. Start early. Invest in the market broadly with low fees. Keep that super simple.

Steve: Then just keep doing it and don’t make sudden moves. Don’t bail out of the market. If you do that for a long enough time, depends on the rate that you save, you will achieve financial independence. So, it’s like super straightforward, but you look at the outcomes. Nobody does it.

Jim: Some people do it.

Steve: Some people do it. The top 20% of the population does it, but everyone else, they’re somewhere on that journey, but very similar ideas, and it’s really like, “How do you teach people and take advantage of time in compounding to boot the same… and money, but also with your mind.”

Jim: Right.

Steve: Okay, awesome, so we have covered a ton of stuff here. I want to ask you a couple other things, and then I want to go on to what’s next for you. But one thing your book that I like that I hadn’t heard about before was this idea of non-negotiables and using them to help you make good decisions. So, I’ll love to hear you describe that.

Jim: Sure, so the idea of non-negotiables is what are the things in your life that you absolutely must have? The impetus for this is some of us, not all of us, but some of us are lucky enough to have a good education. Maybe we even have financial independence. Maybe we don’t. I see people coming out of places like Stanford where they could do anything. I mean, they could be working in investment banking on Wall Street. They could be going to a startup in Silicon Valley. They could be working for a non-profit in Africa, and they sometimes get paralyzed by the choices that they have.

Jim: There’s been some really great books. The Paradox of Choice I think is a tremendous book on this topic that you might be familiar with. So, what I sometimes advise people to do is… Well, one of the questions I ask is, “If you had five years to live, what would you do? Or if you had to start a new job on Monday, and you had to do it for the next 30 years, what would you do?” So my book has a lot of these different questions to not just… It’s not just reading, but it’s like, okay, I want you to stop and think and do some journaling and some writing. So, to force you to think about things.

Jim: In terms of non-negotiables, the idea is what are the things you absolutely must have in your life? For some people is I have to live in Boston. I love Boston. My family’s in Boston. Got to be in Boston. It’s like, “Well, okay. Good. That’s good to know because you’re not looking for jobs in Miami, and you’re not looking for jobs in Asia. You’re going to stay in Boston,” and then you can get much more focused when you have that kind of non-negotiable.

Jim: Other people have non-negotiables like, “I have to earn $100,000 a year, or I have to work at a non-profit, or I have to be able to not be traveling more than 10% of my job because I want to be home for my spouse and my kids.” So I find that thinking through as specifically as you can about non-negotiables will help you get much more specific about what’s right for you. Even talking with your partner about it can be very insightful like, “Well, gosh, I thought you really loved living in San Francisco.” It’s like, “Well, honey, I thought you loved living in San Francisco. I’d be happy move somewhere else.”

Jim: It’s like, “Oh, does it have to be Western Europe?” I was like, “No. Maybe Costa Rica’s the place to go.” So, a lot of the writing exercises in the book including the stuff on non-negotiables is… It’s a fun tool for you to sit down with your partner or whoever you share your life with and say, “We’ve never really talked about this before,” and non-negotiables is one of those examples.

Steve: Nice. Yeah, I like the exercise in your book. Do you think these are better done alone with your partner or in a group? Which do you think is more effective?

Jim: Whatever works. For the Happiness Workshops that I’ve been doing for the last six years, I’ll have people in the room. It might be 10 people. It might be 300 people, and usually what I’ll do is I’ll give them writing exercise and just say, “Okay, you’ve got three minutes to write or five minutes to write.” Then after that, I have them pair up with another person and share what they wrote, which is very powerful. Often people are more comfortable sharing with a stranger something they wrote than with someone very close to them, because there’s not this whole history and baggage, and especially when you’re talking about your hopes and your dreams.

Jim: Then it’ll open up to a larger discussion. So, if you want to do your writing on your own, that’s fantastic. If you want to do in your own and then share with another person, that’s great, and I have a friend who’s actually a very well-known venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, and she said, “Yeah, every week, I take one of the questions from your book and email it to my friend in Colorado, and then we just go through what we wrote and discuss it.”

Jim: So, she’s making this fun kind of longer-term activity with her friend, and they’re both having a lot of fun with it.

Steve: Right. Have you ever thought about turning your book into software because I could totally see this being an app or… I mean, this is the kind of thing that we could… These kinds of ideas build into the stuff we’re doing too or extend to some of these concepts because so much of it is being really thoughtful about your time and how to use it.

Jim: There’s the audiobook, which is on the list, video training, 30-day monthly that all of these are on my mind, and then, for me, I just have to decide how hard and how fast do I want to work at this, which is the core of my book, and I mean people will say, “Hey, I want to do a call. We need to talk about your book.” It’s like, “Okay, I’m going to be taking care of my father-in-law because he’s ill, or I’m going to be swimming, or yeah, let’s do the call.”

Jim: So, I think what’s nice about the situation I’m in is I’m doing work that I really love, lots of purpose, but I’m in the zone because I love what I’m doing. I like the writing. I like sharing these ideas with people, and I get emails from people all over the world are like, “Oh, I read this, and I loved it, and thank you for helping me.”

