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Retire Happy

We reveal some key factors that boost happiness—and how you can make them part of your life.


While everyone points to financial security as the secret to a happy retirement, the truth may be more interesting. In fact, new research shows that while savings are an important factor, the happiest retirees have certain emotional characteristics that bring more joy to their lives. And finding happiness in retirement isn’t just for a lucky few. Seventy-three percent of retirees report being “happy” or “very happy,” according to a recent study conducted by Athene.* In fact, despite the challenge, for many, of living on less, retirees are happier than younger people who are still working and raising families. Diane Nelson, the study’s author and a market researcher at Athene in West Des Moines, Iowa, reveals some key ways to contribute to a happy retirement.

Value Friendships
People who cherish their social connections are happier in retirement. For many women in particular, concern about losing workplace relationships was a primary reason for putting off retirement. 

“Virtually no one sat around living long, lonely days with nothing to do,” says Nelson. Many respondents were so socially active that they found retirement left them with very little downtime. And that’s a good thing: Having a large circle of friends is associated with psychological well-being in middle-aged adults. Another reason to stay close with your pals? Research has shown that seniors who maintain strong friendships as they age may live longer than those who do not. 

Be Grateful for the Small Stuff
While most retirees don’t maintain the same lifestyle they had while working, living on less didn’t impact their happiness. “Many retirees discovered little joys that money couldn’t buy while they were working,” says Nelson. For example, some shared how wonderful it felt to be able to sleep as late as they wanted. For others, the ability to be in charge of their own days and not have to answer to a boss was seen as a real gift.

Research has shown that having gratitude is associated with happiness at any age, and adults who frequently feel grateful—even for the little things—have more energy, optimism, and happiness. 

Enjoy Leisure Time 
Topping the list of things that are important to retirees’ emotional fulfillment was being able to relax and enjoy leisure time. But unlike previous generations, today’s retirees define leisure as enjoying hobbies they didn’t have time for while working, as well as traveling to new places and spending more time with family and friends. Relaxation doesn’t mean lazing away their days at home. “Our happiest retirees seemed to be people who found ways to remain active and relevant,” says Nelson. 

Several other studies have shown that leisure time has a positive influence on older adults’ quality of life, happiness, and sense of peace. It all comes down to finding the balance of friends, activities, and free time that’s right for you. 

*Participants in this study were provided through the Harris Panel, including members of its third-party panel providers.