The Road to Global, Sustainable Happiness

In the most recent World Happiness Survey, Nordic countries rule. This year, Switzerland has the distinct honor of playing host to the happiest citizens of the world, followed closely by Iceland, Denmark and Norway. Rounding out the top 10 are Canada, Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia. Over the last three years, Nordic countries have proven themselves dominant across all measures.1

As it turns out, one critical factor that impacts individual happiness is trust in the country’s government. Happier people also tend to have strong social networks and are generous with their time, as volunteerism is a common activity among them. 2

Does money buy happiness? Perhaps not, but it does rank as one of the three most important factors along with social support and a healthy life expectancy. On a global scale, women rate slightly happier than men, but men tend to become happier after age 50, and both genders worry more as they get older (women more so). Another advantage men report over women: They are more likely to claim to have “learned or done something interesting yesterday.”3

Younger people report being happier than older people. They start out adulthood happiest, yet those sentiments tend to curb by middle age and remain flat thereafter.4

The annual World Happiness Survey is one of the tools that may help guide global development moving forward. This September, the member states of the United Nations are expected to adopt a set of defined Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to provide global-wide guidelines for more inclusive and sustainable patterns of development by balancing economic, social and environmental objectives. Research has shown that when countries single-mindedly pursue GDP without taking into consideration social and environmental objectives, the results frequently have a negative impact on citizens.5

1 Katia Hetter. CNN. April 23, 2015. “Get happy in the world’s happiest countries.” Accessed May 27, 2015.
2 Ibid.
3 Peter Economy. Inc. May 5, 2015. “7 Powerful Lessons From the 2015 World Happiness Report.” Accessed May 27, 2015.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

Digital Shopping

How much has new technology shaped our behaviors as consumers? More than you might realize.

Even if you personally do not use your cellphone to check prices and product availability while shopping, the clerk helping you inside a store may. A recent study by The Boston Consulting Group found that more and more, retailers are using in-store technologies for a wide range of tasks, from interacting with customers to managing inventory. For example, some merchants equip their sales clerks with hands-free mobile devices so they can call the storeroom to see if a size is available, or call another clerk on-site to help out with a waiting customer. If out of a certain product’s size or color, many stores can check the inventory at other nearby franchises via a computer at the check-out counter.7

Mobile technology also allows savvy customers to take advantage of online promotional discount codes, integrating online and offline sales channels for greater ease and value. Some retailers even offer in-store touch screens that enable “endless aisles.” In other words, in-store convenience paired with a full range of available products.8

Some high-end boutiques have even introduced a shopping experience that includes “magic mirrors.” These digital mirrors simulate large touch-screen computers with amazing versatility. An in-store customer can use the mirror to browse the content at the retailer’s website and social media. Customers can look for products they like, then place an order for selections in the preferred size and colors to be delivered to the dressing room. Once the room has been reserved with the choices, a text is sent. Once the customer is in the dressing room, that mirror can respond with stylist recommendations for coordinating pieces, such as a matching purse or shoes. The mirror also immediately scans and catalogs the dressing room items so that different sizes, cuts or colors can be requested on the mirror the same way they would be on a touch screen. Shoppers can store their selections, both purchased and rejected, in their personal data profile to access next time they’re in the store or online. The magic mirror also allows customers to check out right in the dressing room and provides a digital receipt; no more waiting in line at the check-out counter.9

Virtual shopping is no longer an either/or (in-store/online) proposition; customers are combining their experience to get Internet deals with the on-site tactile experience. For example, 10 percent of all of Wal-Mart’s mobile sales actually take place while the customer is in the store.10

The following are other ways new digital technology is shaping the way we shop:11

