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How to Be Happy in Retirement

by Indiana Retired Teachers Association | February 11, 2020

Retirement is an exciting time – a great anticipation of well-earned “me time”. You have spent decades working for others and serving your profession.

You deserve this chance to focus on what really makes you happy the rest of your life.

However, retirement can be a greater challenge than expected - especially mentally.

You might miss your colleagues and the daily satisfaction of a job well done. Then, there’s a financial concern, even if you planned and saved well.

Unfortunately, sadness and depression sometimes infiltrate what should be one of the happiest times of your life. A study by University of California, Berkeley, found that “retirees experience a ‘sugar rush’ of well-being and life satisfaction directly after retirement, followed by a sharp decline in happiness” a few years later. 

Your physical health certainly impacts your quality of life during retirement. So, too, can your mental health. That’s why working on your retirement happiness is as important as taking your blood pressure medicine and eating right.

Here are some tips on engaging your positive vibes after ending your career:

Focus Your Finances on Fun. Whoever said “You can’t take your money with you...” was right. While you need to pay for your basic living expenses, consider spending your discretionary income on “experiences” rather than things. Take a boat trip along the Mississippi. Create a “Supper Club” that includes friends who meet regularly at local restaurants. Find a local pilot to take you on a hot air balloon ride. You will find those times much more enjoyable than replacing your carpet.

Make It Personal. Research overwhelming shows that keeping engaged with family and friends is important to your mental health. Don’t wait for family or friends to extend an invitation. Reach out to them and offer to meet them for coffee or to walk a new trail. Here are five types of friends to have during retirement.

Be Active, Every Day. Sitting in an easy chair and watching eight hours of television each day is not “doing something”. Passive days are fine once in a while. Career coach Bill Ellermeyer says the “happiest retirees are either engaged in some kind of meaningful activity or are actively employed.” He says you might consider becoming an entrepreneur, doing an “encore career” or volunteering.

Continue to Be a Lifelong Learner. With the exception of calculus, going back to class can be profoundly fun. Take up the drums or guitar. Sign up for a painting class. Attend an adult summer camp offered by a local university. Use your retirement time to find a new passion. Indiana University offers a Lifelong Learning program that is extremely popular with retirees.

Ignore the Facebook Posts of Other Retirees. Just because another retiree friend bought a red Mustang convertible and put it on Facebook doesn’t mean you need one. Be careful about “Keeping Up with the Jones” on social media. If you saved to install a swimming pool as part of your retirement, enjoy. But don’t purchase one to put on the Instagram airs. USA Today says that Facebook can ruin your retirement by inspiring you (through jealousy) to spend more than you have in your savings. Remember, nothing is as it seems on social media.

Reconsider Relocation. While moving to a warmer climate is an American retirement tradition, you might want to rethink the decision. Do you really want to leave behind your children, grandchildren, relatives and friends just for 80-degrees and sun? Today, fewer than 6 percent of retirees relocate to another state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those who do, according to U.S. News and World Report, often discover financial challenges in their new setting; they experience a sense of sadness from leaving behind a lifetime of memories; and they struggle finding a new support system (from doctors to friends). You might want to stay put near your family and friends and spend a few months in Florida or Arizona in the winter.

Set Your Expectations Before Retirement. As you turn 55 or 60, think about what you really want out of retirement. Be reasonable about what you can and cannot do. Climbing Mount Everest likely is not possible. But a train trip through the beautiful Canadian Rockies might be just as satisfying. Instead of leading a nonprofit organization (and, really, who wants that pressure?), maybe you will find incredible satisfaction volunteering for a small one.

Those who find happiness in retirement share a common trait – living the mantra: “I’m Going to Make the Rest of My Life the Best of My Life.”

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