Live Rich, Die Poor

Money is a ticket. Purchase happiness or count your daily beans. The choice is yours.

Our recent trip to Italy confirmed the data presented by the likes of Brian Portnoy and Daniel Crosby. No need for fancy charts or psychologist’s white papers. Italians get it and do it.

All isn’t perfect. Italy is a fiscal time bomb waiting to explode. Their economy is filled with more land mines than Normandy Beach in 1944. Some of the best artistic and creative talent on the planet suffers under a corrupt and bloated bureaucracy.

Despite these problems, evidence-based happiness blossoms continuously.

Many Americans spend their lives spinning like consumption-crazed gerbils on a hedonic treadmill. Looking for happiness in all the wrong shopping malls.

What makes Italians different?

They understand money is meaningless if you don’t know how to use it to create joy.

Many Americans know how to earn but fail miserably in this vital aspect.

Italians wisely use their tickets for the following:

Experiences: Italians love making deep connections. Small talk isn’t encouraged. They crave meaningful relationships and work hard to maintain them. They go out of their way to communicate by any means necessary. In return, your effort to speak like a native is viewed as the highest of compliments.

They receive great joy from giving. Disappointing friends and family is a cardinal sin. Your happiness is their happiness.

One day our sons were looking forward to riding electric bicycles. The rental shop was closed. Later that evening our cousin used some sort of Italian easy-pass to produce the goods. He couldn’t bear our sons’ disappointment. The next thing you know our sons were taking midnight spins around the Piazza. They will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. The only person happier was our cousin.

 Healthy food: Italian cuisine is a vacation from the chemically processed American diet. Many American additives are banned by their government. Markets are teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables. The flavor of mushrooms picked from nearby mountains, fresh wine with local grapes, and olive oil from lush groves can’t be described in words.

The Mediterranean diet and a Happy Meal couldn’t be more different.

Just in case your wondering, Italy is barren of Italian-American caloric bombs such as Chicago Deep Dish Pizza and Baked Ziti.

Food is a religion. The body a temple.  The compounding effects of meaningful connections combined with healthy delicious food create one of the most powerful happiness forces in the universe.

Exercise:  Northern Italy is one big outdoor gym. Not a CrossFit or Soul Cycle to be found. Hiking, cycling, running, and skiing are part of the lifestyle, not a three times a week workout.

Walking for miles and drinking-in nature does wonder for the body and soul. It creates the Italian version of the fountain of youth. No need for a standing desk here.

Italian children participate in sports on various town-sponsored teams. Schools are not involved, giving many more children to opportunity to participate.

Activity isn’t just the domain of the young.

Dina’s 93-year-old cousin, Sara, accompanied us for a few days. We watched in awe as she climbed four flights of stairs at eleven o’clock at night after a journey to the mountains. By the way, she also made us delicious Tiramisu.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that recently deceased Italian  Giuseppina Robucci lived to be 116. Great experiences, healthy food, and exercise combined with good genes do amazing things.

 Nature: It seems every Italian has a garden. From meticulously maintained potted plants to lush vegetable and flower-strewn farms. Nature is ever present providing oxygen for the brain and peace to the mind.

Dogs are part of the family. One accompanied us on a 5,200-foot mountain climb. His owner told us, “Milly completes this journey 2-3 times a day, often accompanying strangers as a guide.” No need for doggie diet food here.

Nature is given the respect it deserves. Waste is frowned upon. Our cousin remarked, “Saturday afternoon is devoted to recyclables.” Everything is meticulously sorted and categorized for renewal. You can’t get a much better long-term investment.

Minimalism trumps consumerism. Italians opt out playing the unwinnable game of keeping up with the Joneses.

 Culture: Italians don’t define culture as what’s the latest news from the Kardashians or O.J. Simpson’s twitter feed. Having a history that spans several thousand years gives them other options.

What’s old to Americans is current events to Italians. This is what happens when you live in a city built on top of Roman ruins.

Every church is its own museum, filled with relics from medieval and ancient days.

Historic mysteries are part of everyday life. Ghosts haunt the colosseums. You can almost hear the bloodthirsty crowds if you listen closely. For a more postmodern effect, World War I trenches occupy the mountainsides.

Think of living in a real life History Channel. Soaking this all in is much healthier for the brain than binge-watching Netflix. As an added benefit, to truly experience all of these marvels require miles of walking. We averaged 8-10 a day.

Some of the stones we travelled on in Trento contained ancient sea fossils.

The good news is Americans can do all of these things. None of the above requires a million dollar portfolio. In fact, they are the ingredients to help create one. Spending much less on healthcare, and mindless consumerism frees up capital for saving and investing.

These features exist in our own backyards. It’s up to us to find them.

Money can buy happiness. It doesn’t cost as much as you may think.

Italy isn’t Nirvana but the message is undeniable. Americans need more joy and happiness in their lives.  Italians provide terrific science-based methods on how to add them.

The answers can’t be found in shopping malls or McMansions. Fast food, obesity, and spending less time with family friends due to hectic schedules destroy the real wealth we all crave – life satisfaction.

Just like investing, a simple lifestyle beats a complex one. Simplicity offers great riches if we open our hearts and minds.

This trip will benefit our wealth management clients more than anyone.

We intend to practice what we preach on them. Live rich and die poor.

The optimum portfolio mix is one that creates maximum life fulfilment; the real purpose of the multi-decades long quest for wealth accumulation.

We have some pretty good ideas where those dividends should go. Making a financial plan is so much more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

It’s time to start shopping in the right places.







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