  • Personalized loyalty programs – Points and discounts are tailored to the specific desires and past shopping habits of each loyalty customer. High-value (and spending) customers receive extravagant perks, such as reserved storefront parking.
  • “Clienteling” – Stored data for repeat customers can be shared in real-time with store clerks, so they can greet the customer by name and make recommendations based on past purchases.
  • Customized planogramming – Today, retailers use “planograms” to position products in aisles, on shelves or “endcap” displays based on traditional assumptions about how customers shop. For example, a grocery store layout may accommodate shoppers who prefer to shop for fresh produce first and end their shopping spree with frozen foods. The high-tech version of this type of navigation may detect customer preferences and change in-aisle digital promotions and coupons for customers most likely to purchase certain products.
  • Digital shopping assistant – Similarly, a mobile app may help customers navigate a specific store’s layout by directing them to the aisles with the products they’re seeking.
  • Digitized cart – Scanners attached to shopping carts allow customers to keep track of what they have selected so as not to go over budget. By the time he or she checks out, the customer already knows the total cost of the items.
  • Recurring purchases – How often do you find a store is out of what you’re looking for? As technology progresses, a store’s mobile app shopping assistant may track recurring purchases and offer to establish a recurring purchase/delivery cycle so those products will be in-stock and set aside when you get there.
  • Social media integration – Some stores may offer real-time integration of previous customer comments and reviews to help an in-store prospective buyer decide what to buy and how to use it.

According to The Boston Consulting Group, brick-and-mortar retailers that currently utilize advanced digital strategies to enhance the customer experience and improve employee performance tend to outperform retailers that do not.12

7 The Boston Consulting Group. Feb. 24, 2015. “Four Digital Enablers: Bringing Technology into the Retail Store.” Accessed April 22, 2015.
8 October 2014. “New Research Shows How Digital Connects Shoppers to Local Stores.” Accessed April 22, 2015.
9 Marcus Wohlsen. Nov. 27, 2014. “eBay’s Plan to Reinvent Retail Shopping with Magic Mirrors.” Video: Accessed April 22, 2015.
10 The Boston Consulting Group. Feb. 10, 2015. “The Growth of the Global Mobile Internet Economy.” Accessed April 22, 2015.
11 PWC. “The future of retail isn’t what you think.” Accessed Apr. 22, 2015.
12 The Boston Consulting Group. Feb. 24, 2015. “Four Digital Enablers: Bringing Technology into the Retail Store.”

Palliative Care: What It Is, What It Is Not

Palliative care emerged in the 1980s as a holistic, team approach to supporting patients suffering from serious medical conditions. It is not the same thing as hospice care. While both focus on making the patient more comfortable, the difference is that hospice is called for when the patient has a prognosis of impending death. Palliative care, quite on the other hand, focuses on life.

The difference between the two is significant, but not widely known. In fact, more than 78 percent of adults in the United States are not exactly sure what palliative care is.3 Even some members of the medical community believe that palliative care is just a synonym for hospice. Some doctors understand the difference but don’t recommend palliative care because they’re concerned the patient may interpret it to mean hospice and believe that they’re dying.4

Moreover, more than 50 percent of directors of nursing do not understand the basics of palliative care, according to new study. This research found that the more familiar the director of nursing was with palliative care, the greater the chances that their patients experienced end-of-life care aligned with a higher quality of life focus.5

While hospice patients no longer receive curative treatment for their underlying disease, palliative care is available at any stage of illness and can be deployed in conjunction with curative treatment. It is not associated with any particular age, illness or stage of illness, and is appropriate for anyone suffering from a serious illness, whether chronic or acute.

Team Approach
Palliative care is provided by a team of professionals, usually in concert with the patient’s primary physician for a specific condition. This team is developed to meet the special needs of each patient and therefore can vary significantly. Examples of palliative care team specialists include trained palliative care doctors and nurses, social workers, psychologists, dietitians, nutritionists, massage therapists, pharmacists, chaplains and even art or music therapists — whatever is most appropriate for the patient. Even if the primary physician is not technically a member of the palliative care team, he supervises the patient’s care and plays an active role in ongoing treatment.

The healing scope of the palliative care team is broader than that of traditional doctors. Their focus is on preventing pain, alleviating suffering, improving quality of life and helping both the patient and his loved ones cope with the stress and burden of caregiving. The team works to make the patient become as independent as possible, emphasizing what the patient actually wants instead of what a traditional medical approach might dictate that he needs. This approach gives patients more control over their treatment plan.

