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4 Secrets to Happiness in Retirement


Retirement isn’t necessarily a happy time for people.

Just 60% of current retirees say that their retirement is “very satisfying,” according to research by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.  Nearly one in five retirees say that they are experiencing lower levels of overall well-being in retirement than they were before they retired, the study found. “Retirement affords increased opportunities for living the good life,” write Andrew Burr, Jonathan Santo and Dolores Pushkar in their study “Affective Well-Being in Retirement” published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. “But it is also a hallmark of the transition to the later stages of life and an introduction to the realities of aging.” And that doesn’t necessarily put a smile on your face.

So how can you plan for not only a secure retirement, but a happy one? The study offered some insight into what does – and doesn’t – make retirees happy.

Money: If you consider yourself better off than the Joneses, you just might be happier than them in retirement.  Your financial position — at least relative to other people your age — matters to your contentedness in retirement: Retirees who said that their financial situation was better than most other people they knew were also happier.

Concern for others and the earth: People who report high levels of concern for the welfare of others and for the earth tend to be happier in retirement, the study found. (Interestingly, the same correlation doesn’t hold for younger adults, the researchers note.) On a related note, those people who have what the researchers call “outward orientation” — they successfully engage with the world though friendships and activities — were much happier than those who had an “inward orientation” and thus were more isolated.

Health: The number and severity of illnesses you have in retirement, not surprisingly, predicts happiness. The people who suffered from chronic, severe illnesses like cancer or multiple sclerosis tended to be less happy than those who were in better health.

Keeping traditions: Upholding traditions and customs, like celebrating religious holidays or family milestones like birthdays regularly, can raise a retiree’s happiness. So can conforming to social norms, up to a point. The happiness benefits of conformity can be undermined by caring too much about what other people think, the study said. People with high levels of “enhancement,” which means they care a lot about status, power and what others thought of them, were less happy than those who had lower levels of “enhancement.”


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    • Panama has surpassed Costa Rica as a rreietment haven. Due to Costa Rica’s popularity over the past fifteen years it has lost many of the perks that made it so attractive. I love Costa Rica and should have purchased property or land twenty years ago. But, with that said everything happens for a reason. I will be very happy retiring to Panama with my husband. The other plus to consider is that there is no need for an exhange rate as the US dollar is accepted everywhere and is interchangeable with the balboa.

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    • Having been retired for 20 years and in our mid-70′s I can tell you that you must invest in stocks to keep ahead of inflation. The Federal Reserve is the retiree’s enemy. They are understating inflation by not including food and energy in their equation. We all know from visits to the grocery store that inflation is still with us in-force and heating your home in the winter, no matter where you live, costs more than in the recent past. The Federal Reserve is also making sure that those money market accounts you own aren’t paying any interest.

      Having said that, I will say that you will probably spend more in early retirement than you do in later retirement assuming you don’t have major health problems. Traveling gets tiresome as you get older so you’ll do less of it. Eating out is expensive and also more of a hassle when you are older so you’ll do less of it. Cruises are nice but they are expensive too as they use lots of energy and food. Also, some cruises require long flights that are less attractive as you get older.(Do the Hong Kong to Sydney cruise when you are younger. Reserve the Lisbon to Miami cruise for when you are a bit older.)

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.