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Congress Takes A Look At The 401(k) For Money

April 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

You always see the scene in the movies, people who are broke currying for cash and trying to hock everything they can to the pawnbroker. Remember Dan Ackroyd as Louis Winthorpe III with the legendary Bo Diddley as the pawnbroker in the scene from Trading Places?

Pawnbroker: I’ll give you 50 bucks for it.

Louis Winthorpe III: Fifty bucks? No, no, no. This is a Rouchefoucauld. The thinnest water-resistant watch in the world. Singularly unique, sculptured in design, hand-crafted in Switzerland, and water resistant to three atmospheres. This is *the* sports watch of the ’80s. Six thousand, nine hundred and fifty five dollars retail!

Pawnbroker: You got a receipt?

Louis Winthorpe III: Look, it tells time simultaneously in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome, and Gstaad.

Pawnbroker: In Philadelphia, it’s worth 50 bucks.

Louis Winthorpe III: Just give me the money.

In a scene reminiscent of Trading Places, our government is trying to curry for cash for all the spending over the last 5 years and they are trying to hock anything of value to pay off these debts. Now trying to raise revenue, Congress is now looking at tinkering with the 401(k) plan.

These proposals may include:

  • Capping retirement-plan contributions at $20,000 a year or 20% of compensation, whichever is less—including employer contributions. Currently, the limits are 100% of compensation or $50,000 a year.
  • Replacing deductions for retirement savings with an 18% tax credit, deposited directly into an individual’s retirement savings account.
  • Accelerating “automatic enrollment” of workers in retirement-savings plans, along with their default savings rate, and automatically increasing workers’ savings rates each year.
  • Simplifying the paperwork involved for small employers’ adopting existing types of plans, with the goal of increasing access for more workers.

Before we start writing the obituary for the retirement plan industry, these are just proposals and I’m sure the retirement plan industry will spread some cash to influence the decision makers to kill it. A proposal earlier this year to take away a big tax advantage for inherited IRAs was ditched after the outcry.

Regardless of my political persuasion, I think these are awful proposals that will certainly gut our retirement savings and only increase the retirement crisis we are currently facing thanks to the funding or lack thereof, of Social Security. Eliminating the tax deduction for salary deferrals will certainly cause plan participants to either eliminate or curtail their contributions, studies have shown that this will most likely be the effect.

The proposals are a shortsighted gimmick that raises revenue initially but cuts back on potential revenue later because while retirement savings are tax deferred, they are ultimately taxed unlike the mortgage deduction where the money is deducted and never taxed again. So taxing the money upfront and eliminating retirement savings because of the lowered limits and eliminated deductions will eliminate revenue later because there will be less tax collected because of less retirement savings.

Biggest Casualties Of Fee Disclosure? Non-compliant Plan Sponsors

April 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

The clock is ticking toward 408(b)(2) regulation implementation for fee disclosure to plan sponsors by July 1 and to plan participants for participant directed plans 60 days later.

Fee disclosure will forever change the landscape of the retirement plan industry, but it will take some time to figure out the fallout. Like a good disaster movie (thanks Irwin Allen, but no thanks for The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and When Time Ran Out….) , it will take some time to figure out the winners, the losers, and the casualties.

For me, the biggest casualties will not be insurance company providers or certain third party administrators, but plan sponsors who are unaware of their duties under 408(b)(2) and 404(a)(5). Plan sponsors are unaware that if their providers don’t provide the disclosure, they have to fire the providers and be possibly at risk of the service contract being declared as a prohibited transaction. The 404(a)(5) regulations are even scarier, because the plan sponsor is fully blamed for not providing it. How many plan sponsors will be in trouble? Quite a few, but it will take some time to figure it out.

July 1 and September 1 are like the eye of a hurricane, it’s incredibly safe because the damage is either ahead or behind as the hurricane comes through. It will take some time for plan sponsors to discover their errors and it will take some time for the Department of Labor to audit plans to determine compliance with the fee disclosure regulations. Like a good conspiracy to steal retirement plan assets, it will take some time for non-compliance to the fee disclosure regulations to comply.

So while people are focused on the negative effect that fee disclosure may have on some plan providers, there will be far more plan sponsors that will feel the wrath of non-compliance with the fee disclosure regulations.

The Top 10 Reason Not To Plan For Retirement

April 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Retirement News

A different kind of Top Ten list.

