The Middle-Way – Reloaded

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike last week-end. For me, a good means to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today ;-)

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike with a good friend last week-end. For me, also a way to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today 😉

I am convinced that life is very much about finding the middle-way.

I think for some time Woodpecker was carried away a bit by the early retirement idea and focussed too much on money. Making money, investing and saving more. And then more.

In principle the beginning of this thought is fine (spend less for useless consumption and then invest), but there is a big danger here:

Without noticing you replace the work – consume – treadmill with another treadmill: The money-saving and -accumulating treadmill.
Funnily enough, the better your investments work, the more money you are accumulating, the more you get dragged into this mill. Money works like a drug, and you have to be damn carefull not to lose control over and become a slave of it.

Money has to be your horse and not your rider.

The same holds for your job and early retirement. Looking to retire earlier than the average chap is fine, but there is a danger as well:

That you postpone your happiness to an uncertain future day. That you start slaving away in the hope of better times then. And therefore you are not much different from the normal chap again, only your horizon is different.

Working 50hrs a week and 50 weeks a year is crap for sure, but if you go for the right dose and attitude, a job can also be fun and even fulfilling to a certain extend.

So let’s find a compromise between the frugal-extreme-early-retiree and the stupid work-consumption-slave.

Let’s come back to the middle-way!

The middle way should be somewhat like this:

Job

  • Accept your job and your employer for what they are. In the end you are not forced to work there, so don’t complain if things at work are not always what you like them to be.
  • If the job really is horrible at the moment, take a long time-out (like I did in summer). This will help you to think things through and make a decision. In my case the decision was to return to the very same job but to change some things there. Which I did and am now much more happy at work, while still working for the same boss and in the same environment.
  • Things can be changed. Every good coach will tell you that many people are unhappy with their job, but most can get happy at the same employer, by either changing the department, having another boss or just adopt another attitude. Often it is not necessary to change the employee. Nor does retirement necessarily bring happiness.
  • Remember you have full power over some things: How you perceive things, how you interpret them, how you react and how you treat others.
  • You have no power (or very little) over: How other perceive things, how others react, how others interpret things.
  • You have partial power over: How people treat you. Because this is a function of (a) how you treat them and (b) how you behave.
  • Spend a lot of time on net-working. Your network and your ties will make you invulnerable over time. Career-Builders do exactly the same. They spend only (personal estimate of Woodpecker Consultants Limited) 30% of their time on work and 70% on networking.  A somehow similar ratio should apply to you. But with a different goal: To have fun with others while at work and to feel save and secure when being away again for a long time.
  • Don’t care too much about the daily tides of office politics. This day people say this and tomorrow something else. Be friendly to people and don’t take rumours too serious. Most of them are pure speculation as people are bored by their job.
  • Do not forget to laugh and enjoy life, especially when at work. Most people will value some good moods even in stressful times.
  • No blackberry, no email checking and no phone calls out of office or during holidays. Many interested groups will try to convince you otherwise, but separating job and spare time is important for health and happiness.

Time

  • Your most valuable and scarce resource. Appreciate it.
  • Continue to max out free time. Go for some home office to reduce commuting, take days off instead of extra pay, leave early, take sabbaticals.
  • Some people really enjoy working even more than free time. But most people would prefer working rather less than more. Do not try to cheat yourself about this.
  • Anyway, you will spend enough time at the job. Downshifting will cost you some career, but that’s worth it.
  • No need to force early retirement in my opinion. A job can provide also nice things if done the middle-way, especially the company of friendly colleagues and common endeavors can be great fun.
  • Spend a lot of time with friends, family but also alone. Learn to enjoy time on your own and with little diversion. As this is the moments you are closest to yourself.

Money

  • Of course abstain from needless consumerism. All still applies regarding efficient spending and harden yourself against the temptations of money spending in the hope of that making you happy.
  • But remember also, that some of the great things in life do cost money. It is not true that all great things are for free. Travelling, sailing, mountain sport, going out and having a beer with friend every now and then in Woodpeckers case, can all be done at higher or at lower costs, but all of this requires some money.
  • Be prepared to spend it for those things and activities you really like. Do not stay away from those things you love only to save harder for the future early retirement. Life is here and now.

