“I Want to Live Happily Ever After.” This sentiment is understandable in a child. Vulnerable and inexperienced, their growth relies on fantasy to some degree. But retirement services aren’t peddled to children. The little girl in this ad by Ameritrade speaks to adults, and not necessarily to parents alone. Her shyness warms hearts but also plants a reminder of human frailty. She hides behind pictures of princesses and butterflies, a symbol of our inner child, and if we are not in touch with our emotions, a messenger of fear.
By offsetting the text “I Want to Live,” the threat of death looms in the subconscious—death of one’s offspring, death of oneself, death in general. Yet in the context of retirement, the primal statement also implies that one is not really living until their obligation to work ceases. Both meanings quickly tap into the psyche and arouse desires so often linked to an investment portfolio. Never mind the obstacles of retirement unrelated to money: finding new ways to be useful and deriving self-worth while exercising the body and mind before eventually letting go.
And then comes the “Happily Ever After” part which is actually quite sad. An adult who still harbors this fairytale ending has never really grown up. Even if that ending has been pragmatized in monetary terms, it still represents wishful thinking born out of spiritual naiveté. Living from paycheck to paycheck can be stressful, but so can living on fixed income. Markets rise and fall. We live in a culture defined by money. Do we really think that we can just walk away and enter a realm of happiness where we no longer concern ourselves with account balances? It’s possible, but not likely.
Take for example some of the most financially successful individuals on the planet. Among them, Forbes magazine profiles “the losers” of 2013 in their March 25th edition: multi-billionaires whose fortunes dropped from eleven figures to ten. Are they living happily ever after, or trying to regain what was lost for the sake of… living happily ever after? At what point does an inner child turn into an inner demon?
Surely the hopes of a little girl are innocent. But the logos and laws of finance that surround such imagery legitimize desires that continue to wreak havoc on our world. Will we ever perceive the relationship between personal anxieties and global inequity? Or is it too late? Are we simply lost in a culture of dreams? Despite frequent alarms warning us of greed and fraud, we slumber onward, entrusting our dreams to companies that, in turn, aim to profit from us.