Happiness, Money, Retirement and What Matters

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What contributes to satisfaction in retirement? It certainly isn’t just finances. Completing the retirement equation means talking about and striving for fulfillment, happiness, and satisfaction in retirement.

Preparing for social and emotional issues that may arise during your retirement can be uncomfortable to consider and discuss. Many people feel embarrassed to talk about their unhappiness when they retire – they have saved for a comfortable life, they have free time, they have met their financial goals, and yet there is something missing. People usually don’t talk about it because they feel like they’re supposed to be happy.

The truth is “winning” at retirement isn’t just about how much money you have saved, it is about how you decide to fill your days, what you want to do with your time and discovering the things that make you feel happy – fulfilled. Here are some of the things that may contribute to dissatisfaction with retirement and ways that you can face and cope with them proactively.

Losing Your Identity

For many people, their career is a defining characteristic of their life and who they are. It can feel like part of your identity is missing when you leave behind such a big element of your life. Redefining who you are can be scary and uncomfortable. It can also make some people feel paralyzed about what to do.

Retirement is not about leaving your old life behind, it is about building upon the life you have created and easing into the next chapter of the story you have been writing your entire life. The narrative of this next chapter is informed by lessons you have learned and wisdom you have acquired simply by having a lifetime of experiences behind you.

It is common for people to have lives where their identity and social life revolve around work and career, and it may be that you choose to continue working in a part-time capacity for a portion of time to make the retirement transition more gradual. But, if you have identified other goals and passions that you want to pursue, then you have established the foundation for your next chapter. Now you may be ready to begin clarifying precisely what that next chapter will look like and prepare yourself for redefining your identity.


It is common after the first year or two of retirement to become bored with the daily experience of having too little to do. In the beginning, perhaps you took some trips, relished in the freedom of having no time-keeper, and checked a few items off of your bucket list. When the regular daily routine sets in, you may find that the absence of a routine leaves you feeling bored, which can lead to depression, anxiety or poor health.[i]

A sense of purpose is important for anyone at any age. The mental and social stimulation that most of us get from work and career, despite the fact that we all would like a break from it once in a while, is important to keep us from being bored or unmotivated or unfulfilled. Before you retire, or during your honeymoon phase, give thought to what will come when the excitement wears off. Will you take a class, go to a book club, start a small business, become a mentor? Whatever structure you create can mitigate boredom and keep you on your toes.

Social Isolation

Whether you are married, divorced, widowed or single, social isolation is common for people during retirement, especially for those who are heading into more advanced age.[ii] Having a plan of action for maintaining consistent communication with family members and friends whose company you enjoy, both digitally and in person, is paramount to living a satisfied and healthy life.

To achieve this, it is important to consider the elements that can contribute to maintaining an active social life. Think about where you live in relation to where your family and friends live. Is it laborious to plan to get together? Proximity to social opportunities becomes more important as you age and the possibility of less mobility increases. Many people choose to live closer to their children and grandchildren and while that can be wonderful, it is important to have social opportunities outside of those relationships too. Becoming the de facto babysitter is not exactly the most enriching social activity when it becomes routine.

Some people choose to live in a retirement community, or in a place where other retirees often live or visit, or stay in their home to maintain strong bonds with friends, family, and neighbors. The solution is unique to everyone, but it is certainly something that should be given thought and attention.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

While these less than ideal parts of retirement are definitely topics that should be acknowledged and addressed, bear in mind that there is a great deal to look forward to in retirement. You are embarking on a new part of your story and that is cause for celebration and excitement. You have accomplished a great deal in your life, worked diligently to build a nest egg that will serve to preserve and enhance your quality of life. If you take the time to make your non-financial lifestyle as secure as your financial lifestyle, then you will be well-prepared for a fulfilling retirement and a well-rounded experience.

[i] http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/retiring-minds.aspx

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016701/

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