Friends & Family

  • The more, the better. Always work on expanding your social network. We humans are heard animals. Without contact and appreciation, we are nothing.
  • A colleague from London – why are they all so money-focussed there? – once kept on pushing me that in the end everything is always and only about money.  “Everything has a price”. I asked him in return if he would be happy to be sitting on the moon. With all the money and all goods and leisure he could imagine, but completely on his own. For some minutes that kept him silent…until he washed this disturbing thought away… 🙂
  • Conflicts are part of life. You cannot avoid a clash sometimes if you want to walk upright. If you always avoid conflict, you will cripple your own interests or the interests of others and your relationships will become complicated. Thus conflicts have the benefit that positions are made clear.
  • However, never burn a bridge. Always be ready to forgive and to revive lost contacts. Woodpecker himself just has revived two great friendships from his youth time that lay buried over 15 years. And now is alive and kicking on a very satisfying level.
  • Always prioritize friends and family over work. When someone really needs help, you are there, no matter what you boss is saying.
  • Try to make some of your colleagues your friends. But avoid that all your friends are colleagues. You might want to separate your private and your work life from time to time, thus you need the two worlds.
  • Be never stingy to your friends. Don’t bother them to much with your savings and frugal living ideas. Explain what you think but do not evangelize.
  • Remember that investing into human relationships bears the greatest dividend of everything.
  • For the younger readers: Treat relationships you made early in life with special care. They gain in value over the years. At Woodpeckers age, friends from 25 years ago are already valuable beyond belief…and I guess this process will continue.

Bodily and Mental Health

  • Do regular sports. Sport greatly enhances your self-confidence, makes you relaxed, more attractive and thus increases quality a lot.
  • If possible walk or ride the bike to work. Studies show that while commuting in the car makes people the more unhappy the longer the ride, the opposite is true if they commute by bike or walk.
  • Spend much time out-doors and non sitting.
  • Spend time in an environment that brings you into contact with your “tribal” energy or even has a “mythical” effect on you. The energy that lies below pure functioning but at the core of your being. For Woodpecker that is the mountains or the open sea. A good hike or sailing day leaves me highly satisfied mentally and physically and effectively clears the head of spinning thoughts. It connects me with what and who I am.
    Find out what works for you and establish the connection regularly.
  • Important and often neglected:
    Even if you are not into religion, spend a few thoughts every now and then on the great questions of life. Death, life, consciousness, meaning, ethics, the origin of life and space, etc. These are parts of our lives and will get you away from the trivial world of materialism towards the great miracle and the amazing wonder of life.
  • Keep always in mind that life is not endless and that on the one side you are an insignificant particle living on another insignificant particle. And on the other side you are a wonder, a miracle and a being much more sophisticated and fascinating than all the galaxies in the universe. And so are your fellow humans.
  • Understand that all is connected. That we all are parts in the chain that leads from blur prehistoric times into a blur infinite future. You carry the light of humanity for this second only to hand it over soon. Preserve it well and understand that you are part of this stream.

Wow, that was a long post.

Well, so be it.

Cheers and enjoy this day,

Woodpecker

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Happiness and age

Happiness in Germany (click to enlarge)- Hamburg and Niedersachsen on top, driven by “healthy attitude towards life”, according to German happiness atlas (including other graphics).

An interesting finding of happiness research is the correlation between average levels of happiness and age.

Spontaneously, when you would have asked me 20 years ago how this correlation would look like, I’d have said that happiness is high when you are young, and decreases drastically when you are getting older.
Because, hey, everybody wants to be young, you are so free and glorious when you are young (shine on you crayz diamond, Pink Floyd; Forever Young, Alphaville; and so on), but when you are getting older you constantly loose your freedom and open minded spirit.

And then, at some point of time, OMG: You are getting old (A fearful thougth when you are 18. But happily sooo far away…):

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Insurance: How much do you pay against your fears?

A threatening view. But do you really need insurance against this in your home-town?! (seen from a restaurant in Costa Rica – for those of you that know the “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy”: I felt like being in the “Restaurant at the end of the universe”.)