For example, an aging parent diagnosed with cancer may be worried about who will care for his mentally incapacitated adult son to the degree that he forgoes scheduled treatments to stay home with the dependent. This scenario may call for a social worker who is able to procure resources to help care for the son and provide transportation to and from chemotherapy sessions for the father. A palliative care team addresses physical, mental and social conditions, and studies have revealed that curative treatment can also be more effective when accompanied by palliative care.6

Because palliative care is not that well known, access is an issue. Most of the time it is recommended by the treating physician and frequently provided by on-site teams in a hospital setting. However, palliative care can be provided wherever the patient is located, including outpatient clinics, long-term-care facilities, hospices and even at home.

Palliative care also can be recommended via other sources, such as health and mental health agencies, day care and senior centers, schools, courts, child welfare and family service agencies, correctional systems, agencies serving immigrants and refugees, substance abuse programs and employee assistance programs. While the foundation of the program is to provide pain and symptom relief, these types of organizations may be engaged due to the patients’ lifestyle, socio-economic factors, immigration status and/or living environment. Social service agencies are frequently able to identify these factors and refer patients who would benefit from palliative care before their conditions are exacerbated and require more costly treatment.7

Palliative care is generally covered all or in part by Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance plans. However, Medicaid coverage can vary depending on the state program.8

3 Health Affairs Blog. March 10, 2015. “Effective Public Engagement To Improve Palliative Care For Serious Illness.” Accessed April 14, 2015.
4 Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing. October 2012. “Opportunities and Challenges for Palliative Care Professionals in the Age of Health Reform.” Accessed April 8, 2015.
5 “Many Nursing Homes Fall Short at Palliative Care.” March 24, 2015.  Accessed April 8, 2015.
6 Pharmacy Practice News. March 2015. “Palliative Care a ‘Foreign’ But Vital Role for Pharmacists.” Accessed April 8, 2015.
7 National Association of Social Workers. “NASW Standards for Palliative & End of Life Care.”” Accessed April 8, 2015.
8 “Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed April 8, 2015.

All-Inclusive Resorts: The Key to Vacationing on a Budget?

How often have you given yourself a limit as to how much you’ll spend while on vacation, only to find you spend much more? One way to control this phenomenon is to book your next vacation at one of the increasingly popular all-inclusive resorts.

An all-inclusive resort offers one price for many of your main expenses, including accommodations, meals, daily activities and nightly entertainment. Some places even include gratuities, bar drinks and transportation to and from the airport.

Club Med pioneered the concept of the flat-fee resort more than 60 years ago. Since then, hundreds of luxury hotels and cruise lines have honed the idea to create a popular option for vacationers. However, be aware that even all-inclusive resorts may charge extra for things like spa treatments and motorized water sports. Some packages may charge an optional daily beverage fee, as the inclusive fee may not include alcoholic beverages or even sodas. You also may incur charges for Internet access, and all-inclusive resorts seldom foot the bill for activities enjoyed in the local community.6

Some travelers may not mind paying the extra fees since so much is already included, but keep an eye on your bottom line or you could end up going way over budget. Instead of keeping tabs on the small daily charges, add them to your running tab for the entire vacation, as that’s the number that will help keep your ancillary spending in check.

Many travelers enjoy the simplicity of an all-inclusive vacation, knowing they don’t have to carry cash around the resort or check prices at every juncture. It also can be much easier than researching local restaurants to figure out where to go for each meal.

For 2015, several media outlets have picked their top recommendations for all-inclusive resorts. The following is a diverse sampling.