You probably read or hear about some “Top Ten” list nearly every day. But take a moment to read this one. This list is different, and probably not the kind of list you’d expect a Financial Advisor to write.

Reason #10: “I’m too busy

I can’t tell you how often I hear this excuse. So many people want to plan for a better retirement, but they don’t have time. They think they’ll take care of it tomorrow, or the day after that … and before they know it, several years have gone by. The best advice I can give you is to stop procrastinating and start planning today.

Reason #9:   “It’s too soon

I don’t know how this happened, but many people have adopted the notion that you don’t have to start planning for your retirement until you’re almost there. This is totally incorrect. The truth is, the sooner you start planning, the better chance you stand of having the kind of retirement you want. It’s never too soon. Many people start planning in their early twenties!

Reason #8:   “It’s too late

If you’re already near or past your retirement eligibility date, you may think that whatever you’ve got is what you’re stuck with and it’s too late to do anything about it. Think again. If you’re unsure of what your options are, speak to a professional. Even if you’ve already retired, it’s important to consider how you’re receiving income and how long it will last.

Reason #7:   “I don’t need to

I’ve heard this excuse many times and it always baffles me. Many people think that because they’ve been diligent about contributing to a savings account, they’re all set. While saving for retirement is good, you also need a plan for income distribution once you enter retirement. Are you certain that what you’re saving will be enough? Have you considered your distribution plan? What about taxes? What about inflation? And are you sure your money will be properly invested? There may be other, better options for you and it may prove worthwhile to look into them.

Reason #6:   “I don’t have enough money to get started

This excuse seems marginal at first glance, but there is some truth behind it. You need to have money to save or invest money. However, unless your bills are exactly equal to or greater than your net income, you DO have enough to get started. Starting small is better than not starting at all, and if you plan well, you may eventually have more to work with.

Reason #5:   “My finances are a mess

This is all the more reason to seek out an advisor who can help you sort through and understand your assets. Perhaps you have a 401(k) from a former employer that has not been rolled over, a couple of savings accounts, a trust from a deceased relative, some stocks that your parents bought in your name when you were younger … a circumstance like this can be confusing, but leaving it as it is won’t improve the situation. Consider speaking with an advisor who can look at your complete financial picture, help you to understand it, and help you to develop a plan to help make your “financial mess” work for you.

Reason #4:   “The Government will take care of me

The bottom line is this … there’s a chance Social Security may not be available when you retire, and even presuming it is, it may not be enough to provide your ideal retirement income. If you’re planning to retire on Social Security alone, I would advise you to create a back-up plan at the very least.

Reason #3:   “Between my savings and my 401(k), I’ll be fine

Saving for retirement without an income distribution plan can be a mistake. How will you use that money once you have it? And while you may think you’ll have everything you’re going to need, have you considered inflation? Taxes? And furthermore, some people are living past 90. Will your assets last that long? If you outlive your income, what then? It’s a good idea to look ahead and plan properly.

Reason #2:   “I don’t want to think about it

Many people procrastinate simply because the thought of discussing financial matters (or growing old) is unappealing. I can certainly understand that. But consider this … if you bite the bullet now and put a firm plan in motion, you may not have to think about it again for quite some time.

Reason #1:   “I don’t know how

If you knew everything there was to know about financial planning, you’d probably be a financial advisor yourself. While it is possible to do everything on your own, that generally involves a great deal of research and a huge time commitment. If you’re putting off retirement planning because you don’t know how, consider speaking to a professional who does.

These are just some of the reasons why people don’t plan for retirement … but these are reasons, and not excuses. If you have retirement goals you want to reach, I would recommend you speak to a qualified Financial Advisor and set up an action plan. The sooner the better.

Are You Saving Enough For Retirement?

April 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Retirement News

Do you have a million dollars? At the moment, probably not. But if you invest and save diligently and let your assets compound, who knows? You may be a millionaire someday. In fact, you may need to be a millionaire someday. If you stay retired for 20 or 30 years – which could happen – it could take well over $1 million to fund that retirement. In fact, a recent study of Registered Investment Advisors recommended retirement assets of $1.5 million or more for baby boomers.1 This is why you should contribute the maximum to your 401(k) plan.

Your 401(k) is your friend. For years, employers have wondered: why don’t people contribute more to their 401(k)s? At the typical large company, the majority of employees contribute too little, and some find it a hassle to even fill out the paperwork. Most people don’t speak “financial” and don’t look at financial magazines or websites. It’s “boring.” So they mentally file “401(k)” under “boring.” But the advantages of a 401(k) should not bore you; they should motivate you.

