How to retire happy

January 26, 2021

You may have prepared your finances for retirement, but have you prepared yourself?


Retirement sounds like bliss when it's still years away: a break from work, a time to travel and a chance to finally indulge in those hobbies you've had on hold. But many people might also feel something different as they approach retirement: stress.

Retirement is a huge transition that affects your work, your social interactions and the daily structure of your life; it’s normal to feel anxiety ahead of time.

The good news is that researchers have been studying pre-retirement for a while now, and there are ways to help make your retirement years happier and more fulfilling.


1. Stay positive while planning

Your mindset toward retirement matters. Whatever retirement stereotypes you have can directly impact the quality of your retirement.1 For example, if you think of retirement as a time to improve your health, strengthen social ties and devote more time to hobbies, you're likely to enjoy it more.

The power of positive thinking may be enough to help you live longer, too. Retirees with positive views toward mental health live on average 2.5 years longer than those with negative stereotypes. People with positive perceptions about aging live as many as 7.5 years longer than those with negative attitudes.1

The more you can cultivate a positive, forward-looking attitude about retirement now, the better it will be once it arrives.


2. Plan beyond financials

Don't wait until you're retired to develop a plan. Pre-retirement planning – including financial, psychological and social planning – improves the retirement transition, helps maintain physical and mental health, increases positive attitudes and lowers anxiety after retirement.2

What does psychological pre-planning mean? Think about how you’ll spend your newly unstructured time or any anticipated changes in your emotional state. Talking about plans with family and friends can also significantly benefit people's mental health once they arrive in retirement. Discussing these details out loud provides a sense of control over the uncertainty ahead.


3. Invest in friends and activities

If work consumes most of your life, you might want to take some time before you retire to invest in your friendships and consider the types of activities you’d like to explore. One study at Harvard Medical School showed that four factors had the biggest impact on an enjoyable, healthy and rewarding retirement.3

  • A social network. You not only stop a job when you retire, you stop the daily interactions you had with your colleagues. Making sure you have social connections to fill that gap can help.
  • Play. Activities are one way to enjoy your new free time, but they can also help you meet new people and establish new friends. You build a social network while you stay busy.
  • Creativity. Exercising creativity, whether it’s by interacting with children or gardening, helps engage your brain regularly, which can keep you healthier.
  • Learning. Just like using creativity, continuing to learn during this stage of life helps your mind stay active and healthy.

Putting these factors into practice can even benefit your physical health:

  • Older adults who volunteered during the prior year were found less likely to develop high blood pressure.4
  • Social connection reduces loneliness, which has been linked to depression and anxiety.
  • Social connection can also play a big role in keeping people physically active, which can stave off age-related declines that come from limiting physical movement.

Think about using this transitional time to reach out to old friends, invite coworkers out to coffee and maybe consider volunteering at the animal shelter you've always been interested in.

4. Welcome leisure

As you ease out of a life centered mostly around work, you may experience a loss of purpose and identity, with an unclear idea of what to do with yourself next. The answer to easing your uncertainty may lie not in returning to work, but in getting better at leisure.

Leisure creates a space for meaning that is not controlled by work and provides freedom to choose your activities and spend your time as you see fit. This could range from simply increasing quality time spent with your partner to taking more nature walks.


5. Don't rush to retire

While the thought of all that newly gained leisure time might make you itch to retire, there's no reason to speed up the process. If you’re not quite ready to take the leap, consider continuing to work but lessening the load. It's becoming popular for pre­-retirees to think about taking on part-time work, becoming self-employed or embarking on an encore career.


The bottom line? Stay engaged while you navigate the emotional landscape of pre-retirement, and don’t be afraid to start shifting your mindset toward what’s next.


Read more about pre-retirement planning in 6 ways to get ready for retirement.


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