The traditional approach to retirement planning involved selecting an age to retire, determining how much you want to spend in retirement and then saving and investing over time until you can finally stop working and live the life you want. While this traditional approach is not bad, it’s missing some important elements, that if not addressed, can lead to a very unfulfilling retirement.
When people think about retirement, it was to stop working and have every day be like Saturday. This meant living a life of leisure, recreation, going on cruises and basically goofing off every day. What could possibly be wrong with living life like that, you may be wondering? This might have been your plan for retirement. What we are about to discuss may surprise you.
A common mistake in planning for retirement is not considering non-financial factors like your emotional and social wellbeing. Depression is a very prevalent mental health issue among older adults. Symptoms of depression can include sadness, disturbed sleep, and loss of interest in things you once enjoyed. Depression can last anywhere from weeks to years depending on lifestyle satisfaction and treatment.
Some good news is that the CDC says depression is a treatable condition in about 80% of all cases.
Work as our identity
For many of us, work can become part of our identity and often provides our life with meaning and purpose. If you have a job you like, it can bring you much satisfaction. The transition into retirement can create a feeling of loss and grief and also trigger depression.
Something strange often happens right after retirement. There is often a “sugar rush” or high that comes immediately after retirement, followed by a sharp decline in happiness a few years later. Once the joy of retirement wears off, retirees are usually left clueless about what’s next. Most may even miss the social interactions or get bogged down by the apparent social disconnect that comes with retirement.
You might be thinking “Who wouldn’t want to live a life of leisure?”. For many of us who are working, the thought of having every day be like Saturday sounds pretty good. To be able to do anything you want, all day and not have the demands and pressure of work sounds wonderful about now. In fact, this is how your parents’ generation planned to spend retirement – going on cruises, playing as much golf as possible, gardening a lot. That may sound great today but what we found is it’s missing something.
Financial author and thought leader Mitch Anthony describes a group of people who “retire inspired.” This group of people has decided to “retire with purpose” and have found ways to pursue activities that bring meaning to their lives- whether it’s for a paycheck or not. In fact, Anthony proposes the following four attitudes that he has witnessed in people over the age of 65 that cause them to flourish instead of flounder:
- I’ll keep meaningful pursuit at the core.
- I’ll challenge my mind, body, and spirit.
- I’ll refuse to be defined by age.
- I’ll keep an eye on my “attitude instrument.”
The thing for you to consider is what activities do you enjoy that bring you meaning, purpose and passion. Don’t get me wrong, traveling the world and playing a lot of golf and taking a lot of naps are wonderful things to do. But those activities alone will not bring you the fulfillment you might otherwise enjoy.
In his book “How to Retire Happy Wild and Free” Ernie Zelinski claims retirement is a time to become much more than you have ever been. In fact, Zelinski has a prescription for life-long happiness:
- Purpose enough for satisfaction.
- Work enough for sustenance; sanity enough to know when to play and rest.
- Wealth enough for basic needs.
- Affection enough to like many and love a few.
- Self-respect enough to love yourself.
- Charity enough to give to others in need.
- Courage enough to face difficulties.
- Creativity enough to solve problems.
- Humor enough to laugh at will.
- Hope enough to expect an interesting tomorrow.
- Gratitude enough to appreciate what you have.
- Health enough to enjoy life for all its worth.
Retirement planning today is about so much more than the money. A life well lived consists of meaningful pursuits and activities and quality social interaction. Growing old with lots of money may not be the goal anymore. Dying rich can’t compete with living rich.
Look for meaning in life
Famous psychologist Viktor Frankl knew a lot about looking for meaning in life. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote, “Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.”
Frankl believed that the very pursuit of happiness is what prevents one from being happy. However, once you have a reason to be happy- a meaning- happiness comes automatically.
Happiness is about looking inward. It’s about satisfying your needs and wants. Happiness without meaning results in a shallow, self-absorbed life. When things go well, when your needs and desires are satisfied, you’re happy. When things get difficult, watch out.
- Meaning is different. It’s focused outwards, on others. It’s about taking care of others and contributing to your community or society as a whole. When we see our purpose as larger than ourselves, we no longer need to pursue happiness. It comes naturally, even in the face of temporary setbacks and discomforts.
A problem is that many people spend more time planning a vacation than they do planning their retirement. Chances are your career provided a lot of your life’s meaning over the last 40+ years.
So how do you find a replacement for that fulfillment once you’re no longer punching the proverbial time clock? Consider the following activities:
- Volunteer your time to serve others. This may be through organizations like the Boys and Girls club or your local church. Serving others can be one of life’s greatest ways to bring satisfaction and fulfillment.
- Pick up a new hobby. Keeping yourself engaged and mentally stimulated is one secret to a retirement well lived.
- Make sure to spend time with those you love. The social interaction and sense of community and belonging are really important to a high quality of life.
- Read. Yes, I said it- read! Keep your mind sharp and stimulated.
- Consider working part time or working in a completely different field for fun. Now that work is “optional” this is your opportunity to do the thing you always wanted to but maybe were afraid to do.
- Travel. I know it’s hard during the pandemic but make sure to create that bucket list of places you want to visit and plan your calendar accordingly.
- Stay physically active. This may take the form of going to the gym regularly, gardening, surfing, doing yoga. Whatever your choice for physical activity, make sure you build it into a healthy routine.
- Create a routine. This is one of the hardest things for newly retired people to adjust to. A lack of routine can make you feel wayward or lost. While it may sound good during the grind of the working years- creating a healthy routine is one of the secrets to a happy retirement. The routine may look a whole lot different than it did while you were working but humans crave structure and actually thrive when there is natural order to the days and weeks.
We are passionate about this subject because it’s so dear to us. We love to see people work hard and prepare for the retirement they have always dreamed of. That’s why it’s so important to touch on the things that often go unplanned for. Make sure to spend adequate time thinking about what you actually want to do in retirement.