Major demographic forces—increasing longevity and the influx of retiring Baby Boomers—are swelling the ranks of retired Americans. Retirement for most of them is becoming a time of new beginnings, unprecedented freedoms, and great enjoyment.
Thriving in retirement requires looking through the lenses of all of the major Life Priorities—Family, Health, Home, Leisure, Giving, and Finances—and anticipating how you want to live, what you want to accomplish, and how you can fund your future self.
If you want to have a “great” retirement, you need to figure out what that means to you. As you approach retirement, it’s natural to feel happy, proud, sentimental, reflective, but at the same time also a bit uncertain or even concerned and anxious about “what do I do next?”
A happy retirement today is not about sitting with your feet up on your rocking chair, watching TV and watching the rest of the world going by, but rather a time we should embark on one of life’s greatest periods, a time to make our life more diverse, inventive exploratory and meaningful. It's therefore encouraging to learn based on a study conducted in February 2019 by T. Rowe Price that 84 percent of seniors today agreeing that their retirement has turned out to be just as good as or better than expected, and 80 percent agreeing that they are enjoying retirement more than their primary working years.
So what does it take to be happy in retirement? Here are some tips to help you on your way to happy retirement:
1. Get Your Finances In Order
Americans’ Anticipated Sources of Retirement Income
2. Stay Active and Eat Healthy
Stay mentally and physically active. Gardening, walking, joining a gym, eating healthy are all proven ways to stay physically healthy.
Want Health in Retirement? Make Exercise Fun. Try making exercise something you look forward to instead of something you have to do. Instead of walking on a treadmill, take walks through the park or go for mini hikes. Still does not appeal to you? Why not listen to music or — better yet — bring a friend along and talk and laugh as you get the heart rate going. Best of all, there is a bonus to the fun! Research from Cornell Food and Brand Lab found that those who think they are having fun while exercising end up eating less than those who are doing it for exercise.
And, If walking is your exercise, walk fast. Many research studies have found that how fast you walk after age 60 is a good gauge of longevity. Apparently your walking speed can predict dementia, shorter life spans and depression. In one study, published in Neurology, researcher, Dr. Joe Verghese, says: “As a young researcher, I examined hundreds of patients and noticed that if an older person was walking slowly, there was a good chance that his cognitive tests were also abnormal.”
Whether you want to join a fitness class, try a new sport, or attempt a new personal fitness milestone like a marathon or triathlon, anything is possible for people over 60. Even if you lived a sedentary lifestyle during your working career, your retirement years can be the beginning of a new chapter of physical activity and fulfillment.
“Good health” was picked as a top key to happiness in retirement by over 3,300 pre-retirees and seniors in a survey conducted by Age Wave and Merrill Lynch. While opportunity for ailment, injury, and illnesses increase the older one gets, regular exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet can mitigate your chances for sickness or household accidents, as well as decrease your recovery time.
3. Keep Your Brain Working / Try Something New
Keep your mind sharp. With healthy body and sharp mind, your quality of life will be amazing. Here’s some good news… According to “In Full Bloom: A Brain Education Guide for Successful Aging,” a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows that the more stimulating and intellectually challenging we make our lives, the better are our odds of keeping our aging brains vital, sharp, and agile.”
How we do that?
We can learn a new language. With many options available on the Internet today, learning a second language has never been easier. While some of the services cost money (for example, Rosetta Stone) there are a great number of free sites as well. One such free service for learning a new language is italki.com. Their service is great for finding other people to talk with across the world and many of their options don’t cost a penny.
Another option to stimulate our brain is to learn to play a musical instrument. Again, there are lots of options available on the internet from free to services that cost money. It’s never too late to learn a new skill or refresh our memory for skills we learn years ago.
Other great option is to keep learning. A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.
Get Plenty of Quality Sleep. A key way to keep your brain working is shut it off for 7-9 hours a night. "Sleep is the most important thing you can do to reset the brain, allow it to heal, and to restore mental health," says Romie Mushtaq, MD, a neurologist and integrative medicine specialist.
