The Macronutrients of Happiness

Lately, I’ve been thinking, and writing, a lot about the possibility of making alternative investments in our “retirement portfolios.” Not the kind of alternative investments that the Yale Endowment or ultra-high net worth family offices often make. Rather, investments in our health and our relationships, two factors that seem to be strong predictors of contentment during our retirement years.

Last July, I wrote about Dr. Michael Finke’s three factors, or pillars, that he found to be the strongest predictors of satisfaction and happiness during people’s retirement years. His three distinct pillars are money, health, and relationships. Partially inspired by Dr. Finke, in August, I shared three alternative investments that I’d recently made in my own “retirement portfolio.” I’m still confident that they will go a long way in making my own retirement more fulfilling. The three investments I made were…

  • I engaged with a new primary care physician.
  • I scheduled a recurring coffee with friend.
  • I prioritized regular exercise.

In September, I shared a list of characteristics that are important for navigating a successful and fulfilling retirement. According to retirement coach, Robert Laura, the most successful people in retirement are those who…

  • Successfully replaced their work identity.
  • Found a way to fill their time.
  • Stayed relevant and connected.
  • Remained mentally and physically active.
  • Found an avenue to express their spiritual beliefs.
  • Felt financially secure.

Then, last week, I listened to a podcast featuring Arthur Brooks. Dr. Brooks is a social scientist, Harvard professor, and bestselling author perhaps best known for his extensive work in the area of human happiness. The podcast was a discussion around some of the topics in his new book, Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier .

During his studies, Dr. Brooks has found that the happiest people tend to have balance and abundance across what he calls the three macronutrients of happiness. Just like the best eating plans have the right balance of proteins, carbs and fat, the ideal scenario for cultivating our own happiness, now and in retirement, involves us having the right mix of the following three things; enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning, or sense of purpose.

Dr. Brooks defines the first macronutrient, enjoyment, as pleasure + people + memories. Basically, he claims that it’s not enough to just have a good glass of wine or take a fun trip. For it to bring true enjoyment, we have to drink the wine or travel with someone we enjoy while making memories along the way. This isn’t new information but it’s a good reminder of how important close relationships are to us now and as we head towards or navigate through our retirement years.

The second macronutrient, satisfaction, he says is the joy after struggle. It makes sense that satisfaction would be an important component of happiness. After all, who doesn’t enjoy that feeling we get when we work hard for something and achieve it. But here’s the thing. You and I know that satisfaction is fleeting. Therefore, it’s not enough to feel satisfied after retiring from a fulfilling career or raising a family. We’ll need to continue to pursue tasks, projects and passions that we’ll work hard on and overcome if we are to be happy during our retirement years. At the same time, it’s important that we strive for balance in this area. If we seek satisfaction through the constant pursuit of more money and more stuff, we will end up setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves and derail our chances of a fulfilling retirement. That’s why he also suggests working on finding ways to be more thankful for what we have rather than wanting what we don’t have. It’s hard work but it’s important if we are to feel satisfied and, therefore, happy during our retirement years.

The third macronutrient of happiness is meaning or sense of purpose. According to Dr. Brooks, it’s the most important of the three. Much like protein in our diet, sense of purpose is the building block for most of the things that are important to us. Personally, I have a strong sense of purpose that begins with my faith and extends to my wife, my kids and my work as a financial advisor. I’m thankful that I feel that way, but I wonder how parts of it might shift once my kids are grown and I finally hang up my financial planner hat. Dr. Brooks suggests that if you don’t feel like you have a well-defined sense of purpose, it would be worthwhile investing the time and energy in discovering yours.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Friday Briefs, I’m a financial advisor, not a life coach, doctor or spiritual leader. I understand that my recent Friday Brief topics have not been directly related to personal finance. I also recognize that advice related to our health, spirituality, and relationships can and should be highly personal. However, I think it’s important to discuss these topics because I believe that these types of investments are just as important, if not more so, as the ones we make in our financial portfolios. Thanks for reading and I hope this Brief encourages you to consider making some “alternative” investments of your own.


The content above is for informational and educational purposes only. The links and graphs are being provided as a convenience; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Beacon Wealthcare, nor does Beacon guarantee the accuracy of the information.

Geoff Hall, CFP®
[email protected]

My wife, Crystal, and I have been married for 11 years and have two kids, Cooper (10) and Rhodes (8.) When I’m not spending time with them you might find me downtown serving at our church, pushing my limits during a mountain bike ride or having coffee with a friend in the Five Points area. I've been a financial advisor for 29 years and I'm thankful for the privilege of shepherding my family of clients through the ups and down of the markets, and of life for that matter.