Generations Riviera Maya, Mexico — Generations features 144 suites on a secluded beach with a collection of infinity pools, swim-up suites and hot tubs. The all-inclusive package features butler service and customized gourmet experiences allowing guests to complete a culinary preference questionnaire before they arrive.7

Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, Jamaica — The Hyatt’s first all-inclusive resort in Jamaica, this adults-only retreat features beach butlers and poolside food trucks. Exotic cuisine choices include a Japanese teppanyaki grill and Brazilian churrascaria, plus the all-inclusive fee includes free rounds at two local golf courses.8

Riu Palace Antillas, Aruba — An adults-only resort for active beach enthusiasts, featuring windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and scuba lessons. You can also get beach pavilion massages, go nightclub dancing and gamble at an onsite casino. Note that the all-inclusive fee does not include gambling funds.9

Secrets Resorts & Spas, Mexico — The “Spoil Yourself and Repeat” package features up to four spa treatments a day, plus complimentary green fees, nine dining options and six bars. If you choose this spot for your honeymoon, the resort will grant you a free night on your anniversary each year.10

Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee — If you’re looking for an all-inclusive domestic resort, consider the combination of downhome activities and luxury amenities at Blackberry Farm. With a view of the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing, fly fishing, gardening, farming and even truffling. There are cooking demonstrations, whiskey and wine tastings, a full-service spa along with golf and tennis. Most activities are charged separately but meals and accommodations are included in the singular price.11

The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, Montana — Billed as an all-inclusive luxury ranch resort offering “a slice of raw western adventure paired with unprecedented comfort and amenities,” this Montana retreat offers an interesting vacation alternative. Vacationers can enjoy fly-fishing, massage treatments, horseback riding and regionally inspired cuisine. Accommodations feature “glamping,” or glamorous camping, options: Canvas tent-cabins featuring 810 square feet with two rooms separated by a curtain, and rustic yet luxurious wood cabins featuring private baths and comfortable beds with luxurious bedding. The resort’s Rod and Gun Club offers a variety of activities ranging from fishing to horseback riding to pistol shooting, while the Granite Spa offers rejuvenating treatment packages. The all-inclusive fee (plus 20 percent “ranch fee”) includes room, board and your choice of two daily, on-property, guided activities with all gear and equipment, as well as access to the fitness center, pool and hot tub.12

1 Wendy Lustbader. Yes! Magazine. Feb. 16, 2015. “Will the Elder Boom Spur a Caring Revolution? Ai-jen Poo’s Inspiring Vision.” Accessed Mar. 18, 2015.
2 Worklife and Wellness UC Davis. “Adult and Elder Care.”  Accessed March 18, 2015.
3 U.S. Census Bureau. March 25, 2014. “Facts for Features: Older Americans Month: May 2014.” Accessed March 18, 2015.
4 Family Caregiving Alliance. “Selected Long Term Care Statistics.”  Accessed March 18, 2015.
5 Wendy Lustbader. Yes! Magazine. Feb. 16, 2015. “Will the Elder Boom Spur a Caring Revolution? Ai-jen Poo’s Inspiring Vision.” Accessed March 18, 2015.
6 Kaitlin Wells. June 8, 2014. “10 things all-inclusive vacations won’t tell you.” Accessed March 18, 2015.
7 The Huffington Post. “10 Best Caribbean All-Inclusive Resorts for 2015.” Feb. 17, 2015. Accessed March 18, 2015.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Luxury Travel Magazine. Dec. 23, 2014. “Travel Channel Names Top 10 All-Inclusive Resorts of 2015.” Accessed March 25, 2015.
12 Ibid.

Finding a Home for an Elderly Person

We spend a lot of time researching where to spend our vacations, where to send our children to college, where to spend or invest our money and even how to create meal plans, whether for a big family occasion or nightly dinners. However, one thing that thousands of proactive planners do not do until it’s too late is investigate where to place an aging parent.

Most older people want to live at home until they pass away. Unfortunately, this isn’t feasible in many situations. When and how we will pass away is not something most people can plan on beforehand, and the reality is that we do not age gracefully — we do so with ailments ranging from inconvenient to debilitating in various degrees.

It is common for seniors living at home to experience a fall or a medical condition that renders them unable to continue living in their own home. In this situation, the choices are few and often less than ideal: Either a family member takes them in or places them in an assisted living or nursing home facility. Additionally, this decision often must be made in haste — before mom or dad’s release from the hospital.

