Here’s Why – In Trying Times – Keeping on the Sunny Side Brings Focus, Fate, and Fortune
“RANGER SUNSHINE!” our instructor shouted as storm clouds unleashed on us after several days in the field – we Ranger students were persevering with little food and even less sleep.
I didn’t know if he was making fun or being serious. As it turns out, a bit of both. There is a Latin phrase, Amor fati, which translated means “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate.” It’s a stoic attitude about experiencing everything in one’s life – whether fair or foul, one’s fate or fortune – as good, or at the very least, necessary.
The abbreviated American version is the proverbial glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty, from an optimistic or pessimistic viewpoint.
Amor fati goes much deeper.
As special military operators, Rangers, SEALs, Delta Force, Special Forces, and Force Recon learn to stay sharp and at the ready under any and all circumstances. Anything and everything that happens during an operation is treated with a Can Do attitude, no matter the circumstance. These eternally vigilant special operators are the point of the spear.
“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm” (George Orwell, citing Rudyard Kipling’s similar sentiments).
Fortunately, most of us are not asked to put our life in harm’s way in service to others. But we have learned our own life lessons as “special operators” through difficult family, health, business, and other challenges.
By definition, the stoic mindset views life, no matter the circumstances, from a perspective of bland indifference. Those who have transcended to living life fully each and every day do it with a smile on their face, a song on their lips, and a skip in their stride.
Yes, we can’t all be Mother Teresa. But each day is what we make of it.
The first half of 2022 ushered in the worst bond market in over two centuries (since 1788!), and one of the worst stock markets on record. There was nowhere to hide…well, cash at close to 0% return.
Adding insult to injury, inflation reared its ugly head to a high of 9.1% in June. We haven’t seen this kind of inflation since the leisure suit and disco craze (1981).
If, with all of your aches and pains, you also included a possible bout of COVID (or worse, long COVID), then it’s been a downright abominable six months!
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
Back in the late 1990s, we had a client, “Toni,” who had undergone a series of events over the prior two decades that still astound me.
First, her husband died of a massive heart attack in the early ’80s. Over the next five years, all three sons died of AIDS. To top it off, her daughter birthed her granddaughter and then left the infant with her to raise on her own, not returning for over a decade. In sum: Her husband and all four children gone in less than a decade!
That’s still not all. Toni developed stomach cancer that spread to her liver and one kidney. Operations to remove part of each organ saved her life. But over the next 10 years she went completely blind. Since there were no family members to help, other than a friend now and again, she periodically had to find her way to a bus stop to go grocery shopping and then return – a horrendous four-hour ordeal.
The amazing part of Toni’s story was her attitude and perspective over the time I knew her. When I asked “How’s it going, Toni?” during a home visit, she smiled, “When I wake up every morning, I thank God for giving me another day. I’m happy to be alive and feel the sun on my face.”
Amazing! Not only did Toni model utter indifference to her situation, she was actually filled with happiness.
Toni made my life a joy each time I called or visited her. Her infectious Can Do attitude put everything I was dealing with in sharp perspective.
Toni was a saint. It’s hard to imagine ever reaching her level of daily joy in being, but she certainly gives me hope during tough times. Toni’s story is not meant to be a template for how we handle adversity – more an incredulous acknowledgment that some people can wholly embrace Amor fati.
To be sure, Amor fati is so very much more difficult to achieve without any social net.
In the early 20th century no social net existed (Social Security’s first one-time, lump-sum payments were made in 1937, and regular ongoing monthly benefits started in 1940; Medicare payments began in 1966).
Before Social Security and Medicare, if people were fortunate enough to live past normal life expectancy (then around age 60), there may or may not have been family or friends to take care of them. Those without help often had little money and lived in boarding houses or slums with little food and no medical services – resulting in a high senior mortality rate.
Eventually the first nursing homes with Medicaid “beds” came along, followed by assisted-living facilities beginning in the late 1980s, leading to a whole host of continuing-care facilities running the gamut from private residences to full-time skilled nursing care.
But so many of these facilities are not places we look forward to visiting, let alone residing there. Today we’re still struggling to build facilities that provide the freedom, support, social networks, and activities to sustain quality lifestyles.
So many of our institutions lack care, focus, and purpose. As a result, living with family members remains one of the preferred methods by which our family-fortunate elderly are able to live their later years with peace, as provided by this ongoing support.
