I have written two books and many articles about the differences between happy and unhappy retirees, the accumulation of which required countless hours of surveys and analysis. I got into the statistical weeds because I wanted to know the details behind happiness in retirement. Like most financial advisors, I had a strong curiosity to discover the monetary benchmarks. But, maybe because I’m a bit untraditional, I also wanted to dig deeper into the traits and habits shared amongst the happy and unhappy folks.
Yes, money can buy happiness, but the price is far lower than you might think.
For instance, I found that more wealth does increase happiness, but it plateaus at a certain level. Consider the logic. Your happiness increases as you begin to make enough to meet your basic needs with enough cushion to breathe. Beyond that, it’s surplus. Being able to pay the rent is a big deal, whereas buying your fourth yacht won’t fill the hole in your heart.
A lot of my original information was gathered through a happiness quiz conducted years ago. I recently revamped the happiness quiz and updated some of the questions. The answers are fascinating. Several truly stood out as important markers in what can make or break a happy retirement!
Question: Do you feel like you have a well-defined understanding of your purpose in life?
Ninety-one percent of happy retirees noted that they were “very” or “extremely” comfortable with their sense of purpose in life, while 89 percent of the unhappy group reported being only “slightly” or “not” comfortable. It’s further proof that happy retirees thrive, while unhappy retirees survive. Take a moment and ask yourself what gets you going. What do you look forward to doing? It’s vital to figure out the purpose of your post-career life so you can join the ranks of happy retirees.
Question: How much time per month do you or did you spend talking about your finances and planning for retirement?
Sadly, the answer to this for many folks is “none.” It doesn’t need to consume your life, but it is important to start talking about your money! According to my research, happy retirees spend between one and two hours per month discussing finances. That can tick up to 3.5 hours if you so desire, but after that, the money talk can be counterproductive. Think responsible but not fanatical.
Question: Are you happily married?
My research suggests that unmarried retirees are 4.5 times more likely to be unhappy. Don’t worry if you’ve felt some peaks and valleys during your marriage, that’s totally normal. Just like in my golf game, sometimes a mulligan is called for. According to my data, you can get divorced once without negatively impacting your retirement happiness. If you go above one, the happiness levels drop.
What about the single folks? You can still be a happy retiree, but you may need to be more intentional about support networks, staying active, connected and socially engaged with your family of choice.
In other words, being married isn’t mandatory, but it provides ease of access to loving, social relationships. It’s not the diamond ring that makes a person happy. It’s the connections it provides that really makes life sparkle.
Question: Are your kids still on the payroll?
The happiest retirees have completely independent kids. Of course, all parents want the best for their children, but limits and boundaries are important. My study suggests that unhappy retirees still support their adult children, averaging over $700 per month, while happy retirees kept this figure to under $500.
If you don’t have any offspring, don’t worry. It’s only one ingredient in the happy retirement sauce. There are plenty more ways to be happy.
Question: How many close connections do you have?
If the answer is zero, you have some work to do. I’ve found that the happiest retirees average 3.6 close connections while the unhappy ones fall to 2.6. The good news is that there is no plateau effect in this category. The more meaningful friendships, the merrier.
That said, if you think you have fifty best buds, it might be time for an acquaintance audit. The spoils of true connection don’t spring forth from that person you have lunch with every couple of years when it’s convenient for him. It has to be a real give and take, where you care for each other and your words and actions demonstrate as much.
Question: What is your typical diet?
I recently interviewed Dr. William Li who wrote Eat To Beat Disease. He takes a holistic approach to health, and while he believes in medicine, he’s also studied the effects of food and nutrition on the body. He’s been able to connect how we can improve our nervous system, our heart health, and so many other vital elements of our body just by adjusting the foods we consume.
I’ll leave the details and specific recommendations to doctors and nutritionists, but Dr. Li’s findings corroborate the research I conducted on this front. Happy retirees tend to be mindful of the foods that they put into their body, and they’re not picking up fast food at every opportunity. Anyone who has read my column for a while knows I love the Mediterranean diet, and you might have even heard about my personal journey with Whole30. If those aren’t your schtick, find a healthy diet that works for you, your body and your tastebuds.
If you want to learn more about the happiness quiz or take it yourself to see where your happiness levels land, head over to wesmoss.com. And if you want to wade even deeper into the intricacies of the truly joyous jobless, read my latest book, “What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits for a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life.”
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