Tax-deferred growth and compounding. The money in your 401(k) compounds year after year without tax penalties. The earlier you start, the more compounding you get. Let’s say you put $2,400 annually in a 401(k) starting at age 30, and for the sake of example, let’s assume you get an 8% annual return. How much money would you have at 65? You would have a retirement nest egg of $437,148 from putting in $200 per month. But if you started putting in that $200 a month five years later, you would have only $285,588. You can put up to $17,000 into a traditional or “safe harbor” 401(k) in 2012, and if you turn 50 or are older than 50 this year, you can put in an additional $5,500 in “catch-up” contributions. You can contribute up to $11,500 to a SIMPLE 401(k) for 2012, with “catch-up” contributions of up to $2,500 if you are 50 or older.3 These annual contribution limits are indexed for inflation.

Reducing your taxable income. Many employees don’t recognize this benefit. Your 401(k) contributions are pulled out of your wages before taxes are withheld (pre-tax dollars). So you get reduced taxable income and tax-free growth; you pay taxes on 401(k) assets when you withdraw them from the plan. With the new and increasingly popular Roth 401(k), the contributions are after-tax (no reduction in taxable income), but you can enjoy both tax-free compounding and tax-free withdrawals.

Why not take advantage? If you don’t contribute greatly to your 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan, you are ignoring a great retirement savings opportunity. Talk to your financial advisor about your 401(k) and other great resources to save for retirement.

Citations.
1 – financial-planning.com/news/Garrett-retirement-scottrade-2665994-1.html [3/1/10]
2 – irs.gov/retirement/article/0,,id=96461,00.html [6/30/10]
3 – irs.gov/retirement/participant/article/0,,id=151786,00.html [1/11/11]

Monthly Economic Update for April

April 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Monthly Economic Update

FCC Consumer Tip Sheet: Wi-Fi Networks & Consumer Privacy

April 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

Background

Wi-Fi networks are powerful, valuable tools in our modern communications and information society, enabling users to connect wirelessly to the Internet by extending broadband service in your own home, or by connecting to “hot spots” in public spaces, like airports, coffee shops, and hotels. In using these networks, however, it is important to understand that information being transmitted over them can potentially be intercepted if the networks are not secure. Consumers should be aware of whether they are using a secure (encrypted) or unsecure (unencrypted) network, and should be especially cautious about using unsecured networks – whether those networks are in their homes or in public spaces – to send sensitive information.

How do I secure my personal Wi-Fi network?

Protect your sensitive information:

  • Turn on encryption: Encrypted information is encoded information that cannot be easily
    deciphered if intercepted. Today, encrypting information transmitted on your Wi-Fi network is
    as easy as activating the encryption feature on your wireless router. Check the instructions that came with your router for information on how to do so. If your computer and router will support it, WPA2 is the most effective encryption standard for Wi-Fi.

Prevent others from accessing your network:

  • Activate the router firewall: Both in the actual and virtual world, a firewall is a barrier intended to confine or restrict a hazard. As with encryption, constructing a firewall on your Wi-Fi network is as simple as activating that feature on your wireless router.
  • Change the router default password: The password for your router is the key to administering device settings on your router. Many wireless routers come with default passwords that others may know or be able to figure out easily. Change the password to your router to a unique combination of letter, numbers, and symbols that only you know in order to ensure that you will be the only one who holds the keys to your router.

What about public Wi-Fi networks?

Since consumers do not themselves administer public Wi-Fi networks, they have much less control over the security of the information transmitted. For that reason, consumers are at risk when they transmit sensitive information – such as credit card numbers and passwords – over public Wi-Fi networks. If you happen to use a public Wi-Fi network, remember the following additional tips.

Only log in or send personal data to fully encrypted sites:

  • To determine if a website is encrypted, look for https at the beginning of a site’s web address
    (the “s” is for “secure”) and a lock icon at the bottom or top of your browser window. Make
    sure that https appears the entire time you’re logged in — some sites use encryption only for the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, you could be at risk.

Turn on your personal firewall:

  • Many computers come with operating systems (e.g., Windows 7) that have a built-in firewall
    that’s turned on by default. You can configure the firewall to provide better protection when
    you’re using a public Wi-Fi network.

