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What makes a happy retirement?

After decades of hard work, retirement brings with it a well-deserved break and an opportunity to enjoy life in a different way. In fact, retirement is one of the happiest times of our lives - according to a major UK population study. 

Data published by the Office of National Statistics shows that people aged around 65-85 were more likely to answer positively when asked about their happiness than people of working age.

However, the things that contribute to a happier and fulfilling retirement varies from person to person. For some, it might mean leisure and relaxation, while for others, it could involve new adventures and pursuits. But are there specific things we can do to make a happy retirement?

Research into retirement happiness has identified ways to boost the likelihood of a more fulfilling retirement. We take a look at three separate studies that each claim to have discovered the key to a happy retirement.

1. Choose experiences over possessions

Research last year from Royal London found that almost three-quarters (72%) of people aged 55+ get more happiness from experiences such as holidays, days out and hobbies, rather than material possessions such as houses, cars and expensive art.

More than half (52%) in the survey said spending time with family is their most important aim for retirement. This was followed by relaxing (47%) and maintaining health and fitness (45%). 

When making plans for retirement, there was a noticeable difference in top priorities between the sexes. It appears women place a higher importance on spending time with family than men (59% vs. 43%). Men are more intent on relaxing in their golden years, choosing that option as their top goal.

2. Plan your retirement goals together

Further research conducted by the University of Essex reveals the key to a happy retirement for those entering it with a partner. Apparently, close couples who plan their retirement together and have shared goals are more likely to be happier.

The researchers at the university found that later life couples focus instead on their own personal needs when they are not on the same page. By working together to create joint ambitions and align their hopes and dreams for the future, they can enjoy a better retirement.

If you have a significant other, try involving them in your retirement planning by talking about your hopes for the future, what you’d like to achieve, where you’d like to go and how much time you see yourself spending with family or each other.

3. Maintain connections in retirement

Our third study comes from across the pond at Harvard and goes right back to 1938. Yes, 85 years ago researchers began a study to find out “What makes us happy in life?” and it is still ongoing today. 

So how have they been gathering their data for all this time? Researchers at the university have been surveying people from all over the world, accessing their medical records and asking them detailed questions about their lives. They come back to them every two years to chart their responses.

As participants enter mid- and late-life, the Harvard Study regularly asks about their retirement. According to the results, the biggest challenge people in the study face in their retirement is being unable to replace the social connections that they maintained so easily at work. 

The study found that people who find ways to maintain connections and make new ones go on to do better in retirement.

Once the shared interest of your job has been removed in retirement, it can be challenging to stay in touch and maintain the level of friendship you shared with ex-colleagues. To hold on to friendships you value from your workplace, try finding a new common interest that you can enjoy together. 

You could arrange a monthly cinema trip, join a club together or schedule weekly coffee dates. Or why not boost your fitness levels with a weekly walk to catch up while you burn off a few calories?

Retirement brings with it many opportunities to make new connections too. Joining clubs to take up new a new hobby or revisit old ones is a great way to meet new people. Or, if you have grandchildren, why not offer to help mum and dad by taking the little ones to a playgroup each week? They’re often packed full of grandparents in the same boat!

What might contribute to your happy retirement?

Studies are interesting to read and do provide food for thought, but achieving your own happy retirement really comes down to your individual wants and goals for the future. 

Here are a few key elements that might contribute to a happy retirement for you. They range from time with the family and social connections, to financial stability, a healthy mind and body and personal fulfilment.

Financial stability

Having financial security is central to achieving a happy retirement. While money doesn't guarantee happiness, being on top of your finances creates a sense of stability and reduces stress. 

Start by working out how much money you’ll need in retirement to be able to do the things you want, then budget accordingly. Read our article ‘How much money do you need for retirement?’ for more information on this topic.

Health and well-being

Striving for good health is invaluable in retirement. Maintaining your physical and mental well-being can significantly impact your quality of life and even lengthen it, too. 

Build in regular exercise into your week through activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai-chi or other forms of low-impact exercise. This can help you to keep fit and can even delay the onset of age-related health issues.

If you don’t already, try to adopt a balanced diet in retirement to help maintain your energy levels and overall health. And don’t forget to visit your GP for regular check-ups and screenings to catch any potential health issues early.

Social connections

As we mentioned earlier, social connections are crucial for a happy retirement. Maintaining social relationships and emotional connections can have a profound impact on your mental health and well-being.

Try to nurture your social connections in retirement by staying connected with your loved ones. You may also want to make time to check in with friends who might be feeling isolated themselves. 

Search online for local clubs, societies, or organisations that align with your interests, whether it's gardening, art, crafting  or sports. You could also give back to your community by volunteering for causes that resonate with you. 

Personal fulfilment

Retirement is an opportunity to pursue personal passions and interests that may have been put on hold during your working years. Personal fulfilment can vary greatly from person to person, but here are some ways to find it:

  • Hobbies and interests. Rediscover or explore new hobbies, such as painting, playing a musical instrument, or gardening. Pursuing your interests can bring joy and satisfaction.

  • Lifelong learning. Take courses, attend workshops, or engage in lifelong learning programmes to acquire new knowledge and skills.

  • Creative projects. Engage in creative projects, whether it's writing a book, starting a blog, or crafting. Expressing yourself artistically can be immensely rewarding.

  • Entrepreneurship. Some retirees start small businesses or consulting ventures in fields they are passionate about. This can provide a handy extra income in retirement, too! 

  • Travel and adventure. Travel and explore the UK or even the world, ticking off destinations from your bucket list. 

  • Boost your brain power. Keep your mind sharp through activities like reading books, doing puzzles, painting, writing or volunteering. If you didn’t have time before to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life, you do now.

Help is out there if you need it

Finally, it is of course true that many people find retirement a struggle. Unfortunately, it can be a time when people feel lonely and isolated rather than full of excitement about the possibilities it brings.

Organisations like Age UK, Independent Age, the Royal Voluntary Service and the Red Cross all provide services that can help retired people who are struggling with their well-being and mental health.   

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