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Secrets to a Happy Retirement

By Jane Young

It is no surprise that one of the most crucial factors to being happy in retirement is financial security.   However, financial well-being does not guarantee happiness.  The other keys to a happy retirement include finding a sense of purpose and engaging in meaningful activities, developing and nurturing strong social connections, and taking care of your physical and mental health.

Financial security is essential to happiness in retirement so you need to plan and understand how much will be needed for the retirement lifestyle you envision.  Identify your sources of income and how much you can reasonably pull from investments.  Work with a financial planner or run scenarios on a retirement calculator to get an idea of how much you will need to save and how much you can reasonably spend.   

Once in retirement, you will need a simple way to create and monitor your budget to make sure you are living within your means.  To experience a smoother transition into retirement, try to reduce debt as much as possible.   Generally, the happiest retirees are debt free with no credit card debt, a paid off mortgage and no car payments.   They also have several sources of income such as Social Security, a pension, income from investments, rental income, royalties, or a part-time job.  To help minimize your retirement expenses consider downsizing to a smaller home or moving to an area with a lower cost of living.

When you are financially ready to retire be sure you are emotionally ready and that you have a plan on what you will do in retirement.  Once you retire your social connections, your personal identity, your sense of purpose, and your schedule will completely change.  You need to set goals, create a plan and find a new purpose to replace the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment you had with your career.

Studies have found that retirees should engage in at least four major interests or hobbies during retirement.  The happiest retirees enjoy social activities which may include volunteering, travel, sports, or part time work.  The least happy are those who concentrate on activities that are done in isolation such as reading, writing, running, hunting, and fishing.  

Maintaining a strong social connection is essential to happiness in retirement.  The happiest retirees are those who spend at least 6 -7 hours a day with friends and family.  A strong social life is associated with less age-related disease.  Loneliness has been found to be as detrimental to your life expectancy as obesity.

Maintaining your physical and mental health during retirement is also important.  You cannot be happy if you are not well enough to enjoy yourself during retirement.  Staying physically active and eating well increases your energy and confidence, lowers your chance of illness and cognitive decline, and improves your physical appearance.   You should also maintain your mental health by learning and exploring new things and engaging in stimulating conversations.