The “Blue Zones” of Wealth and Happiness

Alexander Green
by Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist, The Oxford Club
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Two months ago, a friend invited me to a weekend social event at his ranch near Austin, Texas.

There I met a journalist who had spent years researching the health, diet and lifestyles of the world's longest-lived people.

"Wait a minute," I interjected. "Are you that Blue Zones guy?"

He was.

I was talking to Dan Buettner, the National Geographic fellow and best-selling author of several books, including The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People.

The conversation later turned to the financial markets and the search for practical investment solutions.

After a few minutes, Dan said, "Hold on. Are you that Gone Fishin' guy?"

Over the next couple days we talked for hours, played a combative game of tennis and promised to mail each other our books when we got home.

Dan lives in Minnesota, while I divide my time between Florida and Virginia. But we've been corresponding ever since - and plan to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail near Bend, Oregon, this August.

When I received Dan's books, I dove into his latest first, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World's Happiest People.

Yes, I know. Bookstores are swimming in titles about happiness and where to find it.

I plowed through dozens during the years I wrote my weekly Beyond Wealth column.

Let me save you a lot of time and trouble. If you're interested in the subject, read Dan's book first.

It's the only one you'll need.

The Blue Zones of Happiness is a fascinating exploration of the world's happiest people - and the many ways you can tweak your own life to make it more fulfilling.

That begins, of course, with defining what happiness is.

In Dan's view, it comes down to three P's: pleasure, purpose, and pride.

Pleasure includes the time we spend doing things we enjoy, especially with friends and family.

Purpose is the strand of happiness that results from living out your values.

Pride is feeling satisfied with your position in life, your accomplishments personal or professional.

The book kicks off with a Blue Zones Happiness Test that reveals your current state of happiness.

It also points out where you should concentrate your efforts to lead a more satisfying life.

For example, I scored high on all three measures of happiness. But I learned that I could notch things higher if I spent more time socializing, volunteered more frequently and got back to a regular meditation schedule.

Studies show that most of us are happier if we live with a loving partner, have friends we can confide in, get at least 30 minutes of physical exercise daily, own a dog, have clearly defined goals, spend less than an hour a day on social media and can articulate our purpose in life.

We find it tougher to be happy if we are overworking, overspending and undersocializing.

(I love spending time with friends, for example. But I'm an undersocializer. Research and writing is a passion. But it's a solitary business.)

Dan emphasizes several worthwhile steps, including getting outside more, pursuing a favorite hobby, getting a daily dose of humor and practicing generosity.

Better than simply delineating ideas and showing how they'll boost your happiness, he offers dozens of straightforward, actionable ideas to nudge you in the right direction.

The book is superbly researched, eminently practical and full of wisdom about living the kind of life where you feel like you are truly flourishing.

Of course, there is one thing that makes a happy life easier for most of us...

Money.

The best things in life may be free, but there are generally strings attached.

It's hard to imagine, for example, that anyone is truly happy if they are worried about retirement, living paycheck to paycheck or two steps ahead of the debt collector.

In my next column, I'll cover Dan's (and my) ideas about money and happiness.

And I'll discuss how to get enough of the former so that you can enjoy more of the latter.

Good investing,

Alex

Happy Shopping!

Optimism runs in Alex's genes - he loves to point out how the doom-and-gloomers are often wrong.

In the April edition of The Oxford Communiqué, Alex debunked the myth that traditional brick-and-mortar retail is dying. In fact, for every company that closed a store in 2017, the National Retail Federation reports that 2.7 companies opened one.

So putting his words into action, he added TJX Companies (NYSE: TJX) to the Oxford Trading Portfolio and explained why the outlet is currently a great, undervalued bargain...

The biggest story in retail over the last few years has been the overwhelming dominance of Amazon.

Yet some have found ways not just to survive but to thrive. One of them is TJX Companies (NYSE: TJX), recommended in our Oxford Trading Portfolio.

TJX is the world's leading off-price retailer. It owns the T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods chains, as well as the fast-growing online retailer Sierra Trading Post.

And while competitors like Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's and Payless ShoeSource are closing thousands of stores, TJX is opening more than 250 a year.

How is this possible?

TJX continually scours more than 20,000 vendors and manufacturers in more than 100 countries, buying up excess merchandise at closeout pricing and offering it to customers at huge discounts to the sticker price.

According to FactSet, sales per square foot at TJX stores have risen seven years in a row.

In late February, TJX reported fourth quarter and full-year results - and exceeded expectations in every category.

The retailer had a terrific holiday season with sales surpassing $10 billion, a company record.

Excluding one-time adjustments, earnings hit $1.19 a share, a 16% increase over the previous year - coming in ahead of Wall Street's expectations.

For the full year, customer traffic was up, comparable store sales rose - for the 22nd consecutive year - and net revenue climbed 8% to $35 billion. (Its new Canadian, European and Australian stores grew even faster.)

Management cited the company's global reach, flexible business model, excellent customer values, rapid inventory turnover and decades of experience in off-price retailing.

The stock jumped to a new high on the news. Our shares are up 116%.

TJX also raised its guidance for the rest of the year. On a conference call, CEO Ernie Herrman said he sees "a long runway for continued successful growth ahead."

What exactly does TJX offer that Amazon doesn't? A lot... including deeper discounts, the opportunity to touch and try on merchandise, and in-store returns.

TJX is cutting costs, upgrading its supply chain and already has plans for 600 new stores in addition to its more than 4,000 existing ones.

It is also expanding its online presence and opening a new chain of home goods stores under the brand name HomeSense.

It plans to repatriate more than $1 billion of Canadian cash as a result of tax reform - and will benefit from the new corporate tax rate.

In addition, TJX plans to boost its dividend 25% (on top of last year's 20% increase) and accelerate its share buyback program.

The company has excellent management, strong prospects and an Amazon-proof business model.

As long as customers enjoy the treasure-hunt experience of high-end goods at bargain prices, TJX will continue to prosper.

- Donna DiVenuto-Ball with Alexander Green

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