Turn off your wireless network when you’re not using it:

  • If you’re in a public Wi-Fi area but not using the Internet, disable your wireless connection by
    either removing your external Wi-Fi card or clicking on your internal Wi-Fi connection.
    Use an encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Network) from your computing device
  • VPNs are often used by businesses and organizations to afford a safe and secure mechanism for mobile travelers to communicate. VPN software provides an encrypted pathway allowing an end user to connect to a business or organizational enterprise network.

For More Information

For information about other Wi-Fi issues, visit onguardonline.gov. You can also contact the FCC’s Consumer Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY;
fax to 1-866-418-0232; or write to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

52 Tips for Happiness and Productivity

April 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

1. Try rising early.
It’s not for everyone, I’ll admit. It may not be for you. But I’ve found it to be an amazing change in my life. It has made the start of my days much more positive, and I now have time for writing, exercise, and silent contemplation.

2. Do less.
This is both a happiness and productivity tip. Doing less will make you happier, because your life won’t be so hectic and filled with stress. You will have time for things that give you pleasure, for the loved ones in your life, for life itself. It’s also a productivity tip: if you focus on the essential tasks, the big ones, the ones that will give you the most return for your time, and eliminate the rest, you will actually be more productive. You’ll get fewer tasks done, but you will be more effective.

3. Slow down.
Many new readers to this site have read my productivity articles and think that I’m all about being hyper-productive. I’m not. Long-time readers know that I am about a simpler way of life. Unfortunately, in my free-lance blogging, other websites usually ask me to write about productivity, so the preponderance of my productivity writing has given the impression, I think, that I think people should be churning out work at an amazing rate, to the exclusion of all else. Actually, I feel that life is much more enjoyable if you slow down. By doing less, you can actually get more done, even if you work more slowly. And when you’re not working, you should definitely try switching to slow mode. Drive slower (it is so much more relaxing), walk slower, eat slower.

4. Practice patience.
I’ve talked about how I’m trying to develop patience in my parenting article, How to Become a Patient Parent, but these tips really apply to everyone. If you easily lose your temper, you can become more patient with these tips. Once you’ve developed this skill (and it’s a skill, like everything else, not an unchangeable inborn trait), your life will become much saner and you will be much happier.

5. Practice compassion.
This may be the most important tip of all, in my opinion. If you were to choose any of these, I would choose this one. The first part of compassion is empathy — and this ability to understand how others feel can be developed through practice. Start by imagining the suffering of a loved one. Understand their pain, the emotions they go through, and why they would react the way they would. By doing this exercise a number of times, you are developing a skill that can be applied to others — for every person you see, try to understand what they are going through. Try to learn and understand more about their background, and why they react the way they do. Once you’ve developed this invaluable skill, learn the other half of compassion — acting on your understanding, and helping others, alleviating their suffering, acting with kindness. This one thing can bring true happiness to your life, and the lives of those around you.

6. Find your passion.
Another indispensable tip. This might be the second on my list of priorities. Find something you love to do, and your life will become immensely improved. You will love your work, the thing that you spend 40 hours (or more) a week doing. You will become more productive, procrastinate less, be less stressed. You will produce something you are proud of, and happy about.

7. Lose weight.
This only applies, of course, if you are overweight. But losing your extra fat (and when I say lose weight, I mean lose fat), decreases your health risks (obviously), makes you look better, and in general is very likely to increase your happiness about yourself. I actually recommend that you learn to be comfortable and happy with how you look now, and not feel negative about yourself even if you are overweight. However, I’ve found that losing weight (at least for me) is a great way to feel better about your body. Do not make this an unhealthy obsession, however — lose weight gradually, and enjoy the process.

8. Exercise.
Make this a daily habit. Exercise not only helps you lose weight, but for me, it’s made me feel so much better. I actually enjoy exercise now. It’s a time of contemplation for me, and I feel so much better about myself afterwards.

9. Eat healthy.
I don’t recommend dieting. It’s too restrictive and you usually fall off it at some point. I do recommend changes to your diet, however — ones you make gradually, and that can be sustained for life. It not only helps lose weight, but really, once you start eating healthier, it is actually much more enjoyable.

10. Meditate.
OK, you might be like me — not into New-Age stuff. But meditation can actually be a very simple method for relaxing, for bringing calm, for returning yourself to sanity, for contemplation.

