While having dinner with friends in Chatham last week, we had a long conversation about health.
The “spirited” debate essentially boiled down to the leading causes of death and the role that ‘luck’ and genetics play vs. the choices we make.
I’d like to share parts of that conversation with you, and the revelation I arrived at about the remarkable similarities to ‘financial health’.
This will take a few moments, but I promise you this extended discussion and research on health has an extremely important lesson in it for all of us about the financial health you and your family members will experience.
Our dinner conversation kicked into high gear when our friend said something I’ve heard so many times, “All your exercise and attention to healthy eating is great, but there’s no guarantee you won’t still drop dead of a heart attack if it’s in your genes. My father and grandfather both died of a heart attack before they were 62.”
I’m sure you’ve heard some version of this comment before. Ultimately, it’s the same as, “you can do everything right and still get hit by a bus!” Or, “I know a guy who was ‘healthy’ who collapsed and died while running.”
Driving home from dinner, I made a mental note to do some research before seeing them again.
World Health Organization
My ‘fact finding’ mission brought me to The World Health Organization website. (www.who.int)
Here are some very important facts about the four leading causes of death (The italicizing and bolding is mine for emphasis):
Non-communicable diseases (NCD) were responsible for 68% of all deaths globally in 2012, up from 60% in 2000. The 4 main NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases. Communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutrition conditions collectively were responsible for 23% of global deaths, and injuries caused 9% of all deaths.
- Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs)
CVDs are the number one cause of death globally: more people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause.
An estimated 17.5 million people died from CVDs in 2012, representing 31% of all global deaths.
Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioral risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol using population-wide strategies.
Cancers figure among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer related deaths in 2012.
Around one third of cancer deaths are due to the 5 leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use.
Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer causing around 20% of global cancer deaths and around 70% of global lung cancer deaths.
In 2012, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes comprises 90% of people with diabetes around the world and is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.
Healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
More than 3 million people died of COPD in 2012, which is equal to 6% of all deaths globally that year.
The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke (through tobacco use or second-hand smoke).
What’s the Commonality?
As you read through all of this, do you notice any commonalities?
First, two thirds of all deaths are related to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), i.e. not an epidemic and not an accident.
Among the four leading NCDs, the startling commonality is that they are not random, and not genetic. They’re primarily brought on by lifestyle choices and the physical effects these choices have on our body:
- Eating: what do we eat, when do we eat, and how much do we eat?
- Drinking: how much alcohol do we consume? How much water do we consume?
- Exercise: how often, and what type
- Sleep: how much do you get, and what’s the quality of your sleep?
There’s No Guarantee
Armed with these facts, let’s now go back to my dinner conversation with our friend and her comment: “All your exercise and attention to healthy eating is great, but there’s no guarantee you won’t still drop dead of a heart attack if it’s in your genes. My father and grandfather both died of a heart attack before they were 62.”
I sympathize with the loss of her father and grandfather because I lost my mother to cancer at age 57, but the fact that they both died of a heart attack before age 62 doesn’t necessarily suggest that it was genetic. What are the chances that their lifestyle choices, and the negative long term effects they had on their bodies, were similar?
More important, however, was our friend’s choice of the word “guarantee”. It’s a very, very important word and one that led to my “revelation”.
Everyone yearns for certainty in their lives. In other words, they desire and would much prefer guarantees with everything (health, finances, etc.)
Unfortunately for those who seek it, life is not a straight line. There are no guaranteed results in anything.
Given this, to achieve whatever it is that you want, use your freedom to choose.
Research and play the odds at every turn!
In health, it’s 100% true that you could get hit by a bus and die. It’s also true that genetics plays a role in your longevity.
However, as The World Health Organization statistics suggest, your lifestyle choices (a nicer word than behavior) have a far, far greater impact on your health, vitality, and ultimately, your longevity.
If you have a sincere desire to be healthy and live a long life, why would you not study how to eat better, drink much more water and less alcohol, stop smoking cigarettes, exercise rigorously on a daily basis, etc.
Those like our friend who choose to focus on the role that genetics or accidents play in our long term health, etc. prefer believing it’s out of their control because it absolves them of any responsibility or role in the outcome. After all, “there’s no guarantee”.
What they’re really saying is they prefer not to make the proper choices and just do whatever feels good in the moment without any regard to the long term ramifications.
It’s easier to say it’s out of our control, it’s random, or it’s predetermined.
However, that’s a rejection of the reality that we all have the freedom to make the choice to play the odds at every turn and reap the rewards the statistics demonstrate.
The Analogy to Financial Health
At this point, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with financial health!
When you step outside of our Relaxing Retirement membership community, and you read or listen to the majority of individuals (and, by extension, the financial media) talk about those who have achieved financial success, what do you hear?
- Right Place, Right Time, Luck: Those who have done well had the luck of good timing, choosing to work for many years for company X vs. Y, the business they created benefitted from outside events, etc. and they earned a large income,
- Trust fund kid, i.e. they inherited it (despite Forbes annual statistics of the remotely small minority to have sustained wealth coming from inheritance),
- Magic Investment: they somehow obtained information, probably unethically or unfairly, that lead to a great investing outcome,
- Education: they went to X school
Do you see the commonality in all of this?
It all adds up to the belief that financial independence is all random, luck, and good fortune, and you have very little influence over the financial outcomes in your life.
As potentially mean spirited as this may sound, just as it is with the health examples I gave, it’s easy and convenient to believe that financial independence is all random, luck, and good fortune.
Believing that absolves them of the responsibility of focusing on the long term, and making the necessary choices you have made which have generated your financial independence!
It’s easier to just block all of that out and focus on what brings instant, short term pleasure today, i.e. a new car I can’t afford, a 60 inch flat screen television, eating out five nights a week and running up the balance on my credits cards, or investing in a new “can’t miss hitting a home run” venture I heard about with money borrowed from my home equity line of credit.
The reality that I have witnessed amongst our members over the last 26 years is that almost none of you inherited anything. The majority did not earn extraordinarily large incomes during your working years. And, very, very few of you went to Harvard or Yale!
The reason you’re in the top 6% club has nothing to do with any of the traditional dogma most folks conveniently buy into.
You made decisions long ago that you stuck with over your lifetime to spend much less than you made, i.e. live within your means, and save and intelligently invest the difference.
You took 100% responsibility for the outcome you’ve experienced. You didn’t look for a mystical guarantee, or a magic pill (investment). You never panicked. And, you stuck with your plan.
In short, you played the odds.
And, this is what it all boils down to. There are no guarantees and no magic pills, so you may alert anyone and everyone you know to call off the search.
There are, however, successful formulas built on highly probable odds in both health and finance that are in plain view for all of us to see.
I’ve often said that if I fail, it’s certainly not going to be because I wasn’t prepared or I wasn’t willing to accept 100% responsibility for whatever outcome I realized.
In health, and in finance, we should all welcome our wonderful freedom to exercise control and choose our actions. And, happily do whatever is necessary to play the odds at every turn.