Tough Problems: Too Happy?

A Pollyanna, and a recipient of a big inheritance

Posted Mar 09, 2020

GoodFreePhotos, Public Domain
Source: GoodFreePhotos, Public Domain

This is the latest in the Tough Problems series. In each installment, I present two composite questions that my clients face and my response to each.

Dear Dr. Nemko: The coronavirus has brought out the inner pessimist in all of us . . . except me. Sure, I hear all the media's doom and gloom, but I can't help but focus on the positive. For example, there are 330 million people in the U.S, only 22 have died of it, we're spending billions to fund the world's smartest people to stop it, and everyone's washing their hands more often than a zoo's poop scooper.

I don't know if it's because I'm genetically pre-programmed for optimism and/or because I've assessed that optimism leads to greater net happiness, but people have long dismissed me as a Pollyanna. I think it's worse because I'm a blond man—the only group that can be ridiculed without being called a racist or sexist. I'm not stupid—I have a bachelor's degree in psychology. If I care about acceptance by the mainstream, do I have any choice but to be a Donny Downer?

Marty Nemko: You're probably right that your predisposition to optimism is a combination of genetics and environment, so it's probably wise to aim more for self-acceptance than trying to force yourself to be who you're not. Of course, that doesn't mean that with the coronavirus likely to continue to spread, you shouldn't wash your hands more often, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid crowds, etc. 

But try to spend time with people—optimists and pessimists—who appreciate who you are. You will probably live longer and happier than Donny and Debbie Downer. Also, greater world improvement likely accrues from a balance of people who positively reinforce the good and those who worry about how to improve the bad.

Dear Dr. Nemko: My father just died. He worked so hard for decades: got a Ph.D. in mathematical physics, started a company with a vision to create a clog-resistant cardiac stent for people with blocked arteries, worked his butt off for two decades, did create an improved stent, and then suddenly died, ironically, of a heart attack.

He left $2 million to my mom and $2 million to me. I'm ecstatic: I can pay down my mortgage, buy a new car, even pay off my student loans, and still have a million left. My friends and family are already coming to me with their hands out. Any advice on what I should do?

Marty Nemko: Although I'm not paid by Vanguard or anyone to tout any products, and I'm not a licensed financial advisor, it may be helpful to know that I have my money in Vanguard: lowest fees, representatives not on commission, and it's the largest, so it won't run away with your money. If I were in your shoes, I'd open a Vanguard Flagship account. (That offers extra benefits because you have $1,000,000.)  

Park your money in a Vanguard money market account—quite safe, liquid, and you'll earn some interest: For example, Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund yields 1.5 percent, so even that very conservative investment will get you $15,000 in one year. You can access one of Vanguard Personal Advisory Services' low-cost, certified financial planners. S/he will help you sort out how to invest your money, including charitable options that could possibly yield more benefit that giving to folks with their hands out.

I read this aloud on YouTube.