Retirement and the Dreams of Children

“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.

Ameritrade retirement ad: Little girl wants to live happily ever after.

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.

Ameritrade retirement ad: Little girl wants to live happily ever after.
Retirement: Start Early

Author: Todd Garlington

Urban spectator, Inner space cadet

58 thoughts

  1. My husband and I are in the process of retirement. He is 66 and I am 65. We planned to stay in the workforce for another year or two, but COVID-19 forced us to change our plans. We are discovering there is no happily ever after when it comes to retiring. The government taxes you, the health care industry overcharges you, and unless you are a millionaire the money you have left won’t stretch.

  2. I went into solitude for a few years trying to make light of what was a necessity and what was excess. I spent my dollar and saved and collected to make the dollar. I now realize that to stretch my dollar i’m going to travel to Thailand, my parents home country. I will really stretch the dollar out there. Although the exchange rate is only $1 to 29 Baht. 10 years ago it was $1 to 40 Baht. Yes, the dollar has depreciated. I’m almost 30 and where are the careers that being educated gets you. Where’s that american dream…. the one from the 50’s or 70’s hmmm. It may be in another country as an American. Americans are looked upon as movie stars in Thailand…. follow me to experience this amazing journey to Thailand. Also, i’m a Thai citizen and American. DUAL

    1. “Where’s that american dream…. It may be in another country as an American.”

      That is a very good point.

      A couple in their 30s recently shocked quite a few of us at our place of work, when the husband announced that they are quitting their jobs, taking their two young children, and moving to the coast of Mexico. Everyone assumed that they had jobs waiting, but no. They had modest jobs here, and we’ve not heard of either of them winning a lottery or getting a huge inheritance. The husband said they can live cheaply on the coast there, aren’t sure what they’ll do — no current plans to work, but that they want to enjoy their children and be with them while they are small. I cheered for them, I admire their attitude so very much. We live in dangerous times and life is short. Relative financial security is nice if you have it, but today matters more than tomorrow. We have to learn to think differently because it’s a different world.

  3. I retired at 45 and have no desire to work again but I am constantly thinking of ways to make money! I live in a third world country (Nigeria) and poverty is a tangible cause of misery and unhappiness to millions. I see it every day on the streets and in the field next to my apartment where the poor bed down for the night. They are not “poor but happy”. Quite the opposite. They are angry and dispossessed. A few days ago the shanty towns in the east of Lagos were demolished to make way for developers and desperately poor people have lost what little they had. Nigeria now has a wave of kidnappings as desperate people try to survive. Nigerians I know want to “live happily after” and the only thing that keeps them going is the dream for a better future, however it transpires or whatever they have to sacrifice. I don’t believe it is possible to be truly happy without financial security and no one should be complacent about their finances. I am an Economist my profession (disclaimer).

    1. Yes, money is an important factor in the quality of life. But it is not the only factor. Many people in the United States suffer from obesity and depression. Many are medicated for anxiety and problems related to poor health despite having the financial means to live happily. Striking a balance seems difficult for all peoples.

      1. Balance is certainly elusive. I think a certain level of baseline financial security is necessary for happiness and quality of life. I have been poor- it was very stressful! After that financial baseline kicks in individual differences start to apply and most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

    2. ‘madonnavalentine’…I appreciate the intelligence of your comment about balance and ‘baseline financial security’. Not having that baseline is a situation that people who’ve never lived with don’t understand, and that most people who HAVE lived with don’t put into words, but feel keenly.

      I look on the bright side of life about 99% of the time, but also I can’t help but be aware of how tired I am from working so hard at this age, with no end in sight, and that the rewards I reap are definitely different from people who do have that baseline.

      For example, my rewards for hard work are things like the ability to keep a modest and rented roof over my head and being able to pay the mechanics to keep my 19 year old vehicle from breaking down on me on my way to work. I’m thankful for this. At the same time, when I do get to work I park in a lot full of shiny new cars, and when I get into the office, completely burned out from work, I often am greeted by the fresh and excityed faces of people who just returned from their 2nd vacation this year.

