The danger of sacrificing wellbeing for financial gain

Exhausted businessman leaning head on desk by binders while working late in office

Image: AndreyPopov/

There’s a trend among the middle-aged to focus on work and income at the expense of their personal wellbeing. It’s often done with the hope that they can work on wellbeing later—in retirement, perhaps.

‘Economic theory can predict a dip in wellbeing among the middle-aged in high-income, English-speaking countries,’ says Angus Deaton of Princeton University.

‘This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present wellbeing, so as to have increased wealth and wellbeing later in life.’

The problem with this understandable approach is that it may not be easy—or it may be too late—to transition back to wellbeing when the time comes. Besides, wellbeing is important at any stage of life.

Deaton is speaking to research he was involved in that linked wellbeing to a longer life. Lead researcher, Andrew Steptoe, is careful about making the longer-life link: ‘The findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing wellbeing could help to improve physical health.’

The wellbeing they speak of is related to life satisfaction and feelings such as happiness, sadness, anger, stress, and pain.

Amy Morin, the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, points out that previous research has demonstrated that while meditation, forgiveness, and gratitude have been linked to good health, now having a sense of meaning and purpose—wellbeing—does the same.

Morin suggests three steps to wellbeing:

1. Have a reason to get out of bed

Have a sense of meaning and purpose outside of your career. If your sense of identity is linked to what you do and not who you are, you may lack purpose in retirement.

2. Set limits on work

Working long hours now—even to make sure you have enough money for retirement—may prevent you from living long enough to enjoy retirement, or impair your health in retirement. Eating poorly, skimping on sleep, and ignoring stress can damage long-term health.

3. See the big picture

What is your purpose and passion? Keeping these in mind can help you live a life with purpose and meaning.

One of the dangers we face as we approach retirement is falling to the temptation to leave things as they are until we get there and have the time to fix them. Wellbeing is too important to risk.

Balance is best. Always.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Lifestyle

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