Aging Options

Proven Tips for a Happy Retirement: It’s Not About the Money

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Let’s have a show of hands: anyone out there prefer to be unhappy in retirement? We didn’t think so. Whether we retire at an early age or not, whether we have lots of money or not much, it’s safe to say that we all want what we would call a “happy retirement.” The tricky part, however, lies in defining what a happy retirement looks like and how to achieve it.

We just read this article on the subject from Kiplinger. In his article on a happy retirement, financial reporter Jacob Schroeder provides a pretty basic definition of what happiness in retirement might look like. Then he provides some tips from the experts on how to get there. Surprise: only one directly involves money. We think this article has some good insights.

A Happy Retirement Has to Mean More than “Good Feelings”

Schroeder starts his Kiplinger article with the basic question. “Want a happy retirement? Of course, you do!” He even quotes the Dalai Lama who called happiness “the purpose of our lives.” But with apologies to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, happiness is about more than good vibrations. To be sustainable, it has to have substance.

Researchers refer to that substance as “purpose” or “fulfillment.” As Schroeder explains, “Psychologists say happiness involves both the experience of positive emotions (I’m happy it’s warm today) and a deeper sense of fulfillment and meaning in life (I made a difference volunteering). It’s about evaluating our lives as a whole, rather than momentary feelings.”

A Happy Retirement: The Right Actions Help Create Purpose

Simply talking about purpose and fulfillment are the easy part, we would note, and we’ve read dozens of articles on the subject here on the Blog. But actually creating a sense of purpose, says Schroeder, involves taking action.

“If you want to be happy, you have to keep doing things that give your life meaning,” he says.  “While sources of happiness are personal, there are certain actions research has shown to promote well-being, purpose and connection — key ingredients for a happy retirement.”  With that in mind, let’s consider the action steps that can lead to a happy and fulfilling retired life.

To Build a Happy Retirement, Nurture Your Relationships 

“We’re social creatures,” says Schroeder. “It’s undeniable relationships have a significant impact on our well-being. Look no further than Harvard’s decades-long happiness study. It found that close relationships, more than money or fame, keep people happy throughout their lives.”

Sadly, though, during the retirement years, our relationships can dwindle, leading to social isolation. This lack of connection has many causes, from the death of old friends to our own infirmities. Sometimes we simply get out the habit of being social.

The antidote is to be intentional about using our retirement years as an opportunity to hit “reset” on our social life. “Call old friends,” Schroeder suggests. “Travel to visit family. Attend community events. A happy retirement is as much about who you spend time with as what you spend your time doing.”

To Build a Happy Retirement, Never Stop Moving 

It’s a serious problem when aging makes us sedentary. “Physical activity is widely recognized for its health benefits and its ability to enhance mood,” Schroeder observes. Researchers have noted a high correlation between those who are in good health and those enjoy retirement, and one of the keys to good health is movement. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hit the gym every day, but regular exercise that fits your age and condition does offer a wide range of benefits.

Moreover, physical activity doesn’t have to be “exercise” to be beneficial. “In regions known as ‘blue zones’ — where people live notably longer and report higher satisfaction with life — physical activity is baked into daily routines,” Schroeder writes. “[T]he longest-lived people in blue zones don’t ‘exercise’ in the conventional sense. Instead, their lifestyles naturally incorporate movement: gardening, kneading bread by hand and using manual tools.”

Sounds like an appealing way to keep your body active.

To Build a Happy Retirement, Find a Sense of Purpose  

Schroeder notes that people giving up regular work often lose something important in the bargain. “Even if you didn’t enjoy your job, it likely provided something valuable beyond money: purpose,” he says. “A sense of purpose is linked to living longer, healthier, happier lives.”  Quitting work can trigger severe loss of identity, which means you need to find a new way to make a difference to those around you.

“Finding purpose doesn’t require grand gestures,” Schroeder explains. “It can stem from hobbies, travel, family moments or even a pet. Find what matters to you through relationships, meaningful experiences, or both. Prioritizing what you care about consistently can lead to a more purposeful, fulfilling life.”

To Build a Happy Retirement, Serve the Needs of Others

The idea of purpose goes hand in hand with the concept of service, but serving others brings added benefits in retirement. “Giving back qualifies as a source of purpose, but it’s worth discussing on its own because of its significant impact on happiness,” says Schroeder. “People who give to others — through time, money or energy — tend to be much happier on average than those who don’t.”