11. Get organized.
This one’s not necessary. You could go through life wonderfully messy, searching for stuff, enjoying the search. But I’ve tried disorganized, and I’ve tried organized. The second is much more enjoyable to me. Read How to Never Lose Anything Again for a start on the subject, as well as how I keep my family organized.

12. Think positive.
Another one of the most important tips on this list, thinking positive — as cliche as it might sound — is one of the single best changes you can make in your life that will lead to so many more positive tips. As I wrote about here, learning to think positive was the skill that turned my life around. It makes everything else on this list possible.

13. Simplify your finances.
Cut down on the number of accounts you have, cut down on your credit cards, spend less, reduce your bills. Make your finances automagical. Simplifying your finances greatly reduces your stress.

14. Simplify your life.
Another of my top tips. I’ve greatly simplified my life, in many ways, and I can say that having less stuff in my life, and less to do, has greatly increased my enjoyment of life. De-clutter, simplify your commitments, simplify your work space, simplify your wardrobe, simplify your rooms.

15. Accept what you have.
The problem with many of us is that we always think that we’ll be happy when we reach a certain destination — when we get a certain job, or retire, or get our dream house. Unfortunately, it takes awhile before you get there, and when you get there, you might have a new destination in mind. Instead, try being happy with where you are, with who you are, and what you have. To do that, instead of comparing what you have with other people, or with what you want, compare yourself those who have less, with those who are going through tragedy, with those who are struggling. You will see that you actually are extremely blessed. And this can lead to more happiness with your current situation.

16. Envision your ultimate life.
What would your ultimate life be like? Where would you live, what would you do, what would you do with your days? Come up with a clear picture of this, and write it down. Now, one step at a time, make it come true.

17. Set long-term goals.
Your vision of your ultimate life will help you come up with long-term goals. Of those goals, pick one to accomplish within the next year, and really focus on that. Now, pick one medium-term goal to achieve in the next few months that will get you further toward your longer-term goal. Now decide what you can do this week, and today, to get you to your medium-term goal. Just choose one thing at a time, focus on it, make it happen, and then choose the next thing to focus on.

18. Review goals.
Setting goals is important, but the key to making them a reality is actually reviewing them (at least monthly, but weekly is better) and taking action steps to make them come true. Again, focus on one at a time, and really focus on them.

19. Life mission.
Related to envisioning your ultimate life, but different — it’s important that you think about how you would like to be remembered when you die — so you can start living the life that leads to that now. Live with purpose in life, and wake up every day with that purpose in mind.

20. Plan your big tasks for week and day.
Give purpose to your day by determining the three most important things you can do with your day, and making those a priority. Do the same thing with your week to increase your productivity: pick out the big tasks you’d like to accomplish this week, and schedule those first.

21. Maintain focus.
One important key to achieving your goals is to maintain focus on them. To do this, again, it’s important that you select one goal at a time. This will prevent your focus from spreading too thin. It’s also important that you give yourself constant reminders of your goal, so you don’t lose that focus. Put up a poster of your current goal, or print it out and put it out somewhere visible, and send yourself emailed reminders. However you do it, find a way to maintain a laser-sharp focus, and the goal will come true.

22. Enjoy the journey.
Goals are important, but not at the expense of happiness now. It’s important to maintain a balance between going where you want to go, and being happy as you go there. It’s easy to forget that, so be sure to remind yourself of this little, but important, tip as you make your journey.

23. Create a morning and evening routine.
These are two great ways to add structure to your day, make sure you review your goals and log your progress, and get your day off to a great start. An evening routine, for example, could be a great way not only to wind down from a long day and review how your day went, but to prepare yourself for your next day so the morning isn’t so hectic. Your morning routine is great way to greet the day, to get some exercise or meditation or quiet contemplation, or to get some writing or other work done.

24. Develop intimate relationships.
It’s great to have a special someone, of course, but intimate relationships could be found with anyone around you. If you have a significant other, be sure to spend time each day and each week with that person, to work on your relationship and communicate and continue to bond. But if you don’t, there’s no need to despair (if in fact you are) … intimate relationships can be developed with friends, other family members, kids, roommates, classmate, co-workers. Every single person we meet is a fellow human being, with the same desires for happiness, for food and shelter, for an intimate connection. Find that common thread, be open and sincere, find out more about each other, understand each other, and give love. This can be one of the most important things you do.

