Retire With a Smile: 10 Surprising Secrets to a Happy Retirement

Some people who dreamed they’d leave all their worries behind once they quit workingare finding retirement isn’t quite as blissful as they dreamed it would be. Fewer than half of current retirees describe their retirement as “very satisfying,” the Employee Benefits Research Institute found, down from 61% in 1998.

Retirement satisfaction is falling across the board. Both wealthy and not-so-wealthy retirees were less happy in retirement than their counterparts in the late ’90s, though the richer retirees were more satisfied overall. Money, it seems, isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to enjoying a happy retirement. Even the rich can find themselves with a frown on their faces if they make planning mistakes.

It’s not clear what’s causing the dip in retirement satisfaction, but part of the problem might be the nature of retirement is changing, and it’s taking people’s expectations a while to catch up. Retirements can stretch for decades, health care costs are rising, and people are more likely to want (or need) to keep a foot in the working world rather than transitioning to a life of full-time leisure.

“What we’re seeing is that retirement, the word itself is changing,” Andrew Rafal, president and founder of Bayntree Wealth Advisors and co-author of Climbing the Retirement Mountain and Getting Safely Down the Other Side, said in a phone interview with The Cheat Sheet. “We look at someone that’s maybe worked in the corporate world, and their purpose over 30 or 40 years was their job. They did very well at it. [Now] it’s trying to envision what these next 30 years could look like.”

That transition from worker bee to chilled-out retiree isn’t always simple. Although retirement boosts happiness overall, some retirees are happier than others. What separates the happy from the miserable?

The people who have the biggest smiles on their faces in retirement are clued into the following 10 secrets about retirement (No. 7 is important if you want to decrease your risk of heart disease and dementia).

1. Don’t assume it’s all about the money

It’s a cliché to say money can’t buy happiness, but it’s true when it comes to retirement. A big bank account balance won’t translate into stress-free golden years if there are other problems lurking below the surface.

“For many, the monetary side isn’t going to make them happy,” Rafal said. “People that have a lot more zeros than others, we find sometimes they’re not as happy.”

Sometimes, the problems are financial, such as debt. In other cases, they’re personal. Whatever the cause, you shouldn’t assume money alone will make the other problems in your life disappear. Retirement planning involves running the numbers. But it also requires looking inward to think about what’s going to make you happy in the next phase of your life.

Next: Ignorance is not bliss.

2. But don’t ignore your finances

Money might not be everything, but a steady source of retirement income can go a long way to reducing retirement stress. People with consistent sources of retirement income, such as a pension, were more financially confident and less likely to feel pressure to cut spending than those who relied on money from their investments, a Towers Watsonsurvey found.

But even if you don’t have a pension, there are ways to turn your savings into a steady income stream if you work with an experienced financial adviser. Figuring out the financial piece means you can save your energy for things you really enjoy.

Next: Health equals wealth.

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