Finding Happiness in Retirement

Changes in Retirement Expectations

What does retirement mean today? If you asked this question 20 years ago, you would probably be told that retirement means the dream of no longer having to work, while living on the pension that you’ve paid into over the previous 40 years. However, today the story is likely to be very different. Instead of looking forward to retirement with enthusiasm and a sense of excitement, ask many people what their thoughts are when they hear that word and they will respond with words like ‘fear’ ‘dread’ and ‘worry’.

This about-turn in the expectations of what retirement can offer is mainly due to the fact that the world has changed beyond recognition in the last generation. We’re moving away from a production led society into one of consumption, with the economy concentrated on providing services ahead of the manufacturing industries of our parent’s era.

This is in part the reason why there are no longer jobs for life, why the final salary pension is all but dead, and why those pensioners who failed to keep up with the changes in the workforce are now facing a catastrophic shortfall in the funds they have available to provide a livable post-work income.

This is why the new catchphrase of ‘flexible retirement’ has become so popular in recent years. Vast numbers of the population can forget about reaching 65 and immediately hand over their office briefcase for a pair of gardening gloves. Instead, they will see themselves having to work part-time in a different capacity, and maybe for as long as they’re physically able.

This is all pretty depressing reading. I’m getting depressed writing it. It’s clear that if we fixate too much on the financial side of retirement, then unless we’ve managed to save a massive nest egg there’s a very good chance that what should be some of the happiest years of our lives will, in fact, turn out to be the worst.

But is there anything we can do in our lives to change our attitude to our financial worries? So that even if we’re struggling to make ends meet we still feel a sense of fulfilment? The answer is yes there is, but it’s entirely dependent on your mindset. If you want to experience true happiness no matter what, then your attitude to life makes all the difference in the world.

Take Steps to Feel Satisfied in Retirement

Let’s take a look at a few of the key elements in your attitude that will help you to change the way your brain thinks about your life after you’ve left a regular job.

To begin with, figure out in advance what you want out of retirement. By that, I mean things like; how you’ll spend your days, where you’ll spend them and what will give you a sense of fulfilment. Ideally, you want to start asking these questions at least 10 years before your retirement date, but even if you’ve missed this point, all is not lost.

It’s often said that change is as good as a rest, and if you’re able, simply moving to a new area has been shown to increase your level of happiness. In fact a recent survey on the Best Places in the World to Retire website found that 81% of 389 recipients were happier after moving away from their old homes.

You can, of course, take this even further by considering moving to a new country, but for many, this will be a one-way move. Many retirees move to countries where housing is cheaper and happily spend the profit from the sale of their house on days lounging on the beach, drink in hand. Unfortunately, after a few years, the yearning to go back to their families in the ‘old country’ becomes too intense to ignore, at which point they find they can no longer afford a house to move back into. The decision then is to either stay put overseas or move back home into a much smaller house than they want, possibly in an area they don’t want to be in. So before you contemplate becoming an ex-pat, take some serious time to decide if you’re ok with it being the last move you ever make.

Another tactic for improving your happiness in retirement is to just discuss your dreams with your partner and write down what you both want to achieve in your golden years. Mark each item as either a must have, a want or a wish, and compromise on which ones are most important to you as a couple. Consider the impact of suddenly having so much extra time available to spend with your partner, and come up with a system for how you will accomplish each must have, want and wish.

For example, you both might decide that you must have time together on the weekend enjoying walks, but you wish to spend an hour every day in a solitary pastime like reading. Or maybe you want to spend a couple of hours every other day catching up with friends. Discuss what you both want from retirement with each other and don’t be afraid to make it clear that you occasionally want some alone time. 30 years is a long time to spend in each others company.

Have You Decided on a Date to Stop Working?

The next most important act you can take to achieve retirement happiness is deciding when you will stop working, and then actually following through with the plan. Of course, this infers that you have a big enough fund to live on, but the fact is that choosing when you can retire leads to more satisfaction than having retirement forced on you. A survey by The Retirement Maze found that out of 1477 retirees, 69% who retired by choice declared that they were happy with their lives. This figure is in stark contrast to the 36% of ‘forced’ retirees who stated that they were merely satisfied with how their retirement was going. Of course, some people are forced into retirement through circumstances that are totally out of their control, such as ill-health or job loss, but if you’re able to pick a date, then you really should just go for it.

But even if you’re forced out of your job, there are ways you can get yourself back into the mindset of an actively engaged employee. Consider taking part in activities like charity fundraising and helping out with social care for the less well advantaged. There will always be people who need your help, and the mutual benefits and sense of self-worth that comes from helping other people just cannot be overstated.

Alternatively, consider phasing into retirement gradually by just reducing your full-time hours. Employers are reluctant to let experienced staff go, and by changing your working regime from full-time to part-time, you can maintain the social connections and sense of self-worth that a job provides, as well as keeping your brain sharp and enjoying an additional income that can be used to top-up your pension.

It’s clear that there’s more to finding happiness in retirement than simply waiting for a monthly cheque to roll in. Although many people dream of finally giving up work, the reality is that having no job can lead to feelings of isolation unless you are prepared to find productive ways to fill your days. I think we can all agree that although money plays an important part in all of our lives, it’s certainly not the be-all and end-all for what truly makes us happy.


Personal finance blogger who's fanatical about financial freedom, investing and making money in the UK

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