If you find yourself in this situation, the following is a list of considerations to guide you in selecting a facility to care for an elderly parent.

Seek out “culture change” facilities
The trend in senior care is a departure from the drab, institutional nursing home of yore. These days, many facilities are upgrading their environment, staff training and general approach to embrace residents as members of their broader family. These efforts to improve the quality of life for residents include fewer regimens, with the ability to eat, sleep and bathe according to their own schedule — not the facilities’. Ask what food alternatives the facility offers if a resident doesn’t like the main entree offered, or if a separate meal can be prepared to accommodate wishes.4

Tour after hours
It’s easy for a facility to put on a good show when it’s fully staffed during regular business hours. But you should also schedule times to “drop by” at night or on weekends to get a true sense of how the residents fare and if they are engaged and/or attended. Ask how many attendants are available at night, and if they engage with residents who are awake.

Staffing numbers
You can ask about staffing ratios, but that may not give you the whole picture. As you tour the residence, observe if there are elderly people waiting — to be fed, to be helped to their rooms after dinner, etc. If so, the facility may not be properly staffed at all times.

Consistent assignment
“Consistent assignment” is a term used to describe how care attendants are assigned. Ideally, each elderly person receives help from just a few different people throughout the week. This allows them to develop a relationship with them, and the caregivers to learn about individual needs, preferences and even quirks. Change can be disruptive, so having as many as 20 or 25 different people caring for one person in a month can be highly detrimental. Ask if residents have a say in who cares for them.5

Registered nurses
RNs are the only staff licensed to assess a resident’s medical condition, so it’s important to ask if the facility has an onsite registered nurse 24/7. Federal mandates required that nursing homes have an RN on site only eight hours per day, but the better facilities will have one available around the clock.6

Ask about staff turnover of staff direct care workers (CNAs or nurse assistants). While the national average is 70 percent, look for a facility with less than 40 percent. Also ask about the turnover rate of licensed nurses. The national average is 50 percent; seek out a facility with less than 30 percent.7

4 Eleanor Laise. Kiplinger. December 2014. “Find the Right Nursing Home.” Accessed March 25, 2015.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Pioneer Network. March 25, 2014. “Facts for Features: Older Americans Month: May 2014.” Accessed March 25, 2015.

Are You Worried About Money?

Legg Mason recently conducted a survey among affluent  individuals with at least $200,000 in investable assets — the average was $385,000 in retirement income plan savings. At an average age of 58, these individuals were close enough to retirement that planning for it weighed heavily on their minds.1

How heavy? On average, they worried about money approximately nine hours a week. That’s nine hours they weren’t focused on their work, time that could have been spent getting exercise to help stay healthy or spending quality time with family and friends. The findings were worse for about 10 percent of those surveyed: They worried about money two to three hours each day.2

About 72 percent reported their No. 1 retirement goal was to maintain their current lifestyle. Among them, 60 percent were either not confident or only somewhat confident they would be able to retire when they wanted to.3

Among their fears, the top three that could prevent them from achieving their retirement lifestyle goals were: 4

  1. Experiencing a catastrophic event that would deplete their savings
  2. Outliving the income provided by their savings
  3. Living on a fixed income that does not keep pace with inflation

One of the best ways to fight fears is to have a plan. While plans may proceed with varying degrees of success, at least having one tends to help people worry less. According to, setting a specific goal can help reduce the type of stress that accompanies worrying about retirement.5 Once you establish a specific plan for your retirement, you can apply those extra worry-free 475 hours a year to figuring out how to put that plan into action to help you meet your goals.6

1 Emily Zulz. March 10, 2015. “Investors Spend 475 Hours a Year Worrying About Money: Legg Mason.” Accessed March 11, 2015.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 “Stress Management – Setting a Goal to Reduce Stress.” Accessed March 11, 2015.
6 Emily Zulz. March 10, 2015; “Investors Spend 475 Hours a Year Worrying about Money: Legg Mason.” Accessed March 11, 2015.