      That baseline security has been missing for my entire adult life, no matter how hard I’ve worked to try to climb past it. More importantly, the same is true for so very many great people I know.

      You are so right that being poor is very stressful. In so many ways, too. As just one example, it’s one thing to worry how to pay the credit card bill when you know you can cut back on luxury items for a few months or, heck, maybe most of the year. It’s another thing to worry how to pay the credit card bill when you have to explain to the hospital why you can’t make a payment this month, have to ask the phone company for an extension of time so they won’t cut you off, and there aren’t any groceries in the ‘fridge.

      As for your comment that “after that financial baseline kicks in individual differences start to apply and most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be”… WELL SAID!

      I would love to try living within that financial baseline someday, even if just for a while. Anyone who is living within it right now and yet also living on antidepressants and /or feeling bad about his or her appearance or worrying about future health problems, should try putting a little of that financial security into a gym membership and then sign up for some volunteer work. There are over 100 volunteers signed up where I work, and the retired-from-work ones are some of the happiest-looking, positive and even fit people I know!

  4. I found this really interesting but have surprised myself with my response!! ”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.”, global inequality is not noticed by everyone as a negative thing there are many people around the world and especially in the third world who appreciate life much more than we do and who do not see lack of money or financial burdens as a means to stop them from living the happy ever after life they want! ”Money can’t buy you happiness” as it goes, I think it’s really hard to distinguish what we NEED and WANT in life. Most of it is probably just a want! I know as I am having financial difficulties that there is actually a lot that I have that I do not need and isn’t contributing to my over all happiness. I’m slowly detaching myself from all of my belongings and realising that although money is a massive part of our society now, it isn’t the most important factor of life and I will not allow it to be the factor I determine my quality of life on!! So interesting to hear people’s opinions, such a huge subject!

  5. Reblogged this on Ripples on the Pond and commented:
    The myth of ‘happily ever after’. It is something that occupies my thoughts as I start to focus my dreams for the future, senses and views heightened by the knowledge that retirement will be in the next decade and that it will come with many challenges. Some interesting thoughts in this blog.

  6. stir it up, the girl in the picture is both an image of hope perversion or responsability, depends on the heart, and how we look at things. if the future of children, is paramount, why not improve the prospects of children. how many sexual images will she have seen by age ten, so many that she’ll never get them out of her head. retirement begins the moment you close the door and go back to what you were doing, before you went to work, it’s not the thing that will happen to you all those years ahead. don’t you love the way they peddle fear to everyone. the more friends you have the less you have to worry about.

  7. first: fear, greed, and vanity are primitive characteristics of all of the african apes…
    second: man is a creative, intelligent, and persistent african ape…
    third: through this creativity and intelligence, we have taken fear, greed, and vanity, along with hatred, cruelty, and violence to new levels of importance…while at the same time, we have taken kindness, love and caring to equal levels…that is our hope…

  8. Seeing this ad has confirmed that I have made the right decision on sharing more thoughts and studying on teaching children and teenagers about money and the mindset. It is disappointing to see how some ads using fear instead of positive thinking to promote healthy financial planning. There was another bank which use depressions on their advertising. It finally had to took it down because it is not right. Definitely, hope the parents will let their kids understand the agenda behind those types of ads.

  9. Здравейте! Аз много се затруднявам при превода на темите, защото не зная английски.Може би отговорът ми няма да бъде точен. Но аз съм вече 30 години учителка и съм извънредно пристрастна по въпроса за децата. Осмелявам се да кажа, че в настоящия сбъркан век ограничихме много мечтите им.Сега момиченцата не си играят на принцеси, мечтаят да станат манекенки. Момчетата не играят по цял ден футбол, те са пред компютъра, където се учат да стрелят точно. И т.н. Това е накратко моята грижа и болка.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t believe everything I see on the tv or in popular culture, but I seem to still sort of believe in this myth of “retiring happily ever after.” It’s just recently entered my thinking that this, too is a myth. My parents are in their 70s now, sick, miserable, and collecting their retirement. They were stressed and angry through their worklives. Is this the way I want to live?