Engage in daily reading, Reading is beneficial on many levels. When you read, not only do you absorb the information contained in the book, but the act of reading itself builds connections within the brain that make it more versatile.
Many people engage in activities that keep them mentally active, by pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a project that involves a skill they don't usually use, all of which can function the same way and help improve memory.
To learn more about staying mentally sharp and fit, read 6 simple steps to keep your mind sharp at any age a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
4. Stay Connected
For most retired people, connection with family and friends outweighed financially-based concerns in relation to the sense of fulfillment. Your relationships are an investment that won’t offer a return financially, however it will be invaluable in terms of happiness, kindness, and care. Strong connectivity is the best weapon against loneliness. If you have a partner - husband, wife, lifelong roommate - include them in your planning. Clearly outline your goals, wants, needs, and wishes together to best determine how to move forward in retirement. Structuring time in retirement also applies to time spent with your significant other, you’re both going to have a lot more time around one another, and that can come with new challenges. Consider a schedule where one night a week is “date night” and other nights are spent with other friends or family members. A 2013 Fidelity Study found that 40% of couples didn’t align on their expectations for the lifestyles they envision having in retirement, and one major difference was where each partner wanted to live.
After leaving your full-time job, there may be nothing forcing you to stay in a particular place. Consider each other’s retirement expectations and activities, as well as collective finances when deciding whether to stay or relocate. Popular options include moving some place warmer (snowbirds!), moving to a home with a smaller yard (less maintenance), or relocating to a place with lots of other senior citizens, or to another (cheaper) country. Research the best places to retire and go there
5. Research the Best Places to Retire and Go There
New lists about the best places to retire are common. While it is possible that you already live in the best place for you, it is also possible that there is a better place for your retirement. Best of all, relocating may give you more money for retirement expenses if you manage to downsize or move to a more economical location.
Retirement doesn’t have to mean that you’ll stay in the same house where you’ve always lived. Downsizing can free up your time. And moving to a 50+ community can surround you with like-minded people with similar interests. There’s less home maintenance, too. There are 3 excellent publications that can open your eyes to the different option available in retirement.
6. Make Your Travel Dreams a Reality
Knowing how to have a good retirement typically involves figuring out how to travel. Travel is clearly the most popular and desired pursuit for this phase of life. From day trips by car to around the world journeys, retirees have wanderlust! Anything is possible with the right prioritization. If travel is what you have always dreamed of … then set goals, make a bucket list, think where you want to go and with whom you want to travel on each trip.
One overlooked aspect of retirement planning is communication between spouses. Spouses also sometimes have very different ideas about what they want out of retirement and how they intend to pay for it all. Make sure your plans align with your life partner’s plan to make the process of travelling smoother and more enjoyable.
When thoughts of traveling start bubbling up and you’re looking for some of the best travel destinations for retirees, take a few minutes to answer these five questions. You’ll be able to narrow your search and get on the road to your first (or your next) adventure!
1. How much time will you commit to the trip? If you can stay in one place for a week or longer, a ‘slow travel’ itinerary may be right for you. You’ll avoid the stress of the ‘seven-cities-in-three days’ scheduling. You can keep your expenses a bit lower by having the flexibility to take public transportation. You’ll also receive better rates for more extended stays in hotels or vacation rentals. Do you only have time for a weekend getaway? You may have to book some activities in advance, but affordable trips are available in Canada and the United States.
2. Who will be traveling with you? If you are planning to travel solo, safety considerations and common sense are paramount. You’ll need to check in with others regularly and share your itinerary, for example. a group trip with friends or family will require more upfront research, when planning travel tours across Europe, group consensus on all aspects of the trip are unlikely. Having a conversation about interests and expectations can help create a great trip. A discussion with your partner is also valuable for couples’ travel. Talk about why you want to take the trip and outline key experiences that would make it enjoyable for both of you.
