How to increase happiness for and in retirement

Three senior ladies drinking coffee. Surprised woman at the table. Share happiness with best friends.

Image: denisfilm/

There are ways to increase the happiness factor in your life. At least, that’s what two recent studies say.

You can probably guess that I have a lot of information about retirement flowing into my inbox. On purpose. I’m keen to find out what the latest thinking is. Over the past week, two stories have come in on the theme of happiness. The first tells me how to be a happy Boomer, and the second how to have a happy retirement.

How to be a happy Boomer

George Vaillant, Director of the Study of Adult Development at Harvard’s Health Services Center has spent much of his research time studying Boomers and suggests that there are four common traits to happy Boomers.

  1. Empathy (relating to other people)
  2. Engagement (continuing to remain curious about life)
  3. Hope (optimism for the future)
  4. Gratitude (appreciation for gifts and simple pleasures)

These make good sense. Empathy—compassion or being responsive to a need—shows good will to others. It’s a positive approach to another person that reinforces the positives in life.

Being engaged is about focus and involvement. This helps to bring life satisfaction.

Hope looks beyond the present to something better, whether the present is currently good or bad.

And gratitude may be something your mum teaches you (for instance: say, ‘Thank you’) so your responses are socially acceptable. However, it’s also an attitude that takes the time to reflect on a sunset; that sees the roses among the thorns; and notices that your cup is half full.

How to have a happy retirement

This one surprised me because it came from Time Money—Time being the magazine—but only one of its three points was about money. The writer, Walter Updegrave, uses research looking at financial, lifestyle, and other data from 1,562 retirees to see what makes a satisfying retirement.

1. Spend more money on having fun

The researchers found that spending in only one category ‘tended to predict retirement satisfaction: leisure or “experiential commodities”’. That includes such activities as dining out, travel, entertainment, and hobbies.

One of the reasons this satisfaction occurs, they suggest, is because ‘social spending’ ‘takes us outside of ourselves and keeps us engaged with the world’.

Updegrave warns not to take this concept too far and spend so much in the early years that the rest of your retirement becomes a survival test. Budgeting is important.

2. Nurture your personal relationships

If you’re married, your spouse has the biggest impact on your life satisfaction, which stands to reason when you’ll probably spend most of your time with him/her in retirement. If the relationship is poor, it can impact on your enjoyment levels.

In a fascinating finding, the research discovered that more enjoyment is found in being with your friends than your children. One of the researchers, Michael Finke, suggests this may be because you have more in common with your friends and share similar interests.

What it does signal is the need to work on relationships before and during retirement.

3. Do all you can to maintain your health

Here are the findings, as reported: ‘Retirees who reported they were in good, very good, or excellent health were more likely to feel satisfied with their retirement than those with poor or even fair health. What’s more, health status was even more likely to lead to retirement satisfaction than good relationships or leisure spending’.

Health is such an important issue as we age. No one wants to spend their final years incapacitated in some way. Building up your health can help do two things: Keep you active for longer, and lower the cost of medical or nursing care.

The hardest thing about developing a better-health approach is to start. You could try Darren Morton’s simple advice found here.

When you think about it, both these research projects support what could be called good advice for a healthy, balanced life.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Emotional Health, Lifestyle, Physical Health

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