  11. A horrible marriage that I didn’t wake up from until I was 50, left me financially unable ever to retire. I have no kids to rely on and no idea what is going to happen to me if I become seriously ill, or lose my job. Nor do I know what will happen when I become just plain too tired to work anymore. All I can do now at 56 is keep getting up at 6:30 AM, driving to work in my 19 year old car, working from 8-5 five days a week in a quite hectic job, to keep a (rented) roof over my head. Oh, and live in the moment. I very much live in the moment. That is all I have, so I have learned to see magic everywhere, in everything. Even the occasional unicorn. That’s how I keep smiling.

    1. Keep smelling those roses Roseytoes. Being a survivor is a great life skill and it seems that you are that. Hope you come up with some creative solutions.

    2. Life can deal people many different hands. I am inspired by your honesty and acceptance of a very challenging situation. I have worked with many people that are of the belief the world owes them a favour, you, in contrast remain committed to seeing the good things in your life. You demonstrate an appreciation for what is truly important! Take Care my friend……Life for you still holds hope and unexpected reward

  12. I retired 2 years ago and never looked back. Because I retired “early” I was not yet on the radar of the fear mongers. But now as I approach the magic age of 60, I’m starting to get deluged with junk mail and offers of seminars to help me “survive” my retirement and make sure I don’t out live my money.

    I find it interesting that as we reach retirement age advertisers switch from sex to fear in their efforts to suck us into the money machine.

    1. Good point. Despite its apparent sophistication, the “money machine” is by and large a primal mechanism driven by sex and death. Although income and financial planning are necessary, their function has been distorted and confused with our identities.

      1. according to some, everything is a primal mechanism driven by death, or at least our fear of death…all we have created or imagined is in response to this fear…we invent a game and insist that others play it with us…we seek out others and play their games…we play every game that comes into our lives…we play no games and die or go insane…

      2. Perhaps this is true, especially if one expands the definition of death to include other aspects of loss, physical and metaphysical. Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death comes to mind.

  13. ‘Happy ever after’ comes into effect when you are able to help financially the little family of grandchildren that are yours.

  14. I retired at 63.8 and love leaving my corporate job behind and being able to go enjoy each day without answering to some boss for a paycheck. Most of my retired friends feel the same as me. We got there by saving money, investing conservatively, and living within our means.

    1. I agree that saving, investing and living within ones means is essential. Unfortunately, *hit happens. Sometimes a lot of it happens. Life has a way of changing your plans. Very few of my personal peers are living the life they saved, invested and lived within their means to be enjoying by now. One thing everyone can do to secure his or her own future, is to come to terms with an also-essential need to be flexible and open-minded about what ‘living a good life’ may mean in the future. I was pretty certain that by now I would own a nice and relatively roomy home on the property where I lived with my ex-husband, in a town I didn’t like at all, and far from the ocean that I love. Now that I’m divorced, I will never be able to afford a house of my own and I live in a very modest, rented apartment. However, where is my apartment? 120 feet up on the edge of a bluff above a beach in my favorite town.

  15. insurance companies and banks take advantage of our fears, greed and vanity. There is no happily ever after as long as they rule and dictate prices of everything.

  16. Very eloquently written piece on the retirement facade. Is there a better or different way? Is all the delayed gratification worth it? I am exploring these ideas myself and looking for answers. If you are interested in the retirement topic, please read my Extreme Early Retirement post at:

  17. We intake so much information daily from a multitude of sources, in the end, isn’t it our personal ability to make choices and decide how we want to live or how we want to die what makes us human? Rather than embrace the media messages, I intend to fashion my life in my own way. Liked your analysis of the societal value that ad embodies, but choosing to not embrace it.

  18. Yep, it’s a scary world out there and we all grow up way too quick. It’s important to have your innocence in your childhood. But at some stage we all need to grow up. Thanks for the post. Sam

  19. Husband retired 13 years ago. We had some financial resources but they are gone. You cannot live happily ever after as the result of money. Happily ever after does not come with money or without. Our society places too much foxus on what you accumulate or own.