Jim: So that’s not to pat me on the back. It’s just trying to give an example of I did have the courage to [inaudible 00:58:02] my cancer diagnosis to do what I think I’m really good at and that what I would do anyway whether I got paid anything for it or not, and that feels great because that’s way different than the job I had before this where I got fired because I wasn’t very good at it, because I didn’t really care that much. I think many of us are in that situation.

Steve: Right. It’s great to see you applying it to your own life and also to see you getting the validation. So, starting off with your groups and talks, doing the TEDx talk. Now, you’ve got this book, and it’s being well received.

Jim: Thank you.

Steve: If that continues, you could say, “Okay, but you’re being thoughtful about how much time you put in and balancing it with the rest of your life.”

Jim: Yeah, so my wife and I were going to be doing a long-term global nomadic travel. I don’t say it’s retirement because it’s not retirement. I’m still going to be working. I might be writing more about life on the road, but still doing workshops on happiness, talking to people all over the world about happiness, and still doing the keynotes and the workshops. I’ve done international workshops anyway, but I’ll probably be doing more of them whether it’s in Europe or Asia or wherever including here in the U.S.

Jim: But building a lifestyle of doing what I love, and hopefully, financially, it works well, but even if it doesn’t, well, I think it will because I love what I’m doing, so it’s not like… See, many of us, I think we live our lives to try to earn as much as we can as fast as we can. So, we don’t have to do that work anymore, and that might make sense for some people. There’s the opposite approach, which is as long as you’re doing work that you love, then you don’t want to retire, or you just keep doing it.

Jim: So you’re still doing whatever it is you figured out that you love at age 30. You’re still doing at age 40 and 50 and 60 and 70 and 80, but it doesn’t feel like work anymore.

Steve: Yeah, that’s I think the future hopefully for many people as they discover what that thing is, and they get satisfaction and health and good mental health and everything else that goes along with it. So, do you have any itinerary? Are you selling everything here and you’re permanently on the road? Are you going to have a home base?

Jim: We’re not going to have a home base. The epiphany was when my wife and I were having dinner in the best restaurant in Siena, Italy several years ago, and we wined and dined, and the food was spectacular, and all the locals said, “Oh, that’s the best restaurant in Siena.” The whole bill came at the end. It was a 120 bucks.

Steve: Nice.

Jim: 120 bucks in San Francisco, not much. So we really said, “Well, okay, I think we can… Anywhere we go is going to be cheaper than living here,” and to the extent that I can do my work from anywhere in the world, and my wife, she’s going to take some time off and develop other sorts of interests and passions as well that she’s never had the luxury of doing before. So the idea is that we just said, “Well, I think we can go anywhere.” I’ll continue doing my talks and workshops.

Jim: The short answers will be probably in Europe for three months. We’ve got it all mapped out. Then Asia for multiple months after that. Then it depends on where my workshops take me.

Steve: So you’ve got financial flexibility, but you still need to have some income going on. You’re not like, “I’m totally set for life.”

Jim: Yeah, I mean, I’m not a gajillionaire. I know for a fact that I have less money than a friend of mine from business school who gave a number for what it took to be financially independent. I know I’m less than that.

Steve: What was his number?

Jim: I’m not going to share because then that indicates what I’ve got, which I don’t want to share. But the point is, and I think this is an important point, is not all of us, but I think a majority of people who… Let me rephrase that. People listen to this podcast. Quite a few of them probably have more money than they realize that they need in order to live the life they want to live.

Jim: Or I’ll rephrase that. Most of my peer group, my cohorts in Silicon Valley, my friends from Stanford Business School, many of them have way more money than I do. I’m sure of it. Some have less, but a lot of them have done very well financially. Yet, I see them continuing to work in jobs that I don’t think they like that much, but they feel like they have to, or they’re supposed to, or they got a lifestyle which is so expensive that they have to support. I think I’ve been lucky that when I was doing my hippy backpacking in India, I realized that there’s so much fun in life that comes from an unconventional path and from not needing to have a lot of money to have a great life.

Jim: In some ways when my wife and I start doing our traveling, it’s returning to that sense of adventure. It doesn’t take a ton of money to do it. We’ve gotten rid of a ton of stuff from our condo in San Francisco. We’re going to rent it out. I’m about to sell my car. We’ve given a ton of stuff to charity, and there will be no base per se. Now, maybe after three or four or five years of travel, we’ll say, “Oh, we really want to settle down in a probably low-cost place.” I don’t know. Maybe it’s Thailand. Maybe it’s Portugal. Maybe it’s Costa Rica. Maybe it’s back in the U.S., although I doubt it. So, we’ll see. We don’t know, but that’s part of the fun of the adventure.

Steve: Right. You can have this wide-open future, which is great. I mean, it’s great to hear that you’re doing this, and I think… Hopefully, for a lot of folks, they hear it and they say, “Oh, maybe I could do the same thing,” or at least think about their own situation because I agree. When we look at this whiteboard behind me, I’ve got like, “Hey, people. Our business is about,” and I will make this too salesy. But people are at this point in their lives usually around 50-plus that are using our site, and they have acquired a certain number of assets.

