Living the good life

What does it mean to live a good life? Does it mean to be rich? Successful? Young? Beautiful? Or none of the above?

My mother always used to tell me to be thankful for what I have; don’t rock the boat; don’t tempt fate; and all those other platitudes that basically meant ‘know your place and stay in it’. Her generation of women were content (?) to be married and let the husband take care of everything while they raised the kids and kept house. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want to do and be. That is not what I wanted, so I was constantly swimming upstream to fight for what I wanted not what society told me I wanted.

There were times when I succumbed, but just for a while. I became a nurse, which led to meeting my husband, which led to my having two wonderful sons. Nursing became merely a job, a way to bring money into the house, and I soon grew tired of being the breadwinner. But I persevered and became more and more unhappy and frustrated with my life. I was the perennial pessimist and never caught a break.

But then something changed. I divorced my husband; my kids were grown and out on their own; it was time for me. So at the age of 44, I applied for grad school, was accepted, and moved to Arizona by myself (well, except for my dog!) where I knew nobody.

Grad school was rough at first, but I was always a good student and earned my MA. But I still was a pessimist. Although I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I had been too busy trying to keep body and soul together through grad school.

Gradually, I began to realize that being a pessimist was a self-fulfilling prophecy; if I focussed on how bad things were, that’s all I would get. I don’t remember how I learned about it, but I began to keep a gratitude journal and things began to change. My focus switched to what was right in my life instead of what was wrong. And I started to get more good stuff. Not material things – but good feelings and good things happening.

So here I am several years later. Then a little over a year ago, I began a Gratitude Journal blog because I wasn’t remembering to write in my personal gratitude journal every day. I thought if I committed to a daily blog entry, I would be accountable to my followers (if I got any!) and wouldn’t give up. And I was right. I think in the course of the 13 months, more or less, I have kept the journal online, I have only forgotten maybe 2 or 3 times to post something.

Life isn’t always fantastic, but my attitude towards what happens in my life has certainly changed for the better. I am living the good life. I’m not rich. I don’t have a big house, a fancy car, and I work to earn money to pay the bills. I have friends. I have people who follow my blog because they think I have something to say worth reading.

Yes, life is good.

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Retirement

When I was young, very young, I never thought about retirement. I naively thought there would always be someone around to take care of me; parents, husband, children.

My father had a job, and my mother raised us kids, took care of the house, etc. My dad gave her money every week, housekeeping money, so she could buy food and whatever else was needed to keep the household running. We gradually moved up in the world, from my first memories living in a 2-room flat with no indoor plumbing, to a great big 4-bedroom 2-story  house. I had a younger brother, 5 years younger, who got whatever he wanted, just because he was a boy. I was destined to be a nurse, or a teacher, but only until I found a husband who would take care of me as my dad took care of my mom. Hence my belief that there would always be someone to take care of me.

Because I was a girl, I wasn’t supposed to be good at math, or science, or any ‘real world’ stuff, because after all, my future husband would deal with all that, right? Fortunately for me, my dad realized how smart I was and encouraged me to study and learn whatever I wanted, and he had to fight the school so that I could do that. But when I graduated from High School, I was on my own as far as education. Learning was fine for girls through High School, but only through High School, unless it was Nursing School or Teacher’s College. So I went to Nursing School.

So with this background, I had never learned how to manage money, plan for the future, or any of that stuff. When my father died, my mother didn’t even know how to write a check – she didn’t have to because my father took care of the finances.

The husband, and the kids, came and went. I learned a few things along the way. By the time I realized I was on my own, I was barely making ends meet with nothing extra to stash away for retirement. The dream of having someone to take care of me was just that, a dream. The reality is that the only person who can take care of me is…me.

I am facing retirement in a couple of years – or I can keep working until I die. I choose to retire. My partner and I have learned to reduce the income we need to make to live well. So things have turned out well for me. But there are many women out there who are not as fortunate as I am. They are the ones who were left to raise kids on their own; the ones who suddenly find themselves divorced; the ones who lost their jobs. Women in general lose out on almost half a million dollars over their lifetime in retirement money because of not working, or leaving to raise kids, or because they are paid 3/4 of what a man makes for the same job, or because they are in a ‘pink-collar’ profession.

Are you prepared for retirement?