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I recently had the opportunity to volunteer to help clean up a wash that in a residential area of Tucson that had become a local dumping site. As I was pulling out old tires, mattresses, broken vacuums, and even the front seat of a car, I got to thinking. As a financial planner I have the privilege of collaborating with clients to help them meet their financial goals, which is simply the means to meet their personal goals. As financial planners we take on a variety of roles for our clients. At times we are teachers, counselors and even life coaches, but all of the things we do are to help our clients achieve their life goals.
Over the years of asking people about their financial goals and what success looks like to them, I have heard countless different answers. For some it is having financial security so they don’t have to rely on others, for some it’s building their dream home or traveling the world. Some want to leave a legacy by donating to causes they believe in or leaving an inheritance for their future generations. And just as reaching financial goals is just the means to achieving life goals, life goals are just the means to reaching happiness and fulfillment.
I don’t have a hot stock tip or a sure thing investment to offer for a shortcut to wealth, but if I could offer some advice on how to invest part of your time, it would be this: Since time is our most precious asset, to generate the greatest return in happiness and fulfillment per hour invested, it would be hard to beat volunteering. Just like in trying to make predictions on what the stock market will do next, we humans have a hard time predicting what will actually make us happy. We tend to over predict how happy things like getting that new car will make us or seeing double digit returns in our brokerage account. But perhaps more importantly, we underestimate how happy it will make us to donate some of our time to a cause we believe in, or to go out of our way to help a stranger.
Speaking from experience, I don’t have much of a memory of the countless hours I’ve spent in pursuit of amusement and entertainment in search of some fleeting sense of happiness, but I can vividly remember many of the times I have volunteered to help someone or support something I believed in. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. There have been many studies done on happiness, including a famous one conducted by Harvard University, and the consensus is that the most reliable way to increase happiness is to volunteer.
So whether or not you are on track to achieve the goals you have set, the best advice I can offer for investing your time, is to put some towards volunteering. This recommendation is supported by decades of research and has the potential for returns many times your investment. The minimum investment required is so low it’s suitable for anyone that has a little time to invest.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and would love to hear what you think and about your volunteering experiences.