5 Secrets for a Happy Retirement

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Available science and my own personal experience agree that there are five secrets to living a happy life in retirement. Here’s my take on how to make the most of retirement with good health, good company, and more.

For various reasons, I made the decision almost four years ago to retire from an active professional career. And like other retirees who report similar sentiments, I’ve never been busier. In fact, I often wonder how I would get anything done at all if I were still grinding it out at my old day job. I’ve not only never been busier, but I’ve also never been happier. There’s a variety of reasons for this, many of which are supported by recent research findings, some of which I’d like to share. (Also see my post from over a year ago on this same topic: “6 Keys to a Happier Retirement”.) So, based on the available science as well as my personal experience, here are my five latest secrets for a happy retirement:

Staying Healthy
There’s an old saying that when you have your health, you have everything. And anyone who has passed middle age knows that maintaining good health in later years can be a real challenge. That’s partly because the aging process itself plays a role in our vulnerability to certain diseases and conditions. It’s also partly because over time, certain lifestyle-related habits that impinge upon good health take their toll. But there are some things all of us can do to maximize our chances for good health, including:

  • Eating healthier foods: It’s really important to stay away from processed and starchy foods with a high glycemic index. This can be a crucial factor in avoiding and coping with Type II Diabetes, the most common form of the disease for those over 50. Avoiding saturated fats is also important. They’re not only potentially damaging to your cardiovascular system but also often increase a person’s exposure to known carcinogens. A diet rich in antioxidants, fiber, and the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids is best.
  • Getting regular checkups and preventative care: Many doctors advise certain regular screenings for folks over 50, and many diseases (such as colon cancer) can be prevented altogether or caught in the early, more treatable stages. That’s why it’s so important to get regular preventative care.
  • Regular exercise: By now, almost everyone is aware of the benefits of regular exercise. But if you’re one of those who hasn’t yet gotten the word, you should be aware that even a regimen as spartan as 12 minutes a day, 3 times a week that involves brisk activity such as fast walking can literally add years to your life expectancy, improve memory and concentration, and increase your overall feeling of well-being.
  • Staying faithful to a recommended medication regimen: The older we are, the more likely we are to suffer from some sort of disease, and many conditions are chronic. It’s important to take any “maintenance medications” prescribed by your doctor in the manner prescribed. Not only can untreated conditions worsen but they might also lead to or exacerbate other problems.
Keeping Good Company
People are much more likely to report being happy in their retirement if they have a good social support network available to them. One study in Britain suggested it might even be more important to have a close circle of friends available than to be around your own children. That’s not to say, however, that having close relationships with your children and grandchildren isn’t a great source of joy for most retirees. And the most important thing seems to be being able to share your life with one special person. Even if you’re without a devoted spouse, having a best friend or even a faithful pet can make all the difference in the quality of life. Friends and relationships — that’s what it’s all about.
Being Mentally Stimulated
For most folks, this means not spending most of your time sitting on the sofa and watching mindless stuff on television, but rather staying engaged in mentally-challenging activities. There’s a plethora of information from research studies on both later life happiness and ways to combat mental decline to indicate that staying involved in stimulating hobbies, playing challenging games, remaining curious, and daring to tackle new things is one of the biggest secrets to keeping a sense of vitality and joy.
Having Enough Money
To be happy in retirement, you don’t necessarily need lots of money. But you do have to be able to match your lifestyle with the income necessary to support it. For some, that might mean doing some part-time work. For others, it might simply mean a simpler way of living. In any case, your risk for being unhappy in retirement is directly proportional to the degree you feel the constant pinch of finances as you try to lead the life you desire.
Peacefully Parting Company with Old Ways
Some folks seem to have been so “married” to their former jobs, lifestyles, ways of doing things, etc., that they simply can’t tolerate some of the changes that are inevitable in retirement. Workaholics are likely to have big problems adjusting to more leisure time. It’s also unreasonable for folks to make changes that are too radical or incompatible with their personality. So, it’s a good idea to have a plan for retirement that balances your fondness for some of the old ways with the demands of a new life.

Hopefully, the suggestions I’ve offered will prove to be genuine “secrets” to a happy life for those of you who have entered retirement or are about to retire. I know they’ve worked for me.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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