    1. Sad to say, but you’re so correct, it hurts ! Living, “really living” is not of interest-anymore-to most folks. It’s all about the love of money, instant gratification. Most folks, not all, but most have had it good, for so long in American, from kids on up, everyone believes they are “entitled” to whatever they want. Good morals, respect, and an ethical work manner for people seem to be after thoughts anymore; folks don’t seem to have time for these concepts. If you haven’t seen it, a great movie that deals with this is SECOND LIONS (Michael Cain, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick). It’s a fun movie with a strong message about how a people can “really live”, even when they have wealth and really don’t use it, or need to be happy ever after.

      1. Agreed. A sense of entitlement poisons the spirit. It also makes a person vulnerable to being manipulated by the marketplace. Thank you for the movie tip.

  20. “Money does not bring happiness” or so the saying goes. Maybe not but it does help you sleep better at night.
    Is it possible that most people become happier as they get older because they learn life is short?

    1. Certainly, money can provide many comforts. But it can also keep you up at night. I think striking a balance between time and money is important—no easy feat in a consumer-driven culture.

      1. The only time money keeps me up at night, is when I don’t have enough to meet my needs, such as to put fuel in my car to get me to and from work the following week. If a person lies awake worrying about ‘money’ when they are actually living well, then it seem to me that what they are really losing sleep over isn’t money so much as the potential loss of a lifestyle they currently enjoy or one they are planning for. I really feel there’s a strong difference between worrying over having enough money, period, and worrying over having enough materially.

  21. We read in the book, 21st Century Science and Health, “The time required for this dream of material life to disappear from consciousness, “No one knows . . .nor the Son, but only the Father.” The time it takes for us to stop embracing delusive pleasures and pains will be drawn out, or lessened, depending on the tenacity of error. Of what advantage is it to prolong the illusion either of a catatonic soul or of a dying sufferer trapped in a body? What is better, to add years to mortal life, or, to add life to years?”

  22. Thank God !!!!! my happiness does not depend on money, on stock market or any wealth. I have 2 millionaires in my family and would NEVER for a second want to trade my life with those poor pumpkins. God owns the whole world and I know I will have all of my needs met , never have to worry and can sleep at night in safety without having to set 4 different alarm systems. My treasures are in any bank deposit safe, but I can enjoy them every day. I am very blessed indeed! I also live REALITY, because God is TRUTH and LOVE in HIS essence and I am fortunate enough not to fall in the trap of any religion , trivial pursuits and fairytale lies.

  23. I remember seeing this in an issue of The New Yorker (however I can’t recall exactly which issue). I’ll admit it’s clever advertisement on Ameritrade’s part, however I still don’t really agree with the ad. Oh well.

  24. Without our dreams, are we grown up? Or are we just disillusioned and sad? I want to live happily ever after, but I don’t believe money can buy that. I’m the one in control of my happiness. Luckily for me. Someone else is surely in control of the economy.

  25. Use of the words “Happily Ever After” should be outlawed in print advertising. I believe that, and I’m a library publicist! (OK, a part-time library clerk whose long list of duties somehow includes marketing, but hey that counts, right?)

  26. This is some of the reasons why even as a student with a part-time job, I’m saving as much money as I can and trying to find more ways to make money. I’m not hoping to live happily ever after, but to live comfortably would be nice!

  27. Ahhhh… Yes. The “Fear-Porn Machine” steadily at work. I greatly appreciate your survey and deconstruction of this otherwise innocuous advert disguised in a metaphorically warm fuzzy quilt. “I Want To Live” — a catchphrase of the meager wage earners of America (and some hip hop rappers to boot). This sentiment subtly forays into the subconscious juxtaposition one inherently is dealt with when the thoughts of a secure retirement of leisure are butted against the frailty of dependence and the notion that one’s Social Security benefits may not be there for them when the clock strikes, and Depends are worn. Time is of the essence here. “Use up your time wisely and invest in the future when time will be limited”, they might proclaim to entice our fantasy driven child mind. It follows; no-one is immune from the reaper, so watch out and invest in Ameritrade!

    -Now go back to sleep.


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