By TIM O'BRIEN
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
I am in a quandary. What is your opinion? When given information that has verifiably helped others, why don't more people use that information to better their lives? Do they lack the capacity to understand or believe the substantiated information? Do they resist having someone else tell them what or how to do something, even when they know it works? Do they feel they are smarter than the others and can figure it out themselves, but never do? Do they believe their current situation is superior to the suggestion, even when all evidence contradicts that assumption?
Statistics show how many people, about 95 percent, will retire with little or no money saved, even with the way to wealth well known. And, with good financial information available for free. Physicians know the major factors that cause heart disease and cancer. However, few consistently follow advice on how to avoid both.
Why, with all this information available, don't more of us take advantage of it? Are we too weak, too undisciplined, too addicted to do better? Personally, sadly, I believe the answer is yes. As a group, we can't delay gratification. So we eat and drink what we want when and as often as we want. We disregard good medical and nutritional advice. This causes obesity, which leads to many serious health problems, including premature death. We live to eat, rather than eat to live. Does it taste good enough to die for?
At first it is a lack of self-control. Later it becomes an insidious habit. For many, it becomes an uncontrollable addiction. With food, we wear our problem as fat.
Financially, we can't delay gratification so we use credit cards. Or, we use the equity in our homes to buy depreciating items. We pay interest to banks rather than having them pay interest to us on our savings or investments. We want to live "the good life" now like we see others do. Or, we try to model what we see in advertisements.
Most people spend their retirement as they go. They save virtually nothing. They don't have or fully fund retirement programs.
Living within our income means living on what we have after we've shared some and saved some. It doesn't mean living on what we think we'll make in the future. Or deciding how many payments we can afford, spending all we make and leaving no margin for error, economic changes, or unforeseen setbacks.
Does it have to be this way? Certainly not. Individually, we can take full responsibility for our life. We can decide to be lifelong learners. We can have an ever-evolving plan for self-improvement and growth. We can improve our chances of living a long, prosperous life through the decisions we make and the actions we take.
Heredity does have a major influence on us. It can predispose us to certain diseases. It is, however, seldom a death sentence. It is more of an indicator and a guide for what to pay attention to. It is smart to be familiar with family traits, both the good ones such as strong teeth, good eyes, strong bones, and the negative traits, such as a tendency for addictive behavior. We can avoid many problems through awareness.
Do you want to be among the healthy and wealthy throughout your life? Probably. Then take control of your life whatever your current situation is. Decide to be healthy, and follow the top advice available for longevity. Right now that advice is to follow a restricted caloric diet and exercise moderately several times per week.
Decide to be wealthy. That doesn't mean always having what you want, when you want it. It means having what you need when you need it. Save at least 10 percent of your income. More is better. Set a course to be debt-free as quickly as possible. Pay cash for everything but your home.
Best things are free
Be a prudent shopper. Don't try to keep up with the Joneses. Enjoy vacations, cars, giving gifts within your income and savings. Most items of value don't cost money! Sunsets are free. Friendship doesn't have to be expensive. Personal satisfaction gained from work or service to others usually produces income.
You can choose to be one of the few who live long, live well and leave a legacy of time, money and energy well stewarded. Doesn't that sound like a worthy life's goal? I think so too.
XTim O'Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management. Readers may write to him at 3023 Shannon Lakes, N., No. 102, Tallahassee, Florida 32309, or send e-mail to ismhyperstress.com. He also has a Web site at www.hyperstress.com.