Happiness and quality of life are something that many, if not all of us, strive for. One thing that I have noticed through my work with people in retirement is that the pull toward both of these aspects becomes even stronger when the days are no longer filled with work obligations. I have witnessed many people entering retirement who have no idea what makes them happy, and it makes me wonder why we aren’t very good at figuring that out. After all, you would think that happiness would be something that we constantly work toward and get better at over time. I’ve seen many people struggle with what they are going to do during retirement and how they are going to live their lives. They spend so much time worrying about what they will become and what will happen to them. Many are even concerned that they will literally stop breathing if they stop working. Though I don’t feel as though I’m in the position to give you the answer to living a happy life just yet, I have realized that there are some consistent habits of happily retired people, and I’d like to share them with you.
Let’s think of a scenario to get us started. Imagine that I am going to offer you an all expenses paid vacation for a week. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The only catch is that you will not be able to remember any of it once the week is over. You get the complimentary vacation, but your memory of it will be wiped. Would you take my offer? Many people hesitate when answering this question. At first it sounds like a great idea, but after some consideration people tend to question that if they won’t remember it, is it even worth it? Obviously it would be ideal if you could hold on to the memory.
You can consider happiness in the same way. First, there are daily happiness factors, which can be comparable to going on the vacation. Then there are retrospective factors, such as accomplishments and memories, which also contribute to our happiness. People entering or contemplating retirement often try to picture what retirement will be like, but this doesn’t really help at all. There is no point in imagining what retired life is like, because you won’t know until you do it. Perhaps a more effective technique would be to find a person in retirement that shares similar interests to yours and ask them how retirement is working out for them. Just asking has more benefits than coming up with all these scenarios in your head on a subject that you probably know very little about.
Another important thing I’ve noticed is that many people think their hobby will replace their job. The reason that we have hobbies is because they are things that we enjoy doing in our free time. They are our little slices of joy. But what if our hobby ends up taking all of our time and we focus solely on that? Well, it is very likely that we won’t find it a hobby anymore and more of a chore instead. If you are thinking about entering retirement, but are not sure what life will be like, then I suggest testing the waters. You can take a one-month long vacation instead of going into retirement cold turkey. Spend thirty days doing all the things that you think you will do in retirement. This is a good test, because what you may realize is that the all-inclusive week long vacation I previously offered you might be great for seven days, but what if it is for 10, 20, 30 days or more? You might start to feel like you want the vacation to end.
When you go to work, you might end up doing things that are frustrating or just not enjoyable, but the other end of the spectrum of happiness is looking back at the things you achieved and feeling a sense of accomplishment. While you might not have enjoyed work while it was happening, in retrospect you can see how your contributions benefited yourself and other people. When you are working, it is easy to view retirement as a vacation, but when you start living in retirement, it is a whole other story.
Which brings us back to the two forms of happiness: day-to-day enjoyment and being able to look back in happiness. The people that I have met who are happiest and most satisfied in retirement are the ones that are involved in a variety of activities such as volunteering and helping family members. They aren’t necessarily the ones who are having a continuous vacation across the globe. Generosity and doing things for other people seems to be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding factors that lead to happiness in retirement. Which ties into what I talked about before with the happiness that comes from looking back on your life and realizing your contribution. Doing things for—and with—other people is a huge part of internal joy.
I have also noticed that happiness in retired people does not have to do with the amount of money they have. Of course, clearing debt, having enough money to live comfortably and adequate savings aside for emergencies is ideal, but it does not cause leaps and bounds in the level of happiness that they experience. The happiest people seem to stay as busy in retirement as they did when they were working. The reason I share this information is that I know many of us are still searching for what makes us happy. If you have not found it by the time you reach retirement then maybe this is your chance to live in a new and fulfilling way. Get this picturesque idea of a never-ending vacation out of your head and think about ways in which you can give to yourself, the people you love and others. It is time to really start living a rewarding and happy life.