With Thanksgiving nearly here, I confess to “not feeling it” this year.
I’m always in the mood for a good holiday, but whether it’s because circumstances prevent family visits this year or the pandemic’s spirit-snapping hangover or that inflation and supply-chain issues appear ready to suck a lot of the joy out of gift-giving, “the spirit” hasn’t remotely sparked in me yet.
Decades ago, my late father-in-law — a retired judge — told me that if this feeling struck me, I was to take a moment to count my blessings. With virtually everything in life having ties to money one way or another, I can’t actually do that without looking at the financial aspects of those blessings.
So I’m sharing my count with you, in hopes that you will find that the simple pluses in your life add up and that it helps us both find the joy as we gear up for and celebrate the holidays. This year, I am thankful for:
- The stock market.
The Standard & Poor’s 500, at this writing, is within sniffing distance of all-time highs and is up roughly 25% this year, and closer to 27% when you factor in dividends. You could stop the year right now and 2021 would rank in the top quartile of the last hundred years. And most of my recent guests on “Money Life with Chuck Jaffe” have said they expect the market to finish the year strong (before slowing in 2022).
That’s not to say that market worries or concerns have gone away, only that it’s been hard this year to take a peek at your account statements and not come away smiling.
They come with stock investments of course, but they deserve special mention because the times we live in have seen fixed-income investments struggle to generate returns. That makes dividend-paying stocks a bond substitute for many investors; the problem is that even when purchased mostly for their payout, people analyze these stocks the way they do all other equity investments.
Thus, the temptation in a good year is to look at the stocks that have gained the most and to look down on the performance of issues that haven’t kept pace. That sometimes makes it easy to come away disappointed by a dividend-income strategy. I’m grateful for the consistent payers.
- The promise of the future.
There’s an old matchbook in a tiny frame in my office; the cover reads “Being able to enjoy success is the best reason for achieving it.”
As much as I can look out and see rising inflation, stock valuation problems, interest-rate concerns, continuing pandemic fallout and more as very real problems being faced now and in the near future, none of it curtails my optimism for the future.
That’s because the circumstances that keep my family from gathering this holiday aren’t forever, so no matter how the broad national and global concerns pan out, the next chance to be with my loved ones will be overdue and grand.
Live long enough and you will survive corrections, recessions, bear markets and much more; don’t allow those concerns to strip the joy out of life.
- The government.
No matter your political affiliations, it’s hard to feel like our government is much of a blessing these days. There’s divisiveness and strife and real concerns for the future. And yet, during the pandemic, political partisans managed to come together to craft public assistance programs that helped virtually everyone in some way.
While I would number myself among the people who could have gotten by without the economic stimulus checks, I know countless people whose financial stresses were eased and plenty of entrepreneurs who would have lost the business without PPP loans.
I’m thankful to live in a place where the government can overcome its flaws and imperfections to help those in need, and to not make the millions who were damaged by circumstance in the pandemic fall into complete desperation.
Yes, it’s easy to find arguments against political leaders and to harp on the imperfections in the actions they’ve taken since March 2020, but at this time of year it’s not bad to focus on the positive and recognize that amazing things can still be accomplished when both sides find a common ground.
- What I have.
This is the time of year when people address their wants and needs through gift lists, holiday splurges and with the help of big sales. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s how fragile life can be and how close so many people are to the razor’s edge physically and financially.
If you are lucky enough to have few needs and wants, appreciating what you have is a way to spur the holiday spirit. I’d rather focus on what I have in my life than on any troubles I’ve got. “All problems are small problems,” and that’s something to be thankful for.
My kids will not be around for the holidays this year, but they are always with me. We try to find ways to celebrate all days, not just holidays. Not everyone has that kind of family; I know a lot of folks who would be thrilled at a holiday season spent without their “loved ones.”
For those of us lucky enough to have true binding ties, we’ve got something that money can’t buy. If you can’t appreciate the priceless things in life, you’re never going to find the holiday spirit.