Ikaria or Bust

Last fall I read a fascinating article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine entitled “The Island Where People Forget to Die.”  The article is about the nonagenarians and centenarians of Ikaria, a rugged and remote Greek island in the Northern Aegean.  It explores the possible factors that allow these people to lead longer, healthier lives.   

Dan Buettner, the article’s author, opens with the story of Stamatis Moraitis, a Greek war veteran who had settled in Port Jefferson, NY after the war.  Moraitis claimed that in 1976, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He considered going through chemotherapy, but elected instead to return to his homeland and spend his last days in the village of his childhood.  At first, he spent his days in bed being tended to by his elderly mother and his wife.  When childhood friends heard he was back, they paid daily visits, often bringing a bottle of wine to share.  Soon, he was working in the garden and making the walk up the hill to church.  He woke when he wanted, worked in the vineyard, had lunch, took a long nap.  Evenings were spent with family and friends.   Today, he is over 97 years old.  Is this all true?  I don’t know, but Moraitis is 97 and healthy and loving life!

Buettner spent five years studying the lives and habits of the people of Ikaria.  Working with his partner, a demographer from Belgium, they verified that Ikariotes reach the age of 90 at two and a half times the rate of Americans and they are often healthier.  More impressive is the fact that Ikariotes live 8 to 10 years longer than Americans before succumbing to cancer, heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

So, what did Buettner uncover in his study on the centenarians of Ikaria?  In addition to the Mediterranean diet focusing fresh vegetables and fruit, yogurt, olive oil and red wine, Ikariotes are very communal and they spend many hours a day socializing with their fellow villagers.     They don’t drive, so walking is their form of exercise.  They nap every day and attend church every Sunday.  And reportedly, a healthy sex life is enjoyed by more than 80% of Ikairote men over 65.

I just returned from a Retirement Income Summit where the overriding theme was how to prepare our clients for the cost of health care in their retirement.  In my last post http://parsecfinancial.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/remember-wear-sunscreen/, I touched on this topic.

What has become abundantly clear is that it is imperative that we focus as much attention on leading healthy, active and productive lives as we spend on saving for a comfortable retirement.

While I don’t expect I will pack up everything and move to Greece, I think I could certainly find a way to incorporate many of the Ikariote habits into my daily life…now, I just need to find a way to sneak in that nap!

Tracy Allen, CFP®
Financial Advisor

Gross National Happiness

One of the most commonly used measures by which we gauge the health of our economy is GDP growth. GDP, or gross domestic product, is defined by Investopedia as, “the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period.” Economists look at GDP growth over time (quarter over quarter, year over year, etc.) to determine a country’s economic health and productivity. If you look at the definition, you can see that the implication is that more money = good. Nothing unusual there – most people tend to agree that more money = good, right? Take the recent winner of the $338 million Powerball jackpot. We all assume that whoever bought that ticket is about to be the happiest person on the planet. I can’t tell you how many times I catch myself daydreaming about what I would do if I won the lottery (note to my employers: I NEVER do this on work time, and it never involves me running out of my office without a backward glance). In talking with others about it we tend to agree that, while money can’t exactly buy happiness, a certain amount can provide the freedom to pursue what makes us happy, unfettered by the drudgery required to pay bills and feed our families. At least, that’s what we think.

I recently watched a documentary entitled, “Happy” which touches on the lives of various people around the globe, and seeks to discover what makes them happy. Surprisingly, some of the happiest people were also the poorest, financially speaking. A common theme among these self-described happy people was a supportive community of family and friends, as well as a sense of purpose in life. Researchers have found that money does affect happiness, up to a point – the point where basic needs are met. Beyond this, levels of happiness do not vary significantly between those making $50,000 a year and those making $5,000,000 a year (note to my employers: this does not get you off the hook for raises). Some of this is determined at a genetic level, almost as if we are all born with a “set point” for happiness, and no amount of good fortune or tragedy will cause a person to deviate from their set point for long.

Getting back to GDP – my favorite part of the documentary was about Bhutan, a country that has chosen to measure growth not by the monetary value of goods and services, but by the happiness of its citizens. Instead of a GDP index they have a GNH index, which stands for gross national happiness. According to the “short” (over 100 page) guide to the index I found online, “the GNH Index is meant to orient the people and the nation towards happiness, primarily by improving the conditions of not-yet-happy people. In the GNH Index, unlike certain concepts of happiness in current western literature, happiness is itself multidimensional – not measured only by subjective well-being, and not focused narrowly on happiness that begins and ends with oneself and is concerned for and with oneself. The pursuit of happiness is collective, though it can be experienced deeply personally. Different people can be happy in spite of their disparate circumstances and the options for diversity must be wide.”

One of my coworkers wrote a piece for our second quarter newsletter about the positive physical and emotional benefits we can reap by volunteering and giving back to our communities. The researchers interviewed for the documentary agreed that the happiest people tend to be the ones with strong ties to friends, family, and community, and who feel they have a sense of purpose in the world. As folks transition into retirement, I think it is especially important to remain active in the community and regularly get together with friends and family. Humans are social animals; we have evolved to thrive in groups and to enjoy helping others. That kind of happiness is free and available to everyone. But I’m still going to buy an occasional lottery ticket.

Sarah DerGarabedian, CFA
Director of Research

George, I Can Lie About My Age!!

This year, I celebrate a milestone birthday. Let’s just say I am now officially too old to be George Clooney’s girlfriend.

As often happens with milestone birthdays, you reflect about how you imagined your life would be at this stage. Perhaps you had envisioned retiring at an early age. Maybe you wanted to start your own business. Or save tons of money, quit your job, and travel around the world for a couple of years. (Hey, you can dream.)

Then, life happened. You devoted yourself to a career. You bought a home. You got married and started a family. The years go by. You wake up one day and realize you’re that age.

When you first began your journey with Parsec, your goals were just rough ideas of where you thought you wanted to be in 10, 15, 20 years. Now that time has passed, are those goals still the same? Have you been affected by any of these events:

• Started a family
• Sent a child to college
• Lost your job
• Dealt with aging parents

We would also be remiss if we overlooked the extraordinary market volatility of the last two years.  All of the above events can significantly alter your financial plan.

Do you still have the same goals now that you did before these events occurred? Has your “deadline” for achieving those goals shifted? It is very easy in the day-to-day rush to not think about these things. However, it is important to evaluate your financial situation and goals periodically so you can stay on track.

Your financial advisor is here to help you. Together, he or she can review your financial plan and work to keep it in line with your changing life. Just call him or her anytime.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate