[caption id="attachment_5969" align="alignnone" width="747"] Credit: Getty Images[/caption]
It turns out that happiness and retirement do go together.
Well, based on the research and books I’ve read and interviews I’ve done since becoming editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels at Next Avenue in 2011, they can go together if you play your cards right.
And it’s not just about having saved enough money or having a great pension, though both of those help. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are nine keys to a happy retirement, one of them pertaining specifically to couples. I’ll lay them out shortly and suggest a few books that can help you retire happy.
Of course, the definition of retirement isn’t what it was even 10 years ago. For many people, retirement in 2016 is not about quitting your full-time job full-stop at 65 and then living a life of leisure.
For one thing, 65 was the retirement date set in 1935 when FDR signed Social Security into law. It made more sense when people didn’t live as long as they do today and at a time when most employers provided guaranteed pensions once their employees retired. A March 2016 Ameriprise study said 71 percent of current retirees rely on guaranteed pensions from their former employers while 75 percent of pre-retirees plan to rely on anything-but-guaranteed 401(k)s when they retire.
Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, recently told me that many workers now envision retirement as a transition, something that happens over time. The current catchphrase is “flexible retirement,” which means either going from full-time to part-time work or working in a different capacity or working as long as you’re able.
That said, here are the nine ways to increase your chances of being happy in retirement:
Stan Hinden, the author of How to Retire Happy, recommends starting to think seriously about retirement when you’re around 50 or 55.
One key decision is where you will retire and how much traveling you’ll want to do.
One thing you’ll want to figure out is how much time the two of you will want to spend together, since this may be the first time you’re both available all the time.
Hinden told Next Avenue that he and his wife came up with a system that worked for them: Early in the week, they each would spend time alone or with their own friends. Then, toward the end of the week, they’d do things together, like go to museums, theaters or restaurants.
Devising a retirement income plan before you retire will relieve stress once you are retired. But only 52 percent of pre-retirees have done so, according to Ameriprise.
By the way, don’t be surprised if your retirement income or expenses don’t turn out the way you expected. When Ameriprise surveyed retirees, it found three types of expenses were higher than the retirees expected: health care, food and taxes.
I realize many people aren’t lucky enough to be able to decide when they’ll retire because they lose their job or their health forces them to stop working. But if you can pick your date, you should.
He also says they “eat well, sleep soundly, play often, exercise at least three times a week and maintain strong social connections.” In fact, a survey by Age Wave and Merrill Lynch of 3,300 pre-retirees and retirees said “good health” as the No. 1 key to happiness in retirement.
The trouble is, not enough employers are helping their older workers work out a flexible transition to keep a job there part-time in retirement. A recent Transamerica study found that although 61 percent of American workers envision a flexible transition to retirement, only 25 percent said their employers offer the opportunity to shift from full-time to part-time work as they phase into retirement.
So, it’ll probably be up to you to figure out how to work part-time in retirement. Maybe you can take the initiative to come up with a plan through your current employer. If not, try securing a part-time job somewhere else, perhaps by setting up shop as a consultant or a project-based contractor.
Check out local colleges for adult education and continuing education classes, too. These courses could teach you new skills or just provide knowledge for the pure joy of it.
The authors didn’t recommend blocking out every minute of every day, but instead advised setting goals and priorities for your free time and then evaluating whether they were appropriate and achievable. Then, they said, organize your activities on a daily or weekly basis — just not hourly. Having some kind of schedule prevents you from getting bored, depressed or lonely.
Incidentally, just retiring itself is likely to make you happier. A study by Utah State and George Mason University professors found that retirement immediately tends to improve both happiness and health, and that the effects of this life satisfaction are long-lasting.
And here’s one last piece of good news: Most retirees say they are happy because of all the things retirement has given them the opportunity to do. In fact, a MassMutual Financial Group survey found that retirement just might pay you a happiness “bonus.” In its poll, 82 percent of retirees said retirement gave them an opportunity to enjoy themselves and about two-thirds said they now had a chance to have new experiences and feel fulfilled.
Finally, my reading list — here are some books that could boost your chances of a satisfying retirement:
Happy Retirement: The Psychology of Reinvention by Professor Kenneth S. Shultz
How to Retire With Enough Money by Teresa Ghilarducci
The 5 Years Before You Retire by Emily Guy Birken
The Retirement Maze by Rob Pascale
The Couples’ Retirement Puzzle by Roberta K. Taylor and Dorian Mintzer
The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboher
Second-Act Careers by Nancy Collamer
Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies by Kerry Hannon
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