When most people think about retirement, they think about savings plans and investments — but retirement is about more than just money. It's about health and family, finding meaning in life, and cultivating an attitude of positivity that encourages happiness at all stages of life.
Research shows that if you want to be happy in your golden years, you need to look at more than your financial bottom line. Here are five key things to keep in mind:
Stay close to family. A new study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology found that older people who had more family members in their social networks and those who were close with their family members were less likely to die than those who were not as connected with their family. Interestingly, the same longevity connection could not be made for retirees who had many friends — regardless of how many friends they had or how close they were to them. Researchers noted that their study underscores the importance of family to long-term health. In other words, even if they sometimes drive you crazy, staying close to family may just help you live longer.
Volunteer. A recent survey mentioned in the Wall Street Journal found that when retirees were asked what brought them the most happiness, most said their greatest happiness came from helping people in need rather than focusing only on themselves. The survey found that seniors who volunteer and/or donate money to others were happier (66 percent vs. 52 percent) and healthier (50 percent vs. 43 percent) than those who did not regularly give to others.
Stay active. Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of premature death after smoking, excessive drinking and obesity. So it's really never too late to make exercise a part of your routine. According to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine of 3,454 people over the age of 64, active adults who continued to exercise into retirement were seven times as likely to be healthy agers as those who were not active. If you're starting from ground zero, talk to your doctor to get the green light before you start exercising.
Keep working. Some of the happiest retirees are those who ease into retirement by transitioning to a part-time job or picking up an encore career that more closely aligns with their interests. The key is to stay busy, whether that's with work (paid or unpaid) or hobbies. One survey found that seniors who had 10 or more regular activities reported more satisfaction with their retirement than those who engaged in five or fewer.
Don't wait. If you think you have to wait until you retire to find happiness, you're wrong. Sure, retirement frees up some of the time you might need to pursue different hobbies, but the truth is, if you think you have to postpone happiness until you retire, you likely won't find it then either. Retirement is a stage in your life. Happiness is not. It's something that you should seek out everyday in connections with your family, meaningful work, physical activity, and by giving back to your community.
Cultivate happiness now and you'll be sure to have even more of it in retirement.