What Does It Take To Be Happy In Retirement?

What Does It Take To Be Happy In Retirement?

It goes without saying that eliminating worries about money is a key component of retirement peace of mind.  But while financial security may be necessary for retirement happiness, it is not sufficient.  I frequently encounter many new retirees who are having difficulty making the transition from spending forty hours (or more) a week at the office to spending the same amount of time at home doing other things.  In an effort to help them (and you) overcome the non-financial barriers to a happy retirement, and not being a psychologist, I scoured the web for ideas.  (Or at least clicked on a few links.)  Below are the most commonly reported non-financial sources of happiness that I distilled from my searches.

  • Maintain your health. It’s critically important to develop and maintain healthy lifestyle habits.  As you get older your quality of life can become impaired by small yet persistent health problems.  In addition, you should learn about new health care topics and create an Advance Health Care Directive with your spouse and or other family members detailing how you want to deal with unexpected health problems.  It will improve your overall retirement peace of mind.
  • Keep active socially. This appears to be one of the most important and consistent recommendations.  It means keeping in touch with family & friends, as well as picking a hobby (or four) that involves lots of social activity such as volunteering, travelling, or even just playing golf.  Interestingly, working part time has also been shown to benefit not only your wallet but also your health.  The physical activity and social connections a job provides can be a good antidote to an unhealthy sedentary and lonely lifestyle.
  • Keep a schedule to manage your time. This will help prevent you from getting bored, depressed, or lonely.  And a busy schedule appears to be highly correlated with happiness.
  • Do stuff you stopped doing. How many of us gave up golf or piano or painting years ago because we didn’t have time while raising our children?  Retirement is an opportunity to go back to those things we haven’t done for years and rediscover how much we enjoyed them.
  • Learn new things. Now is the time to expand your mental horizons!  And there are so many low-cost opportunities in the Bay Area, from Ted Talks to seminars at local colleges.  You can even find courses in Yoga and other spiritual activities if that’s what interests you.
  • Take at least two vacations each year. This is one area where spending more money does appear to correlate with greater happiness.  Possibly it’s because so many people find travel exciting and personally enriching.  It can be social, too.

At this point all of the above probably seems reasonable if not intuitively obvious.  But now consider the following suggestions:

  • Don’t live within 10 miles of your adult children. Michael Finke and Nhat Hoang Ho at Texas Tech University (as reported in Money Magazine) determined that seeing their kids too often left retirees less happy.  “People overestimate the amount of satisfaction they get from their kids,” he reported.  Your closest relationships are likely to have a bigger impact on your mood when you have a lot more time on your hands.  But the reason for such dissatisfaction is unclear.
  • Live in a city or suburbs. According to Wes Moss in his book “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think,” twice the number of retirees living in what they consider to be rural areas claimed to be unhappy as compared to those living in more populated locations.  Likely it’s because cities and suburbs have more people, and consequently more opportunities to engage and interact with others.

Ultimately, becoming engaged in some kind of activity that is meaningful to you seems to be the key ingredient for a happy retirement.  But if you are at all in doubt, you can always follow the advice of Bankrate.com and move to South Dakota! (See post:  Should You Retire To South Dakota?)


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