25. Eliminate debt.
Financially, this is a huge way to relieve stress and make you feel much more secure. I suggest that you get rid of your credit cards (if you have a problem with credit card debt or impulse spending) and create a snowball plan for yourself. It may take a couple of years, but you can get out of debt.

26. Enjoy the simple pleasures.
You can find these everywhere. Food (I love berries!), sunsets, sand between your toes, fresh-cut grass, playing with your child, a good book and a warm bed, dancing in the rain, your favorite music. You could probably make a list of 20 simple pleasures right now, things you enjoy that you could find every day. Sprinkle those little pleasures throughout your day. It makes the journey much more enjoyable.

27. Empty your inbox and clear your desk.
This might take a little while to do at first, but once you’ve emptied your inbox and cleared off your desk, it doesn’t take long to keep them clear from then on. It’s a simple habit that’s vastly rewarding. I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from having a clean desk. I recommend you give it a try.

28. Build an emergency fund.
This is standard-issue financial advice, I know … and yet it is extremely important. I cannot stress how important it is to have at least a tiny emergency fund in the bank. You often hear that you should have six months saved up. Don’t be intimidated by that. Start out with just a hundred dollars if you can. Cut back on a few things. Then build it up, every payday. Once you have, let’s say, $1,000, it will make a huge difference in your life. It’s not much, and you should still add to it every paycheck, but at least now you’re not living paycheck-to-paycheck, and if an unexpected emergency comes up you can pay for it, rather than not paying other bills and falling behind. It’s a simple step, but it will mean a lot.

29. Keep a journal.
This is not one of the more important tips, but I can attest that it’s rewarding. I, for one, have a bad long-term memory, and by writing things down, I can look back and remember what happened a month ago. I just started this a couple months ago, actually, but it’s been awesome. I started an online journal, something I call the one-sentence journal, and my goal is to just write one sentence a day. Sometimes I write two or three, but the idea is the same — just get one or two things down that happened that day, so I can always look back on it later.

30. Use the power of others.
Achieving your goals can be difficult, but using the power of others makes it much more likely to happen. For example, put positive public pressure on yourself by announcing your goal on your blog. Or join an online forum, or a group in your neighborhood, that you can count on for support. I have a mailing list for the May Challenge here on Zen Habits, for example, and our group has helped me stick to my goal of daily exercise even when I started to falter — and the rest of the group can tell you they’ve experienced similar success because of the positive power of the group.

31. Read, and read to your kids.
I read all the time — it’s one of my favorite things to do in the world. I love to curl up with a good novel (or even a trashy one) and I can waste away an afternoon with a book. And I’m passing on my love of reading to my kids, by reading to them every day. I love spending time with them this way, and we all enjoy the stories we share together through books.

32. Limit your information intake.
In our lives today, we get a tremendous amount of information through email, blog feeds, reading websites, paperwork, memos, newspapers, magazines, television, DVDs, radio, mobile phones and Blackberries. Not only can this be overwhelming, but it can be distracting and can fill up your life until you have no time for more important things. Go on a media fast to get control over your information intake, and to simplify your life

33. Create simple systems.
Once you’ve simplified your life, the way to keep it simple is by creating systems for everything you do regularly. Create an efficient system for laundry, mail and paperwork, errands, your workflow. Anything, really. See ways to Streamline Your Life and to make your mail and paperwork painless.

34. Take time to decompress after stress.
There will inevitably be times in your life when you go through high stress. Perhaps several times a week. To maintain your sanity, you need to find ways to decompress.

35. Be present.
Time can go by extremely quickly. Before you know it, your life has passed you by. Your kids are grown and your youth is gone. Don’t let your life slip by — enjoy it while it’s here. Instead of dwelling in the past or thinking about the future, practice being in the here and now.

36. Develop equanimity.
Keep your sanity through all the challenges that life throws at you. Rude drivers, irritating co-workers, mean commenters on your blog, inconsiderate family members. This takes a bit of practice, but you can let these things slide off you like you’re Teflon.

37. Spend time with family and loved ones.
One of the things that can lead to the greatest happiness, make this a priority every week, every day. Clear off as much time as possible to spend with those you love, and truly enjoy those times. Be present as you do it — don’t think about work or your blog or what you need to do.

38. Pick yourself up when you’re down.
There will always be times in our lives when we get a little down, even depressed. Take action to get yourself out of your slump.

39. Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is hard to do, but it can be a great way to accept who you are and what you have. Whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to a co-worker, a friend, or someone famous (those models on magazines with amazing abs), stop. And realize that you are different, with different strengths. Take a minute to appreciate all the good things about yourself, and to be grateful for all the blessings in your life.

