The Secret To Happiness Is In Your Bucket

Retirement Income Planning, Calgary

I was recently meeting with my friend, Alex, for some year-end retirement planning and in the course of our conversation, I asked him if he was happy. The question brought about a deeper discussion on what is the secret to happiness and he made an interesting statement that I have been thinking about ever since.

He didn't take credit for the statement. Rather, it was a counsellor he once knew. Alex asked this same question to him one day, "What is the secret to happiness?" and the counsellor simply remarked, "clarity of mind".

Think of how often you are overwhelmed by the demands of life. Fill in the blank, I'm not sure what to do about__________. The truth is there are dozens of those blanks needing completion.  

When we declutter our lives, there's a sense of freedom. When we resolve a conflict with another person, there's a sense of relief. When we organize something that was disorganized, we have a sense of accomplishment. You can see how clarity can bring about more happiness.

Picture your life like a bucket.

There's only so much room in the bucket and you get to choose what you put into it. You can have a bucket full of happiness or a bucket full of other stuff - work, possessions, money, clutter. It's your bucket and you get to choose what's in it. If you don't like what's in your bucket, then remove it.

It's currently the middle of December 2021 as I write this article and this has been a painful but rewarding year for Nancy and me. We decided to downsize from our family home to a condo. We spent 20 years in that house and there was a lot of downsizing. We also decided to move her ageing mother from Nova Scotia to Alberta to live with us for a while and then get her situated into an assisted living arrangement closer to us where we can help her more. This was by far, the most stressful. We also reorganized our business to streamline our processes and create more simplification. We are so glad we did these things so that moving forward we can fill our bucket with more of what we want to do. Travel. Spend time with our 2 granddaughters, play pickleball, cook nicer meals with fresh food, reconnect with friends, paddle boarding, camping, ride bikes, golfing.

Would more clarity result in more happiness for you?

I believe there's a lot of truth to the above statement. As we enter year 8 of our business, I feel that we have more clarity on how we help our clients. When someone books a first meeting with us, I ask them, "what motivated you to search through google, gather up all of your documents, take time out of your busy life, drive downtown, find a place to park, navigate our office building, and come in to see us?"

The typical responses are, "I can't seem to get any help with this from my current advisor"; "I have all of these sources of income and I don't know where to start taking income first or in the right order"; "I'm trying to figure out the best time to start CPP & OAS"; "What should I do with my pension". This past week a lady said, "I want to suck every last nickel from the government that I possibly can". Wow, there's an aligned value of ours:) They're seeking clarity and confidence to be able to end their employment and begin retirement.

No one wants to spend too much money and run the risk of a shortfall later in life, or spend too little and have a pile leftover. You want to spend the right amount and enjoy your life - now, not end up being the richest person in the graveyard.

Imagine how you would feel if your entire financial life was in order and you had complete clarity on the future so you could move forward with confidence? Well, that takes time. But, ultimately it leads to happiness.

If you want more joy and happiness in your bucket then you have to be prepared to make room for it by getting rid of the clutter. Happiness and clutter can seldom co-exist.

Financial clutter. How many financial institutions do you deal with? How much mail are you sorting through every month? Where is it all when tax time comes? It's overwhelming. How many hours per week can you spend on the phone trying to resolve the same problems? I drove over to BMO this past week, waited in line for 10 minutes, spent another 30 minutes explaining my questions, she left to consult her supervisor and then came back to highlight the 1-800 number for me to call and resolve my issue. I could have stayed home and done that. There's no end to the frustration.

Home clutter. Most of us are stuff magnets. It's amazing how much stuff we can accumulate in such a short amount of time. We buy more stuff and then stuff to put our stuff in, and stuff to put our stuff on, and pay for places to store our stuff or buy a larger home to store our stuff. The closets are full. The basement is full. The car is parked on the street because it won't fit in the garage. We never have the time to enjoy any of our stuff, or we can't remember where any of it is. Hey, it's your bucket - fill it up.

Work clutter. Has anyone ever found the right balance between work and life? Maybe for a day or two. Be careful of investing everything you got into a job that will replace you in a heartbeat the moment you walk out the door. Watch "About Schmidt" again and you'll be reminded. 

Health clutter. When do you feel your best? Eating good food, walking, exercising, spending time with good people, sleeping well, getting regular health checkups, when your clothes fit, especially the skinny pants in the back of the closet that you hope to fit back into someday.

Relational clutter. Disengaging from toxic relationships. Whether at work or in your personal life. 

We can create more clarity of mind when we take action and work through the process of getting every part of our lives organized, simplified, consolidated and really make more room in our bucket for happiness.

Always bear in mind that the most important, and the most difficult, step you'll ever make in reaching a goal is the first one. Every step afterward gets easier.

Make a list of the things that bring you the greatest joy.

More discretionary time, time at the beach, exercising, reading, walking, cooking, time with the grandkids, ......

Now make a list of the things that are sucking the life and joy from you.

Work, stress, financial chaos, relational discord, too many chores, deadlines, ageing parents, .....

Now start removing the stuff that needs to go and then replace it with the things you want your bucket to be filled with. Because it isn't about living with an empty bucket, but rather a bucket full of what you really want - happiness, fulfillment, and purpose. Believe me, if you go around with an empty bucket someone will fill it for you, but it won't be what you want. 


Our business is all about helping clients declutter their lives by first getting their total financial house in order and providing the clarity and confidence to start enjoying their retirement lifestyle.

You can learn more about our flat-fee planning process by clicking here.


Fee-only Retirement Income, Investment, & Tax Planning

Willis J Langford BA, MA, CFP

Nancy Langford CRS

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