Insurance plays a major role in a typical household’s budget. Anyone trying to live more frugally should thus pay some attention on optimizing his insurance package.

Disclaimer:I am not an insurance expert. This expresses only some ideas for thoughts I collected and is not a recommendation. Everybody should additionally do his own research and has to make his/her own decision dependent on individual circumstances!

Let me start with some facts that I collected about insurance:

  • From all collected premiums insurance companies need – depending on the type of insurance – about 20% to cover their administration costs.
  • Listed Insurance companies will need some of their premiums to generate returns for their shareholders. Mutual insurance companies don’t.
  • Brokerage can make up to 10% or more of your premiums. Typically it is deducted in the first years from you premiums, thus the first (and most valuable years) will not yield many investment returns for you.
  • In certain insurance types, e.g. personal liability, up to 20% of claims that are paid arise from costs for fraud (somebody telling the insurance he sat down on someone elses glasses etc.).

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TV – the (Un)Happiness-Effect

In the previous post, we were discussing the money and time-consuming aspect of having a TV.

Now let’s look on what happiness economics has to say on watching TV:

Source of the following is the book “Glück – die Sicht der Ökonomie”  from the  swiss professor Bruno Frey, who was one of the first to start scientific research on the measurement and causes of happiness.(English version here).  Highly recommended reading for those who speak German.On his website there are a pile of publications to download in English as well, however mostly very scientific papers and more complicated to read. I happend to hear an excellent lecture of Prof.Frey at the Ludwig-Maximilans-University of Munich in 2001 or so – another great leap on my journey to more good days to live.

First of all, average TV consumption is massive throughout the world:

3h 30min for the average German.

Even more, 4h 50min, for the average US citizen.

That’s a hell of a lot of time!

Let’s make some comparisons:

I don’t know what happened to this guy. Maybe he was watching too much TV?! (seen at Oktoberfest, Munich, Bavaria)

  • Over their lifespan many people will spend more time watching TV than working.
  • The average US guy will spent 1.700 hrs (or 70 days) watching TV per year.
  • He will have spent 13,5 years watching TV at the end of his life (assuming age of 85, start watching at 15 – rather optimistic I’d say).
  • Assuming 10 ads per hour, you will see 17.000 ads per year and – OMG – 1,2 million ads in your lifespan. (Given that ads increase your desire to buy things you don’t need that fact alone should be frightening and alarming to anybody looking for a more frugal life.

OK, fine, but what now are the outcomes of the economic research?

Well, first finding is, that people tend to be unable to control their TV consumption, thus in economic terms they are overconsuming, or consuming beyond what is good for them. They later tend to regret that they watched so much TV say on a given weekend, but they struggle to get rid of the habit (That’s probably why Mrs. Woodpecker wisely proposed to get rid of the TV-set finally).

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Guide to Happiness & Money: Do you need a TV?

Did these guys need a TV? (seen at the amazing ancient greek city of Ephesus, today in Turkey)

Woodpecker’s last TV

Do you remember these bulky huge TVs, one bought in 90s?

Big as a wardrobe and energy-consuming in a way you could heat your flat with them?

That was the last TV I owned.

I don’t know how many hours I spend in front of it…
…until finally it broke down in 2004.

I was going to let it be repaired, but it was Mrs.Woodpecker (Mrs.Woodpecker in spe at that time), who voted for putting it away in the basement for some time, as she felt that she could not control her TV consumption.
Because of that she was one of the few persons who never possessed a TV, until we moved together some years before.

So the TV set went to the basement, and guess what:

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#9 Downshifting, lesson 1: Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon

Why not do it like the lady in the back once in a while and let others row if they wish...?

It’s time to come to the topic of downshifting which plays an important role in any strategy to get happy!

What is meant by downshifting?
Well, basically what it says:

For a moment step back and see your life and your potential as a car. OK, now everybody is imagining himself a fancy racing-car with shiny bumpers (whereas some of us might be more like a trucks or a middle-class commuter car, or a heavy-duty family station wagon…but that’s all right).

So, imagine the car running at the top of its maximum speed for all the time, years and years. This might be fast and funny, and it might seem adventurous at first: Life rushes by, things are moving, money comes in, careers are made.

But now time goes by, hours, days, weeks, months pass all at max speed. What happens? First, our car will eat away gasoline like crazy. Then it starts to wear off. Eventually the concentration of the driver will diminish. When traffic gets thicker it really gets dangerous, and the likelihood of a severe accident is suddenly a real threat! One moment of distraction, and our car might come off course, sliding heavily or even crush into something unexpected.

And that’s what’s happening to an ever full-power life as well. After the first thrill, you will lose concentration. You will burn up your energy, your body will start to wear of, your health will be affected and when times get tough you might lack additional resources and things might get really dangerous for you.

So consider well your speed!

I don’t say you have to creep along like a snail on the highways of life, letting everybody overtake you right and left. But again, the middle way seems intelligent:
Shift down to a moderate gear in general. Do put in a race every now and then if you feel like some thrill, but don’t run on high speed all the time!
This way you will not burn our quickly, you will easily catch up with the hectic fellows a bit later, you will be able to concentrate and stay on track for a much longer time.

Some people will say you are selfish, but thats wrong. It’s them who are selfish. Because they will be the ones with the burn-outs, the heart-attacks and the need for extensive care within 10 or 20 years time, when you will still be independent and happily kickin’!

This is important.

Because life is not a sprint – It’s a marathon.

Cheers,
Woodpecker

#7 Bury your Blackberry! Separate Job and Spare-Time

This could be so relaxing…

A nice day at the beach.

Waves are splashing, the sky is blue, a nice breeze is cooling the summer heat. You are sitting in an arm chair, listening to some good music on your mp3-player, reading a magazine or a good book.

Then suddenly you are interrupted by a humming sound coming from your beach-bag!It is your Blackberry, and while you try to keep on reading you think by yourself it could be very very important and it might be absolutely necessary that you react IMMEDIATELY, because if you don’t, your employer will go bust the other day, or even worse the economy of your country will instantly fall apart.

So you try to resist for a moment, you try to re-concentrate on the surf and the sun, but your relaxation is gone and 10 seconds later you grab the Blackberry and hectically open your post-box.
But it was only a colleague, sending a mail @all to ask if anyone wants to join for lunch.

Ah, Relax again….

…but 10 minutes later, same humming, same game.

This time it’s your boss, apologizing only very briefly for contacting you in your well earned holidays, but it is VERY important.

…Relaxation gone.

You spend the rest of the day sending eMails, trying to remember if you messed up something and trying to calm down your girlfriend or wife who complains about you working in holidays.
Necessary?

Your employer might say YES:

This is a helpful and so-modern device, and you as a flexible, dynamic, so-modern young employee should use it to your own benefit, you stay updated and you don’t miss out.

I say its bullshit:

This is a modern type of ball and chain or shackle (Fussfessel), binding you to your work even in your well deserve some spare time. It’s dragging you like Sauron’s Ring the ring-wraths in their sleepless death.
It forces you to never sleep and never rest without a spark of duty lingering still in your head. It ties you to the machine and keeps you in the middle of the rat-race with the most simple trick: Pretending it’s for your own best. And pretending it underpins your Status and your Importance.

I tell you:

Get rid of this shackle and let others feel important!

Ban it!

If you are an employee most likely you are not important. But tell you what? It’s great not to be important! Accept it and benefit from that fact! Because that means you can enjoy the sun and the company will not go bust, the world will not end if you cannot be reached by your employer. Forget about your employer when you are in holidays and look for somthing or somebody you are really important for.

I am resisting a Blackberry since I was first offered one 6 years ago by my then-boss. And you know what? It’s great! When I am travelling for my company I can concentrate on my task, I don’t get distracted and annoyed by stuff happening at home. If I am in a meeting I listen, and if everybody else gets bored and starts typing on their blackberries, I still could join in and pull out my private cell-phone and play a game (which really is the same thing in the end).

I don’t feel important, but I don’t feel stressed either.

And when I am in holiday! Ahhhh…I enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves…!

Have fun,
Woodpecker