40. Focus on benefits, not difficulties.
If you find yourself struggling to do something, or procrastinating, stop thinking about how hard something is, or why you don’t want to do it. Focus instead on what benefits it will have for you, what opportunities it will create — the good things about it. By changing the way you see things, you can change how you feel about them and make it easier to get things done.

41. Be romantic.
If you have that special someone, find little ways to be romantic. It can do wonders to keep your relationship alive and fresh. It doesn’t take tons of money, either. See these ideas to get you started.

42. Lose arguments.
I know someone who just celebrated his 50th anniversary, and I asked him for his secret to a long and happy marriage. He told me, that if I ever get into an argument with my wife, to just shut up. What he meant, I think, is that I shouldn’t try to be right in every argument. I think this is a reminder many of us need, not just the married ones. But instead of just giving up the argument, instead of trying to be right, instead seek to understand. Really try to understand the other person’s position, to see it from their point of view. This little tip can lead to much happiness.

43. Get into the flow. This is both a happiness and productivity tip. Flow is the term for the state we enter when we are completely focused on the work or task before us. We are so immersed in our task that we lose track of time. Having work and leisure that gets you in this state of flow will almost undoubtedly lead to happiness. People find greatest enjoyment not when they’re passively mindless, but when they’re absorbed in a mindful challenge. Get into that flow by first doing something you are passionate about, and second by eliminating all distractions and really focusing on the task before you.

44. Single-task.
I don’t believe in multi-tasking, at least not on a day-to-day basis. Instead, focus on one task at a time. This leads to greater productivity and less stress. You can’t go wrong with that kind of combination.

45. Be frugal.
This is a habit, rather than a goal. It is a way of living, a different mindset, and the best way to live within your means. It doesn’t mean being cheap or forsaking pleasure, but it does mean finding less expensive ways to do things, learning to live with less (and be happier in the process), and controlling impulse spending. I don’t have a single article to give you as reference, but frugality is a recurring theme on Zen Habits.

46. Start small and slow.
Regular Zen Habits readers know that I advocate starting slow with any goal or habit change, and starting with a small goal rather than a big one. Why small? Because it’s something you are sure to achieve — and once you do achieve it, you can use that success to push you to further success. It’s a simple technique, but it really works. Start slow when you start exercise, or other similar activities — there’s no need to rush it in the beginning, to overdo it. You have the rest of your life!

47. Learn to deal with detractors.
We all face detractors in our lives. They are the naysayers who, even if they are well-intentioned, will make us feel unworthy, or that you cannot achieve a goal. They will tease or be negative. In order to achieve your goals, you need to learn how to deal with these detractors and overcome this common obstacle.

48. Go outdoors.
These days, too many of us spend so much of our time indoors, especially if our jobs and our ways of having fun are all online. Our kids are often just as bad or worse, with so many ways to watch TV, surf the internet or play video games. Get them and yourself outdoors, appreciate nature, the beauty of the world around us, and the fun of physical activity.

49. Retire early.
This isn’t a sure way to become happy — you can retire and be bored out of your mind and unhappy — but it’s surely a cool goal. And if you do something meaningful with your life, such as volunteer and help others, it can be a way to be really happy. It’s not an easy goal, either, but you can retire early by cutting back on your living expenses, increasing your income, and investing the difference. The more you can do of all three, the fast you’ll retire. And that’s a truly liberating idea.

50. Savor the little things.
Sure, the big things can bring big pleasure, but there are so many more little things in our lives. Savor them when they come up. It’s a way of practicing being present — stop and notice what you’re doing right now, what’s around you. And take time to enjoy it. Read this article for more.

51. Be lazy.
There’s a time to be productive, and there’s a time to be plain ol’ lazy. I like the latter, and do it every chance I get. Does that make me a lazy person? Probably not, but even if it does, I don’t care. It makes me happy, and the kids love being lazy with me.

52. Help others.
While finding pleasure in life is one way to be happy, doing something that is more than you, that helps others to be happy or to suffer less, is even more rewarding. I suggest you find a good cause or two and volunteer some of your time. You don’t have to commit to big chunks of your life, but just volunteer for a couple of hours. All of us can find a couple of hours in a week or a month. If you do this, you will find out how tremendously happy this will make you. You might even become addicted.

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