Data seems to show that focusing less on oneself and more on others correlates with higher levels of happiness in retirement. “[A survey reported by AgeWave] found that nearly 70 percent of retirees say being generous is an important source of happiness in retirement,” Schroeder reports. “Engaging in acts of giving, such as volunteering at a local shelter or making annual donations, can make a profound difference in the lives of others — and your own.”

To Build a Happy Retirement, Get the Right Money Advice

As Rajiv often says, many people think “retirement planning” and “financial planning” are the same thing – but that’s untrue. Nevertheless, it’s unwise, even dangerous, to ignore retirement finances.

“Money may not buy happiness,” Schroeder observes, “but it helps, especially in retirement. At this stage, you need to fund your lifestyle without running out of money — something many Americans fear even more than death, as one study [reported by Axios] shows.”

But we know that retirement money decisions can be overwhelming, which is why (as Schroeder writes) “getting help from a professional is a smart move. According to a 2021 study, people with a financial advisor are three times happier than those without one.”

Still, Rajiv would caution you to choose a financial planner with care. It’s best to opt for a fee-for-service planner who will act as your fiduciary, pledged to put your needs uppermost. You also want a planner who believes in the concept of a financial dashboard and will help you prepare one.

“You wouldn’t fly an airplane without instruments,” says Rajiv. “Navigating your retirement planning without a financial dashboard is like flying blind!” Contact us and we’ll recommend qualified planners who can assist you.

(And if you want to know more about why traditional retirement planning is a ticket to failure, check out this insightful article from Rajiv.)

To Build a Happy Retirement, Always Stay Curious

In his 2021 book, retirement author Wes Moss surveyed around 2,000 U.S. households nearing or in retirement. Schroeder says, “[Moss] found that the happiest retirees shared a common trait: curiosity for new ‘core pursuits, or passionate hobbies. They had, on average, four core pursuits.”

Moss adds this pertinent observation: “Curiosity may have killed the cat, but a lack of curiosity kills happiness in retirement. [Happy retirees] find core pursuits—hobbies on steroids—and extract joy from their passion for commitment and improvement. It’s something a retiree lives for and can’t wait to do on a consistent basis.”

Interestingly, what you choose to do matters less than how you do it. “The type of activity is less important than the yearning to perform it,” Moss writes. 

To Build a Happy Retirement, Raise Your EQ

“Retirement brings significant changes,” Schroeder writes. “Adapting gracefully to these changes requires high emotional intelligence (EQ).”

We’ve read about EQ in the business world, and it’s a valuable skill-set. Schroeder’s article defines EQ as “your ability to identify and manage both your own emotions and those of others. It involves self-reflection, acknowledging the present, understanding your feelings and developing healthy coping strategies. A high EQ can enhance your capacity for empathy and deepen relationships.”

Research has associated higher emotional intelligence levels with increased happiness, partly because a healthy EQ helps us handle life’s twists and turns as we age. You may not be a naturally empathetic or intuitive person, but working on your emotional intelligence can be a gift to yourself and to those closest to you. 

To Build a Happy Retirement, Stop Trying So Hard!

Perhaps Schroeder’s best advice comes at the end of his article. In the quest for happiness in retirement, maybe it’s a good idea to just relax a bit. “Cease striving,” as one saying puts it.

“Studies show people tend to grow happier as they grow older,” Schroeder concludes. “One widely accepted reason is that older adults realize time is limited. They shift their focus from seeking happiness to appreciating the present. This perspective aligns with findings that gratitude is strongly and consistently linked to greater happiness.” 

Schroeder quotes American philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who suggested that happiness comes when you stop actively pursuing it. Thoreau wrote, “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.”

The message to us is, seek out simple enjoyments and practice contentment. “Have dinner with your family or go to a concert with friends,” says Schroeder. “If you’re motivated, work part-time or volunteer at your favorite charity. Refine your backstroke or tend to your garden. 

With luck, happiness will follow. Even if it eludes you, your time won’t be wasted. You may be helping to make the world a happier place.”  Good advice.

Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!

We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public.  As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.

You’ve heard Rajiv say it repeatedly: 70 percent of retirement plans will fail. If you know someone whose retirement turned into a nightmare when they were forced into a nursing home, went broke paying for care, or became a burden to their families – and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you – then this book is must-read.

Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.

Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.

Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!

(originally reported at

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