Steve: Now, they’re thinking about how do they convert that into income or control in their lives? If you take a step back and you look at, “Okay, I’ve got my human capital, my ability to work, but I could do that maybe in different places or do it in different terms,” like you are. I’ve got home equity, and you’re going to rent your place out. You’ve got their savings and investments, and that’s going to do X. They have things that are coming like Social Security and Medicare or whatever. How are they going to use those intelligently?

Steve: So there are lots of controls and then the expense side. Where am I going to live? How much is that going to cost? If you’re open to stepping back and reimagine this thing, I could probably be financially independent today if I was like, “Okay, you know what? We’re getting rid of the house and going somewhere else,” and I’ll be like, “All right. Now, I can do whatever I want,” or at least for… I’ve got a lot more visibility into my life. So, yeah, I think it’s good to hear these stories.

Jim: For some people, obviously, if they have kids who are still in high school or whatever, that’s going to change the equation or at least it can change the equation. I think another thing I’d add is… One of the things I write about in the book is instead of thinking, “Can I do this, yes or no?” A different way to ask is, “Well, what would it take? What would it take to do it? Do I need to work more? Can I work less? Do we cut our costs here? Do we move to a country where rent is $500 a month rather than 5,000 a month?”

Jim: I think when one starts asking the question, “Well, what would it take?” It’s a good way to start thinking really creatively, and then you start mapping things out, and then you can come through with some really great insights.

Steve: Yeah, as we wrap up here, I’m going to bring it back to how you open your book, which is you ask people to imagine their death date, and I was mountain biking with a friend of mine, and we were talking. We’re like, “All right, well, one benchmark is if you drop dead tomorrow, would you be full of regret? Or you knew you’re going to drop dead tomorrow. Would you suddenly be able to think about all the regrets?” If the answer is yes, then I think you have to take a hard look at how you’re spending your life.

Steve: If the answer is no, and you feel like you’ve been making pretty good decisions along the way, but I like the exercise. I mean, I don’t want it to be too morbid, but I like the exercise. I’m like, “Hey, we all have limited time. Be thoughtful about it. Think about it, and it will change your mindset.”

Jim: Yeah, and you’ll end up enjoying your life a lot more by having this awareness and appreciation that every day is precious. Every moment you have is really a gift and to really savor that as much as possible. That’s part of a very direct way to create your happiness.

Steve: Yeah, so before I wrap up, I just want to give a shoutout to one of our listeners who’s a friend of mine, this guy John and his wife. They did what you have done to some degree, and they went off to live in Australia, New Zealand, and left here, the Bay Area. They spent 10 years traveling around, and they’ve gone all over the place to all over Asia and had great adventures. They’re back, and they’re thinking about leaving again.

Steve: So, I think that the sense of control they have and the adventures they’re having are great. In fact, you’re not necessarily tied to any one place. As soon you start moving around, you’re like, “Okay, I can live in many places.”

Jim: Yeah, it’s good for them.

Steve: Yeah, it’s good to see people going on those things. All right, so as we wrap up, any key influencers or communities that you want to give a shoutout to?

Jim: Oh, wow. There’s so many great psychologists who I quote in the book, Sonja Lyubomirsky, who wrote The How of Happiness. Rick Hanson who’s here in Marin County, who’s wrote some great books on mindfulness. Jack Kornfield who also is up here in Marin with the Spirit Rock Retreat. These are all heroes in my mind. Dan Gilbert at Harvard University’s done some fantastic stuff. Fred Luskin who’s done incredible work through Stanford for the Stanford Forgiveness Project. Then Randy Taran who created Project Happiness and has a new book coming out.

Jim: I could go on and on. There’s so many people that I’ve learned from, and I’ve been very grateful to benefit from the research that they’re doing and just the role model that they’ve set.

Steve: Yeah, well, I know that in your book, I think you cited 250-plus sources or something like that.

Jim: A lot of research, yeah.

Steve: No, it’s clear. You’ve done a great job pulling it all together.

Jim: Thank you.

Steve: All right. Well, so with that, thanks, Jim, for being on our show.

Jim: Thanks, Steve.

Steve: It was great, and hopefully people found it really helpful. Thanks, Davorin Robison for being our sound engineer. Anyone listening, thanks for listening. Hopefully, you found this useful. Our goal at NewRetirement is to help anyone plan and manage their retirements. They can make the most of their money and time. If you made it this far, I encourage you to do a couple things. One is check out JimMcCarthy, with two Cs, .com and his book, and then visit our site.

Steve: Also, if you want to follow us on Twitter, you can find us at @NewRetirement, or you can join our private Facebook group. The last item is we are trying to build our audience, and good reviews help us. So, if you see us on iTunes or Stitcher anywhere, any reviews are super appreciated. With that, thanks again, and have a great day.

Jim: Thank you, Steve. Take care.

NewRetirement Planner

Do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable

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Take financial wellness into your own hands and do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable.

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