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4 Habits of Happy Retirees

Nearly 75 percent of retirees say they are “happy” or “very happy.” You can be happy too with these habits.

The most successful retirees are the ones with the biggest bank accounts, right? Not necessarily. Though being comfortable and happy in your post-career years has a lot to do with the financial planning you do before leaving work, it’s also about attitude. Retirement, after all, isn’t just that red-circled date on your calendar; it’s also all of the weeks, months, and years afterward. 

Planning for the transition is key, but so is understanding that retirement is just as much about taking on the unknown with verve as it is about having planned as best you can. “The happiest retirees embrace the range of possibilities and new beginnings in store for them,” says Dorian Mintzer, Ph.D., retirement coach and co-author of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together. Here, four shared traits of happy retirees—and how to make them your own.

1. They’ve found a new purpose in life. For many of us, working and raising a family has provided meaning and structure to our lives, both in terms of how we spend our days and in terms of how we see ourselves as people (“I am a lawyer” or “I am a nurse”). Those who transition most successfully into retired life find new ways to shape their days and weeks. “Smart retirees think about what they’re retiring to, rather than what they’re retiring from,” says Mintzer.

Make it yours: By all means, have a little fun when you first say goodbye to work. But after that, start asking yourself some questions: Would you like to get a part-time job? Volunteer? Spend regular chunks of time with family (for example, babysitting the grandkids)? Are there hobbies you had scant time for before? Or something new you’d like to learn? 

2. They have their financial house in order. People who do well have taken the time to realistically look at what they can afford to live on, and they adjust their retirement date if they’re not fully ready. Retirement, for many, can be 20 or 30 years of a post-working life. “And that requires careful forethought,” says Mintzer. It’s not necessarily about having a huge nest egg but rather about being willing to face up to hard truths (Our money will last XX years at this budget, for example) and planning accordingly. 

Make it yours: Figure out what you will need to live on. Enlisting the help of a financial planner is a smart idea. If you’re nearing retirement—or have recently left the workforce—but feel you’re not near your financial goals, you may want to consider things like moving into a smaller home or paying off debts such as car loans.

3. They live life with zest (but are realistic about their health). You may not want to think about declining health, but it’s a fact of most people’s lives, now more than ever, thanks to longer lifespans and better medical care. The retirees with the best futures are those who take their well-being seriously. An upbeat outlook combined with frequent exercise and plenty of activities that keep your brain active will help you feel vital no matter what your health issues might be. So does surrounding yourself with friends and family who can be there for you if need be. 

Make it yours: Think about how, and where, you want to age. For example, while it’s never easy to uproot your life, you may be happier relocating to a home in which you’ll have less to care for. Proximity to public transportation, neighbors, and family are also important considerations. 

4. They’re good communicators. This is especially crucial for couples who have to negotiate possibly conflicting visions of retirement. If one of you worked while the other stayed home, for example, retirement represents a big shift in how your days are spent. Happy retirees find ways to strike a balance between time together and time apart and—importantly—are able to maintain outside friendships or find new ones. 

Make it yours: If you’re part of a couple, start conversations before one or both of you retires. Share your dreams and visions and your individual and combined bucket lists.