To repeat, Amor fati is infinitely harder to achieve without financial and social resources. Amazingly, Toni — despite her many family and health travails — could still maintain a positive outlook on each day.
Recalling Theodore Roosevelt, a leader of the legendary “Rough Riders” (1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry) who helped defeat the Spanish during the 1898 Spanish-American War, “TR” loved the raw outdoors. Later as President, he helped establish five major national parks and numerous other National monuments, National forests, and bird and game preserves. TR had a stoic attitude about life.
So the story goes, on one of his hunting trips out west, he and his partner encountered many problems from bad equipment to lame horses. At one point, TR casually mentioned to his partner — even more stoic than he — that he’d “rather it didn’t storm.” His partner stopped whistling and replied, “We’re not having our “Rathers” on this trip.” The partner then cheerfully resumed whistling.
Recently, a client remarked that her 401(k) had now turned into a 201(k). That was a fairly common utterance during the Dot-com bust and The Great Financial Recession. Back then, at the low points of the market, it was usually said with frustration or disgust.
But it wasn’t what she said, it was how she said it. She had a smile on her face and a countenance that intoned that this too shall pass – she continued “whistling.” She had accepted this inevitable downturn in the market knowing that, given enough time, her account balance would eclipse the last high watermark.
There are many theories, studies, and practical experiences about what makes up and contributes to a good life – Amor fati, if you will. Most center around three aspects, based on mind, body and spirit:
One, being happy. Multiple studies and surveys show that in North America, somewhere between $75,000 and $110,000 of annual income is the amount it takes to be satisfied and/or happy with life. Most of us would be happier with a bigger pile of cash, but not according to these findings. More money doesn’t necessarily equate to greater satisfaction or greater happiness.
Two, having meaning; striving to fulfill a life purpose. Recently, remote work has opened up a space for many people to consider seeking employment they believe will fulfill their life purpose. Recent surveys, post the beginning of COVID, indicate that purpose is now rated higher than salary when considering new employment.
Three, living a healthy life. An unknown author stated, “A man with health has 1,000 dreams, but a man without health has only one.” That says it all.
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic philosopher who lived with very poor health until his death at age 58. In his “Meditations,” he wrote, “If we want to suffer less, we need to learn to embrace our pain and live with it without struggling against it as much.” This frail leader also advised, “Stay calm and serene regardless of what life throws at you.”
The simplified approach to living life fully is to focus on our mind, body and spirit being synchronized as we take life’s journey.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced his hierarchy of needs in the mid-20th century — which included physiological, safety, love-and-social belonging, and esteem, plus various others — as the driving force behind people’s desire to reach self-actualization. Maslow had his fans and critics. But there’s some truth to how Maslow’s self-actualized person embraces an Amor fati approach to life.
Amor fati is a state of being. It’s tough to stay in this state continually. However, it is, on one level, simpler when we possess the cash flow and savings to smooth out these first four stages of Maslow’s hierarchy model.
Our money is part of our “fate,” if you will. Either by hard work, good fortune, opportunity seized, or another way, we have security beyond the annual $75,000 to $110,000 it takes to be happy. We live in a country that allows us the freedom to do what we want, when we want, where we want, and with whom we want to pursue our dreams and aspirations.
Surely we already have experienced some level of Amor fati. Possibly more often than we think. Money is the supporting character that has provided us with choice. It is the grease necessary to get the train rolling in the direction of our choosing. Amor fati may take on added meaning as we transition through life. Such transitions come along every five or ten years from childhood, through school, work, marriage, children, retirement, travel, and on and on.
Yes, it’s true, the world economy has hit a rough patch, exasperated by geopolitical concerns. But if history teaches us anything, we know that cycles ebb and flow, and that patience pays handsome dividends.
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain” (Dolly Parton).
So continue pursuing your own hierarchy of needs and live every day fully in the present. Oh yes, the money will be there to support you on your chosen path. Your well-crafted cash flow and structured allocations will withstand upcoming financial storms, enabling you to be purposeful and intentional about your future Amor fati.
This newsletter is designed to provide our friends and clients with information regarding the various subject matters covered. It is not designed to take the place of legal, accounting, or other professional advice. If expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.
© 2022 Coyle Financial Counsel, Inc