Everyone’s experience in retirement is unique. But according to researchers, retirees share some common habits that can affect their happiness. Some offer attributes you may want to adopt and others you are best to avoid. Yet, they all can provide lessons on how to live a fulfilling retirement. Here are some common habits of happy retirees and unhappy retirees.
Hobbies are associated with a variety of physical and psychological benefits, including lower blood pressure, better fitness and reduced stress
Research has found some people experience "anxiety, depression and debilitating feelings of loss" after retiring
According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 1 in 3 retirees report feeling lonely
Common Habits of Happy Retirees
1. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Some people in retirement never stop moving. The only time to catch up with them is in between a bikram yoga class and a 20-mile bike ride. And they may have the secret to a happy retirement. Physical activity has been linked to a variety of physical and mental benefits. It can reduce the risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. Studies have also proven that exercise and a healthy diet increase energy levels and boost your immune system.
Older adults who regularly exercise have greater stamina and mobility than the general aging population. Not to be overlooked is the fact that a healthy lifestyle will result in lower medical costs.
For many retirees, working in retirement isn’t just for financial reasons. A FlexJobs' survey of over 2,000 professionals at or near retirement found that almost 60% said they work because they enjoy it. Though certainly not for everyone, work can provide meaning and a sense of purpose in retirement.
In addition to the financial advantages, it may also offer physical and mental health benefits. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found people who retired with bridge jobs in their previous fields reported better physical and mental health than those who fully retired.
“Work” can also take the form of a hobby, such as cooking, woodworking, reading or fixing up old cars. The benefits of hobbies go far beyond simple enjoyment. They are associated with a variety of physical and psychological benefits, including lower blood pressure, better fitness and reduced stress.
What you can do: If you don’t have a job or hobby yet, here are some questions to help you find one suited for you: What have you always wanted to try? What did you love doing in childhood? How do you like to spend your downtime? Once you have something in mind, you may be able to find local opportunities near you or online to get started or help grow your interest.
Survey after survey ranks travel as one of the top retirement activities. In a survey of retirees by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, 39% said they spend their time traveling, the third most cited activity. For good reason. Traveling somewhere new has been shown to boost emotional IQ, empathy and creativity in travelers.
What you can do: You don’t have to go far to enjoy the benefits of travel. Check out local and state parks near you or take an expedition to a national park. A national park lifetime senior pass is available to people age 62 or older for only $80. If you want to travel overseas, plan for the special challenges that come along the way. For example, you don’t want to rack up a bunch of charges just to access your money, so consider acquiring a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
4. GIVE BACK
Not all superheroes wear capes. In fact, most wear T-shirts emblazoned with the word “volunteer.” And, many of those real-world superheroes are retirees. Two-thirds of retirees say they’ve found retirement to be the best time in life to give back, according to an Age Wave/Merrill Lynch study. The study strongly shows volunteering can positively impact a retiree’s well-being.
Retirees were three times more likely to say “helping people in need” brings them happiness in retirement than “spending money on themselves.” Further, those who donate money or volunteer feel a stronger sense of purpose and self-esteem and are happier and healthier.
What you can do: Contact local charitable organizations to find volunteer opportunities that suit your skills. Unsure what you would like to do? Check out a volunteer search site. For example, VolunteerMatch.org lists volunteer opportunities that are searchable by city and category, such as animals, arts and culture, health and literacy.
Common Habits of Unhappy Retirees
1. LACK OF PURPOSE
Not everyone has a smooth transition into retirement. As noted in a 2014 article published by the American Psychological Association, research has found some people experience “anxiety, depression and debilitating feelings of loss” after retiring.
People can put too much focus on money when planning for retirement. It’s important to also plan for the social and psychological shifts, such as coping with the loss of your career identity, forming new relationships and finding things to do to pass the time. It’s why we recommend that people build a financial plan around their goals and what makes them truly happy in life.
What you can do: You won’t know exactly how this new life stage feels until you get there. One way to avoid any emotional surprises is to give retirement a test drive by gradually reducing your work hours, if possible, as you near your retirement date.
2. LITTLE SOCIALIZATION
Retirement can be a period of serenity and fulfillment, but for some it can be quite lonely. According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, researchers at the University of Michigan found that one in three seniors are lonely. Studies indicate that loneliness can harmfully impact older adults’ physical and mental health and shorten life expectancy.
Fortunately, loneliness can be prevented and reversed. The solution depends on the root cause of a person’s loneliness, which can range from the death of a spouse to health issues that make it hard to socialize.
What you can do: Most people will benefit from any kind of meaningful social contact. That can be something as simple as regularly meeting friends for coffee, participating in community center events or volunteering.
3. WORRY ABOUT MONEY
Although retirement is often portrayed as the time to live life to the fullest, the attitude of many retirees is quite different. After saving all their lives, they are reluctant to spend money, even on their retirement goals. In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Personal Finance, half of retired survey respondents said they were afraid to use their savings. It’s perfectly okay to have concerns about spending, but it should not inhibit your ability to enjoy everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
What you can do: This highlights the importance of having a retirement plan you are confident in. That way, you’ll know what reasonable amount you can spend to live a comfortable retirement – guilt free.
4. GIVE AWAY TOO MUCH MONEY
Some parents and grandparents can’t help themselves. They’ll generously help a child or grandchild, even under the constraints of a limited income in retirement. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with helping a child. It becomes a problem though when children start to become a financial burden on their retirement goals, which is increasingly common.
Nearly 40% of empty nesters are still supporting their adult children financially in some way, according to a report by 55places. The average monthly amount these parents spend on each child is $254.
Too much financial support could lead to increased levels of anxiety and physical ailments due to financial stress, as well as dramatic changes to your lifestyle.
What you can do: Remember, your savings are earmarked for a specific purpose: to help support yourself for 20 to 30 years in retirement. You don’t have to completely financially cut off your offspring, but you should set some limits.
The Bottom Line
You may find yourself forming some of these retirement habits – both good and bad – already. The good news is that habits are not forever. You can always work on nurturing good habits that boost your happiness while kicking bad habits that don’t.
The secret to a happy retirement is to start planning. Take the ﬁrst step by filling out our 10-Step Dream Questionnaire. It is designed to help you explore your dreams for retirement. Having speciﬁc dreams in mind is one way to make better ﬁnancial decisions. We’ll work with you to help make them come true!