The Chase For Happiness in Retirement

Happiness in retirement is not an entitlement.

Bestselling author and founder of the Retirement Coaches Association, Robert Laura, said this in regard to the illusion of retirement:

“Up to this point, people have been trained to believe that retirement is this happy place where things magically unfold. Where they can finally become the person that they have been chasing. But just removing work from your life won’t do that. People have to understand that retirement doesn’t eliminate work, it reorients it. You still have to work in other ways including putting an effort into your new identity, relationships, social network and physical health.”

Whether a CEO or stay-at-home mom or dad, once you’ve left the work environment you’re a metaphorical empty-nester. The part of life where earning happiness through the achievements has mostly evaporated. For many, the feeling of abandonment at the loss of this ability is stunningly quick. Usually punctuated by the fond farewells of co-workers, then followed by radio silence.

For those who’ve done work pre-emptively to form a happiness bridge to retirement, it’s an easier landing. But even still, there’s work to be done. Because changes in our emotional and psychological state at this time of life can be as significant as changes during puberty or early adulthood.

You might be thinking: that’s not me. And if that’s the case, hats off to you! Truly. But for those of us needing GPS to find deep satisfaction in retirement, it can be a long haul.

Predict and Plan for Satisfaction

Reporting on a recent study, Ness Labs, a thought-leader applying evidence-based strategies to daily living, found that older adults under-predict potential changes in their lives. The older the participant, the less the change in values and preferences were predicted. Yet within the same study, a group ten years older, retrospectively reported significant changes. Wishful thinking of the young?

The truth is, surrounding big transitions like retirement, a lack of careful thought and planning can produce a stagnant, dissatisfying future. As mentioned previously, happiness is not an entitlement. So betting one’s future on a roll-of-the-dice is not a productive choice for older adults. Though it’s a given that the years ahead can include loneliness, cognitive decline, and a host of other health issues, science instructs us that many health-related issues can be held at bay by employing an active mind and a young spirit.

I don’t normally quote Jane Fonda, but here goes. During a recent interview, when asked why she’d stopped drinking, she said, and I paraphrase, the effects of drinking in the evening cause me to lose several productive hours the next day. She then looked directly into the camera and offered: I’m 85, how many hours can I afford to lose? I use this example because it demonstrates a definite intent to change.

We need to caretake ourselves – with intent – throughout the entire journey that is our lives. Take responsibility for creating our third act personae. It’s not simply enough to be aware of our passions. We must have intent to pursue them. Instead of serving the many masters we served during out careers, we must now serve ourselves.

Happiness and Satisfaction is a Choice

Happiness isn’t elusive. It isn’t fickle. Or a fair-weather friend. It requires cultivation. It must be actively chosen each day.

In youth we choose happiness from a menu stacked with the pre-selected ideas of others. With age and the accumulation of earned-wisdom, we can create our own syllabus. Craft a smarter life. Delineate the difference between who we were, who we are now and who we’d like to be.

The stakes are high.

When asked how he created his masterful sculptures, Michelangelo said this: I chisel away at the stone until the perfect form reveals itself. His response had a tremendous impact on me. Because the intent – or choice – to produce something better is what separates great artists from the rest of the pack. As well, it separates highly satisfied people from those who choose a less intentful route.

We can choose to sculpt a perfect life. Round out the rough edges at a point in our lives when there’s finally time and wherewithal to do so.

Photograph by Ishan Gupta for Unsplash

Article first printed in Sixty and Me

2 thoughts on “The Chase For Happiness in Retirement

  1. You’ve offered a wise rationale for consciously thinking about life after retirement. It seems many people have only a vague idea of of what their life will look life after work, and they make assumptions about how it will feel. I suspect many of us have been, and will be, surprised at the difference between our expectations and our new reality. Happiness and fulfillment do not just happen. Intention is necessary, and we still need to pursue goals that will bring us the satisfying lives we hoped for.

    1. I totally agree with what you’ve said. There’s also another wrinkle in the transition. Sometimes we plan for something before we retire and then realize that wasn’t exactly it! So back to the drawing board. But, as I know, having done that first plan puts you in to the frame of mind of tweaking it or doing another. We really do have to remain open until we draw our last breath.

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