Happiness in retirement

Mar 27, 2023

The number one way to be happy in retirement (it’s not what you think)

If you’re like most people, you probably have concerns about entering retirement. One major stressor is financial security: without a steady paycheck coming in, will you be able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle?

Another is health: will chronic illness or injury prevent you from enjoying your retirement, and, again, will you have enough funds to cover any medical costs that come up?

But according to a Harvard study, there’s one retirement challenge almost everyone faces—and it doesn’t have to do with health or finances. It’s all about connection.

An 85-year-long study

In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on the Harvard Study of Adult Development: an ongoing research initiative that attempts to answer the question: what makes people happy?

Researchers have observed 724 people from various parts of the globe, examining their health records and asking them intensive questions every two years. At this point, 80 years in, there are two generations and over 2000 participants involved—and the study is ongoing.

Among the things this study aims to find out are who will age well vs poorly, and why; which childhood experiences predict midlife health; whether or not thriving marriages among parents contribute to thriving marriages among their children; how children and young adults cope with social and technological change; and how lifestyle choices affect life span.

Recently, participants in mid- and late-life were asked about the challenges they’ve faced in retirement. The number one challenge was a lack of social connection.

It’s all about connection

Most participants agreed that while they didn’t necessarily miss their job, they did miss the people they worked with. One participant, a doctor, missed seeing his colleagues and patients; another, a former high school teacher, missed connecting with young people.

Another participant, a factory worker, started volunteering after retirement just so he could be around people again on a daily basis. Some retirees mentioned trying to fill the void by traveling or taking up hobbies, only to realize that these efforts fell short.

These results reveal an important fact: the people who enjoy retirement most are those who continue finding ways to connect with others, even though they’re no longer clocking in at the office every day. And in the age of remote work, that brings up another quandary: how can we continue to foster social connection when we’re no longer physically surrounded by people?

Even if you still work in an office or other physical location, it can be all too easy to get bogged down in to-do lists at the expense of developing meaningful relationships.

Tips for forming meaningful, long-lasting connections at work

Here are some tips for improving and strengthening your work relationships:

  • Think about the people you most enjoy working with, then find ways to show your appreciation. This could mean grabbing lunch with them, sending a heartfelt note, or simply taking a few minutes to chat about your lives outside of work.
  • Think about someone you’d like to get to know better, and reach out to them.
  • Think about which types of connections you’re missing in your life, then try to make them happen.
  • Seek out people who have different views, opinions, backgrounds, or skills from you, and learn from them.
  • If you’re in conflict with someone at work, consider what you can do to make peace.
  • Take stock of your relationships to see which ones you feel good about and which ones you feel you can improve.

Tips for continuing to foster social connection in your retirement years

Once you’ve entered retirement, keeping your social relationships strong becomes more of a challenge than ever. Here are a few things you can try to regain that sense of connection:

  • Call or visit a friend or colleague you haven’t heard from in a while.
  • Join a community: whether it’s a church congregation, meet-up for people with a certain interest or hobby, alumni association, etc.
  • Start a book club or hiking group.
  • Take a class.
  • Schedule time for your friends and family on a weekly or daily basis.
  • Keep trying: relationships can be stop and go, but don’t get discouraged. Keep at it!

Retirement can be lonely for many people, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little effort and planning, you can make the most of both your relationships and your retirement years.

All of the material published on this web site is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice. This information is of a general nature only and has been provided without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this, we recommend you consider, with or without the assistance of a Financial Adviser, whether the information is appropriate in light of your particular needs and circumstances

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