It turns out that happiness and retirement do go together.
Well, based on the research and books I’ve read and interviews I’ve done since becoming editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels at Next Avenue in 2011, they can go together if you play your cards right.
And it’s not just about having saved enough money or having a great pension, though both of that help. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are nine keys to a happy retirement, one of them pertaining specifically to couples. I’ll lay them out shortly and suggest a few books that can help you retire happy.
Of course, the definition of retirement isn’t what it was even 10 years ago. For many people, retirement in 2016 is not about quitting your full-time job full-stop at 65 and then living a life of leisure.
What Is Retirement, Anyway?
For one thing, 65 was the retirement date set in 1935 when FDR signed Social Security into law. It made more sense when people didn’t live as long as they do today and at a time when most employers provided guaranteed pensions once their employees retired. A March 2016 Ameriprise study said 71% of current retirees rely on guaranteed pensions from their former employers while 75% of pre-retirees plan to rely on anything-but-guaranteed 401(k)s when they retire.
Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, recently told me that many workers now envision retirement as a transition, something that happens over time. The current catchphrase is “flexible retirement,” which means either going from full-time to part-time work or working in a different capacity or working as long as you’re able.
That said, here are the nine ways to increase your chances of being happy in retirement:
1. Figure out in advance what you want out of retirement. By that, I mean things like: how you’ll spend your days, where you’ll spend them and what would make you fulfilled.
Stan Hinden, the author of How to Retire Happy, recommends starting to think seriously about retirement when you’re around 50 or 55.
One key decision is where you will retire and how much traveling you’ll want to do. Some people choose to retire in another country. It’s not for everyone, but a recent survey of 389 expats by the website Best Places in the World to Retire found that 81% were happier in their new country than where they lived before.
Why is that? For one thing, the cost of living was often less — sometimes much, much less. That meant they didn’t need to worry as much about their expenses or finding a high-paying job in retirement.
Many of the expats also said they were less stressed than before because their new country wasn’t as fast-paced as America. Many also said they loved their new “simple life,” especially because they now had more free time to volunteer (I’ll come back to that last point shortly).
If you’re wondering which are the best places in the world to retire, the answer depends on which survey you believe. International Living says the top places are Panama and Ecuador. And the Live and Invest Overseas site have picked the Algarve region of Portugal and Cayo, Belize.
2. The corollary to No. 1 — If you have a husband, wife or partner, talk frankly together about what you both want out of retirement. Neal Frankle, a noted financial planner, recently wrote on Next Avenue that he finds it helpful for couples to discuss their retirement dreams and write them down. Then, he says, they should mark each item as a “must have,” a “want” or a “wish” and be ready to compromise.
One thing you’ll want to figure out is how much time the two of you will want to spend together, since this may be the first time you’re both available all the time.
Hinden told Next Avenue that he and his wife came up with a system that worked for them: Early in the week, they each would spend time alone or with their own friends. Then, toward the end of the week, they’d do things together, like go to museums, theaters or restaurants.
Credits: Richard Eisenberg