How to be Happy in Retirement

How to be Happy in Retirement

When you think about retirement, what pops into your head first?

R. Tyler End, CFP®

Published January 12th, 2020

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Retirement can be socially isolating and boring if you don’t plan for it.
  • Spend money on social activities and maintain your social networks.
  • Think about what you’re going to spend your time doing, whether it’s working part-time or pursuing a passion.

A happy retirement has nothing to do with finances

When you think about retirement, what pops into your head first? For the vast majority of people, the answer is money – things like Social Security and 401(k)s and pensions. They never give a second thought to a really big and important question: what are you actually going to do when you’re retired?

The last thing you want to do is retire and then find yourself without an answer to that big question. While you may think some well-earned rest is the key to a happy retirement, but too much free time can lead to feelings of listlessness, boredom, and dissatisfaction. It’s no surprise that most retirees spend most of their waking hours in front of a television – without the daily structure and social network from their jobs, many feel like they lose their purpose and drive.

But retirement doesn’t have to mean a loss of purpose – in fact, retirement can be about rediscovering who you are, or doubling down on the things you’ve always been passionate about. Doing some key thinking now about your social networks, passions, and part-time work can pay dividends in a happier retirement down the line.

Investing in your social network

If you want a happy retirement, what should you actually spend money on? Some people might think it’s an RV or vacation home, but according to retirement researcher Dr. Michael Finke, it’s social spending. That means things like going out to lunch with friends, or going on a family vacation.

Retirement can be very isolating. All of a sudden, you go from being in your workplace five days a week to being in your home 24/7. Of all the things you can spend your time and money on, being with other people is going to have the biggest impact on your happiness.

That also means that spending time and money building long-lasting relationships before you’re retired is crucial to retirement happiness. Think of this like another kind of investment. Just like your 401(k), it takes time to build meaningful friendships.

Pursuing new and old passions

Right now, it’s probably not that hard to fill out your schedule. Work and sleep already account for two thirds of your day. Throw in eating, cleaning, family time, and friends, and you’re probably wishing for an extra few hours just to fit everything in.

When you’re retired, though, your schedule flips on its head. You’ll suddenly have more time than you know what to do with. But that doesn’t mean that it all needs to be unstructured free time – instead, you can fill out that time by pursuing new passions and doubling down on old ones.

Take some time pre-retirement to think about what you don’t have time for currently. Maybe you have a creative itch that needs to be scratched, or would love to be part of an organized sport league. Look at what your community has to offer, especially at local colleges, religious organizations, and gyms.

As an added bonus, these activities usually come with a built-in social network, leading to new opportunities to build lasting friendships.

Working part-time

Finding a part-time job can be fulfilling in all of the ways your full-time job was – it brings in income, builds your social network, and can provide meaning and focus. Many fields and skills provide for part-time flexibility, making it relatively easy to transition from full-time to part-time. Retirement can also be an opportunity to pursue a different field.

Consider volunteer work as well, either alone or combined with a part-time job. Like a job, volunteering provides a social network and is a meaningful pursuit. If you’re already involved in an organization, think about ways you might increase your participation, and if you’re not, start thinking about problems that you care about and look into local organizations tackling them.

Your next steps

The best thing you can do before you retire is figure out what you actually want out of retirement. Here are a few questions that can send you down the right path: Why are you retiring? Do you still want to work in retirement? What do you not have time for right now that you wish you did? Who would you spend time with when you’re retired?

There are no wrong answers to any of these questions – this is an entirely personal journey, where figuring out what makes you happy is the most important objective. Talking to friends, family, and former co-workers who have retired can also be super helpful in figuring out how they’ve made retirement work for them and their interests. Everyone’s retirement story will be a little different, and hearing many of them should inspire some ideas.

Of course, money is a big part of retirement, too, and you should talk to your financial advisor about your goals for retirement so they can help you figure out exactly what you need. If you plan to work part-time, for example, you can probably afford to take Social Security later in life. If you’re going to spend your retirement traveling the world, you’ll want to factor that into your savings. The list goes on, but again, it’s entirely personal to you and your desires, and the most important next step is figuring out exactly what those are.

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Still have questions about how to properly plan for retirement? Speak with a licensed fiduciary for free.


R. Tyler End, CFP®

CEO and co-founder of Retirable.

As a retirement income specialist at Northwestern Mutual, Tyler worked hands-on to help people define their goals, achieve financial independence, and enter retirement with peace of mind. Later, at Policygenius, Tyler expanded the company’s reach into new products, turning Policygenius into an industry-leading distributor of disability and P&C insurance. Tyler’s efforts helped more than 10,000 people find the insurance they needed.

Retirable combines Tyler’s passion for retirement planning with his experience growing scalable businesses, with the goal of giving every American personalized advice.

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