3. What kind of experience are you seeking? Longer journeys allow time for multiple experiences, but it’s useful to know if your trip will be focused on relaxation or adventure, cultural experiences, or shopping and food. A popular travel destination for retirees will likely offer all of this, and more. You will also want to talk about the setting of your trip. Do you want to visit cities or the countryside, a beach or the mountains, an all-inclusive resort or a series of stops on a road trip?
4. What season(s) do you prefer? Most of us enjoy milder seasons when traveling because we can pack lighter and worry less about traveling in inclement weather. If you have the flexibility to travel, your travel will be more affordable and easier to schedule. April through mid-June or September and October are also cost-effective travel times. You may have to pack a light jacket or sweater, but the still-pleasant weather and smaller crowds may be worth the additional luggage.
5. What is your budget? Your budget, like your travel adventures, will uniquely reflect your travel goals and your situation. Travel can be possible on almost every budget. To help you know how far your dollars will go, decide whether you prefer luxury or budget-friendly accommodations. If you are planning an international trip, check the currency exchange rate and adjust your expectations accordingly.
7. Focus on Achievement, Not Luck
If you ask most people what they need to get more from life in retirement, they will tell you that they need more money. But, is this really true? Or, do we just have a tendency to believe that money will solve all of our problems? Once the immediate glow of a fortunate event wears off, we often find ourselves feeling empty. Worse still are the consequences that come from waiting for luck to strike instead of taking control of our lives and creating our own good fortune.
True happiness comes from achievement, not luck. The road to positive outlook is paved with thousands small accomplishments, each one of which enriches our lives and makes us better people. We are what we repeatedly do.
Why is a focus on achievement so critical to achieving lasting happiness in retirement? Simply put, we were designed to be active participants in the world. Our ancestors did not wait for their next meal to drop from the sky; they fought to survive every day. They applied all of their creativity to thriving in a complex and dangerous world.
We live in a very different world now, but, our minds haven’t changed. Whether we realize it or not, we measure our progress based on the results of our actions. When we change the world, we feel empowered. When the world changes us, we feel powerless.
Happiness is found when we choose our goals and then go after them with all of our passion. When we view the world through the lens of achievement, our lives are filled with experiences, not just events.
8. Live With Purpose
Ever thought of volunteering? Perhaps you’d enjoy getting involved with your local youth club, animal rescue center, environmental organisation or elderly support group.
There are plenty of charities that would welcome a helping hand.
Could you house a rescue cat or dog in need of a new home? Research has shown that our furry friends have a positive effect on our health and well being. According to pet researcher Allen R. McConnell, a professor of psychology at Miami University, people with pets are generally happier, more trusting, and less lonely than those who don't have pets. They also visit the doctor less often for minor problems. One reason for that may be that your pet gives you a sense of belonging and meaning, Prof McConnell says. "You feel like you have greater control of your life."
It doesn’t matter whether your goals are big or small. What matters is that they are important to you. Pick goals that you are passionate about. Your energy will sustain you on the long road to success. What are you passionate about? Do you want to learn a new language? Or, perhaps you want to have more energy to play with your grand kids? Have you been waiting for the perfect time to start writing your novel?
People who tend to have the most fulfilling and successful times in retirement tend to be the ones who are seekers of purpose and meaning. Retirement for them is not just a time to relax and rest – it’s a time to keep pursuing their own sense of meaning, to keep “singing their own song” to the world.
As you embark on your path to achievement, don’t forget to stop along the way and celebrate important milestones. Be proud of the passion that you have for your dream and the consistent approach that you apply to your work. Don’t wait for the final result of your work to be ready to celebrate.
Break your project up into milestones and reward yourself along the way. The end result is important, but, much of the happiness that achievement brings comes from the pride that you take in seeing yourself become a better person over time.
It’s time to stop waiting for the world to bring you happiness in a bolt of lightning. It won’t. Instead, create electricity in your own life. Happiness in your retirement and beyond is a choice – your choice. Think about what you want to achieve and create a plan to get there and make it happen.