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Many people feel that a happy retirement is guaranteed if they have financial security. While this is important for financial well-being, current retirement research supports the old adage that money alone can’t buy happiness. A million dollars is not a retirement plan. Instead, experts are now advising people to invest time tending to their psychological portfolio before retiring. Enjoying your retirement depends just as much, if not more, on your psychological well-being.

Your mental attitude can reverse the effects of aging and improve physical health

Recent data show that fewer American retirees say they are “very satisfied” with their retirements. A growing number of retirees report that they are “not at all satisfied” with their retirements. In 2012, the number of retirees who say their retirement is “very satisfying” dropped from 60.5% in 1998 to 48.6% – the first time it’s ever dipped below half. Researchers from the Employee Benefit Research Institute say they are not yet clear about exactly why this is happening.

The good news, however, is that current research shows that there are plenty of ways you can help make sure your retirement satisfies you.

Get Prepared

The act of tending to your psychological profile, in and of itself, is beneficial. Actively engaging in retirement planning before retirement has been shown to be positively related to retirees’ psychological well-being. In other words, retirees who have prepared extensively for retirement are more likely to enjoy better psychological well-being in retirement.

A positive association exists between optimism and retirement satisfaction. Given that optimism is a character trait that can be learned and developed, retirees can seek to acquire and maintain a more positive mindset as a way to improve well-being. There may be benefits to cultivating an optimistic outlook in the pre-retirement phase so that you can maintain that attitude during retirement.

Age is a Mindset, Not a Number

Other interesting research has shown that older adults who think of getting old as a positive experience —more wisdom, self-realization and satisfaction – tend to function at a higher level. They are more likely to eat well, exercise and avoid vice. They also live 7.5 years longer.

Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard, thinks Satchel Paige, perhaps the best pitcher in baseball history who was still playing at the age of 47, may have had it right when he said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” Langer’s research shows that age is truly a mindset and not a number. If you think of yourself as young, you can be young. Your mental attitude can reverse the effects of aging and improve your physical health.

Nurture Satisfying Relationships

Research also shows a positive association between support from family and friends and retirement satisfaction. Researchers have found that people in satisfying marriages and other personal relationships have fewer illnesses, higher levels of good overall health and are more likely to achieve better psychological well-being. As you get older, your social support network becomes increasingly important, yet those networks begin to shrink if we aren’t continually adding to them. Successful retirees generally have robust social networks that provide them with friendship, fulfilling activities and a healthy life structure. Having people close to you who will share your life and be there for you will not only add to your overall life enjoyment, but will also add years onto your life!

Stay Busy

Your level of accomplishment is also strongly related to retirement satisfaction. It seems that the happiest retirees are the ones who keep themselves busy. Soon-to-be retirees should consider whether or not to continue to work in some capacity, say the experts. While working has obvious financial perks, it may also offer health and mental health benefits.

Many people take on new jobs after retiring from their primary careers with part-time work, a temporary job or self-employment — a trend known as “bridge employment.” Other people become actively involved in volunteer work. Research has unequivocally shown that retirees who engaged in bridge employment and voluntary work had fewer major diseases, functional limitations and better psychological well-being than retirees who chose full time retirement.

In other research,  volunteers showed improved immune system functioning, decreased blood pressure, improved mental alertness, and increased vitality and longevity. These findings were confirmed by researchers at the University of Michigan who discovered a remarkable link between volunteer work and longevity by surveying 1,211 adults over 65 (mostly retirees) and checking up on them eight years later. Those who volunteered at least 40 hours each year to a single cause were 40 percent more likely than non-volunteers to be alive at the end of study.

The Connection Between Physical Health and Psychological Well-Being

Finally, staying in good physical condition is also very important. Retirees’ physical health has been repeatedly found to be associated with retirees’ psychological well-being. Specifically, retirees who enjoy greater physical health are more likely to have better psychological well-being in retirement.

While the aging process is normal and affects us all in different ways, there are certainly some things that we can all do to ensure that we “put time on our side” by looking after ourselves. With a strong mind, healthy body and a well-laid plan, you can look forward to a happy retirement instead of allowing it to surprise you in some good, and not-so-good, ways. By taking control of how you approach it, you’ll have a much better chance of creating your retirement instead of just allowing life to happen to you.

If you find that you’ve got a million excuses about why you can’t do this or that, maybe it’s time for a change of perspective. So you aren’t physically able to hike? Chances are you can take a walk on the beach. You get the idea.

  • Get actively involved in retirement planning and tend your psychological portfolio as much as your financial one. The happiest retirees understand that the point of saving is to enable them to enjoy the things that they love doing.
  • Cultivate and maintain optimism. This is a trait that can be learned and developed.
  • Think of getting older as a positive experience.
  • Think of yourself as young. Remember Satchel Paige.
  • Spend good time with family and attend to any family conflicts.
  • Think about the quality of the social network that you have today and your plans to build it. Join groups or clubs, take classes, meet new people and get out of the house to do new things.
  • Keep most of your social interactions face-to-face. Don’t rely on the telephone, email or social media.
  • Keep reasonably busy. Consider engaging in bridge employment, volunteer work and/or active leisure activities.
  • Develop and maintain good health behaviors and habits. Engage in physical and/or cognitive activities on a daily basis. Happy retirees keep fit and healthy.
  • Don’t forget to sing and dance, and tell old tales, and laugh (and try to make sure your money lasts as long as you do).

Who are the happiest retired people you know? What retirement tips can you share with the rest of the community?

Contributed by

Bob Avenson
Senior Faculty - Group Support

Friendship is when people know all about you but like you anyway.

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