7 Secrets to a Happy Retirement

Money is only one component of the ideal retirement.

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Some folks transition seamlessly into a happy retirement and get right to the business of enjoying their new lives. But other people have a tougher time entering the retirement years. Some of these folks may wonder whether they are really cut out for retirement at all. Here are seven traits happy retirees share.

Good health. Enjoying good health is the single most important factor impacting retiree happiness, according to a 2009 Watson Wyatt analysis. Retirees in poor health are nearly 50 percent less likely to report being happy, trumping all other factors including money and age.

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A significant other. The same study found that married or cohabiting couples are more likely than singles to be happy in retirement. The news gets even better for couples enjoying retirement together. Retirees whose partners are also retired report being happier than those with a working partner, according to research conducted earlier this year at the University of Greenwich.

A social network. The Greenwich study also found that having friends was far more important to retirement bliss than having kids. Those who have strong social networks are 30 percent happier with their lives than those without a strong network of friends. Having kids or grandkids had no impact on a retiree’s level of contentment.

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They are not addicted to television. After you retire you will have lots of time to fill. If you want to be happy in retirement, don’t fill that time with endless hours of television. Heavy TV viewers report lower satisfaction with their lives, according to a 2005 study published by the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics in Zurich. The same results were found again in 2008 by researchers at the University of Maryland. In that study, a direct negative correlation was found between the amount of TV watching and happiness levels: unhappy people watched more TV and happy people watched less.

Intellectual curiosity. Adults over 70 who choose brain-stimulating hobbies over TV watching are two and a half times less likely to suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, according to Richard Stim and Ralph Warner’s book Retire Happy: What You Can Do Now to Guarantee a Great Retirement. Not only will shunning TV make you happier, it will make you healthier. Good health will in turn make you happier —a not-so-vicious cycle.

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They aren’t addicted to achievement. The more you are defined by your job, the harder it will be to adjust to life without it. According to Robert Delamontagne’s book The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement, achievement addicts have the most difficulty transitioning to retirement.

Enough money. Of course you’ll need enough money to support your chosen lifestyle in retirement. But beyond that, more money will not make you happier. The Watson Wyatt survey found that the absolute amount of money you have for retirement is less important than how your retirement income compares to your income before retirement. If you have enough to continue your pre-retirement lifestyle, you have enough.

If you don’t have the traits necessary for a happy retirement, don’t despair. There’s good news for you too. Consider a retirement that includes a little work. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that retirees who go back to work either full or part-time are healthier. The benefits don’t depend on how many hours you work. Even temporary work has the same positive impact on health. If you can’t find a paying job, don’t worry. A growing body of research shows that retirees who volunteer reap the same benefits of health, happiness, and longevity. And since a happy retirement is a healthy retirement, you’ll be set up to enjoy both.

Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.