For a happy retirement, begin planning now

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You’ve no doubt heard about the importance of planning financially for retirement. You’ve been saving and investing for years or decades, while looking forward to the happy days when you get to play golf every day, travel the world, work part-time, take up a hobby, spend time with grandchildren, or just relax.

But many retirees find it’s often difficult to turn their satisfying dreams of retirement into reality. There are many reasons for that. Here are important nonfinancial things you should do to plan for retirement as well.

Have a variety of activities. While you were working, you may have enjoyed certain recreational activities in your spare time. But while sailing on the weekends, or skiing once a year on vacation might have been great, you will eventually get tired of doing it every day.

That’s why it’s crucial to have a variety of activities and pursuits in retirement. Marilyn Oehser, relationship coach and co-owner of Between Two Hearts, calls this “diversifying your happiness”. The best retirement lifestyle includes not only relaxation, but also social interaction, mental stimulation, and physical exercise. Creative expression and cultural enrichment are also important to many people. If your retirement starts to feel unfulfilling, try thinking which of these elements are missing from your life, and cultivate one or more activities which will meet that need.

Social contacts are particularly important. You may lose contact with your old friends from the office who are still working. Working people are typically busy and have limited time for socialization. So many retirees tend to become isolated. In order to maintain those crucial social interactions, you’ll want to join new groups and form new friendships when you retire.

Include your spouse or significant other. Many people assume they and their spouse have similar ideas of retirement and a retired lifestyle. This is often not the case, however. Your vision of the ideal retirement may be very different from that of your spouse, children, and other significant people in your life.

This difference may lead to dissatisfaction, arguments, or worse. Divorce rates are increasing among those age 50 and over, while they are decreasing among other age groups. While you and your spouse were working and taking care of the kids, any issues or conflicts between you may have been smoothed over or lost in the whirlwind of your busy lives. Now that you’re retired and at home more of the time, these disagreements often come to the surface. You may need to negotiate who will occupy what rooms in the home and who will perform various tasks like washing dishes and doing the laundry.

Additionally, you and your spouse may not have the same ideas about where to live in retirement, how to spend time and money, or even when to retire. Even if you’ve had informal talks about these topics, your discussions may not have fully addressed all the issues, or one of you may have changed your views since those discussions.

Retirement coaches suggest that spouses have extended discussions about retirement plans and even put the main points on paper. Reach a compromise solution if there are disagreements. Multiple discussions may be needed. If you can’t reach resolution on an issue immediately, arrange to talk about it at another meeting.

You should also include your children and others in your discussions. In one case, a retiree had planned to spend retirement traveling, while her children expected her to spend part of it babysitting the grandkids.  

Follow your passions. Sure, you can fill your days with golf and boat rides and walks along the beach. That works for many people for the first year or two. After 18 months to two years, though, lots of retirees report feeling like “the honeymoon is over” and have feelings of discontent. One reason for this is that they’ve lost their sense of purpose.

While you were working, your career probably provided a sense of contribution and goals shared with your coworkers. After retirement, you lose that. You can feel empty without this sense that you are doing things that are useful to other people.

One way to regain a sense of contribution is to work part-time (or even full-time) or start a business. But there are other ways, such as volunteering a few hours per month or pursuing a hobby.

The important thing is to find what you’re passionate about and fill at least part of your retired time with those activities. Richard Leider, author of The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better, says “Our world is incomplete until each one of us discovers what moves us – our passion. No other person can hear our calling. We must listen and act on it for ourselves.”

Research shows that people with a sense of purpose live longer and have greater levels of happiness. Whether your passion is painting, restoring antique cars, feeding the poor, or entertaining audiences with standup comedy routines, you’ll likely be happier if you discover it and spend part of your retirement time on those activities.

Be flexible. Realize that your vision of the lifestyle in retirement may be different from the reality. That town you fell in love with may have changed in the 30 years since you lived there, so you might want to rent for a while before you commit to relocating there. You may enjoy playing a musical instrument occasionally, but once you join that orchestra and have weekly rehearsals, you may decide it’s not for you after all.  

Where possible, take a sample of your envisioned lifestyle in retirement ahead of time. It may turn out that it’s very different than you imagined. Join that social group or volunteer organization now and see how you like the activities and the people. Take an art class on the weekend and see whether you still like painting as much as you did when you were younger. Your retirement plan may take some tweaking. Being flexible and open to new opportunities that arise will give you the best chance of a long and fulfilling retirement.

In this video, life coach Michael Pfau gives some advice for planning your retirement lifestyle.

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