When talking with clients about retirement, I almost always
hear some variation of the following sentence: "I just want to
be happy." The more I hear the "H" word, the more I ask myself
"What actually makes us happy?"
There's certainly no single answer to that question. In
fact, the answers seem limitless. Not only that, but we don't
seem particularly good at knowing what will make us happy. The
things we choose-say, a new car for example-often provide a
short-term, fleeting sense of pleasure rather than a deep,
abiding sense of happiness. So what can we do to improve our
odds of a happy retirement?
Happiness Principle #1: Balance Pleasures and
In his book
The Joyless Economy
, Tibor Scitovsky argues that there are two kinds of potential
experiences in life: pleasures and comforts. By pleasures he
means risks or pursuits. These are the new experiences in our
lives. They get us out of our comfort zone and stimulate our
minds. Pleasures include things like meeting someone new,
exploring an unfamiliar city, ordering something new off the
menu or learning a new hobby or skill.
Then there are comforts. These are the things that we know
and are used to. They're safe and predictable. They provide
stability. Comforts are things like our home, family, longtime
friends and the job we've had for years.
Every day, we're presented with choices between pleasures
and comforts. Left to our own devices we tend to choose
comforts. In fact, many times we're so reluctant to embrace the
unknown that we will choose unhappiness over uncertainty. We'll
persist in a bad job or a bad relationship, simply because
we're afraid of what would happen if we didn't.
Not surprisingly, Scitovsky argues that finding balance
between pleasures and comforts will ultimately make us happier
than if we have a lopsided tendency toward only one.
Choosing the safe, predictable path (comforts) too often
during retirement will likely leave you feeling unchallenged,
uninspired and bored. Always taking the risk and stepping
outside your comfort zone (pleasures), however, can leave you
feeling stressed and unmoored. The key is to find a
Happiness Principle #2: Focus on Your Health
Physical, mental and emotional health are key ingredients to
happiness. Unfortunately, too many people are entering
retirement stuck in the rut of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. High
cholesterol and high blood pressure are common.Diabetes is the
fastest growing disease in the country.
Not all sickness is preventable, of course, but there is a
huge correlation between certain lifestyle choices and our
susceptibility to certain diseases. This is evident when you
examine the ailments we struggle with most. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the three leading
causes of death in 1900 were influenza, diarrhea and
tuberculosis. Today the top three are heart disease, cancer and
stroke. All three are heavily dependent on things like diet,
exercise and whether or not you smoke.
Entering retirement healthy and in shape improves your odds
of leading an active lifestyle. It also means that you will
likely be able to live independently and free from the physical
pain that accompanies many diseases. Not only that, but
remaining physically healthy can help you remain financially
healthy, because your medical costs will be kept to a minimum.
All of those things can contribute to a happier retirement.
Happiness Principle #3: Financial Security
While money doesn't necessarily buy happiness, neither does
poverty. It can be stressful to always be worrying about how to
make ends meet. And while you don't necessarily need a sailboat
or a vineyard to have a happy retirement, it would be nice to
be able to take a trip with your spouse or have dinner with
friends without constantly having to pinch pennies. Work
closely with a trusted adviser to make sure you have enough set
aside to fund the lifestyle you want to live.
Remember, though, that retirement is more than just a math
problem. It takes more than a bulging bank account to be happy.
But if you save enough, stay healthy and find purpose in your
daily activities, you will be well on your way to a happy,
FPA member Joseph R. Hearn is the Vice President at
Teckmeyer Financial and author of the books
If Something Happens to Me
The Bell Lap: The 8 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid as You