A large nest egg doesn't guarantee a happy retirement. While a significant retirement income is likely to make you happier than just scraping by, money isn't the only necessity. Here are some tips for cultivating retirement happiness:
Choose your retirement date. Ideally, workers retire when they are financially and psychologically ready. But many workers are forced or enticed into early retirement by layoffs, buyouts, and early retirement offers. "People who have control and power over when they retire are happier than people who are let go because they are downsized or because of mandatory retirement ages," says John Nelson, a life planning coach and author of What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement. If you find yourself involuntarily retired, "It's important to get back in control with a part-time job, purposeful volunteering, or something like that."
A spending plan. You need to accumulate enough income to live comfortably in retirement using a combination of Social Security, pensions, and investments. But you also need to develop a plan for how to spend it. Keep in mind that it may not be easy to watch your life savings dwindle. "It's unsettling to watch your savings going down every year. Losses loom larger than gains," says Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity and author of A Long Bright Future. She recommends setting spending benchmarks to make sure you are not spending too much or being unnecessarily frugal with your nest egg.
Good health. Workers who are juggling careers and family responsibilities often neglect their health. "A lot of times, people have been so busy with other parts of their life that they haven't been able to take care of themselves the way they wanted to," says Barbara Waxman, an executive and life coach and author of How to Love Your Retirement. In retirement, you'll have more time to prepare healthy meals and take a stroll around the neighborhood. "Move your body every day and stimulate your brain by learning new activities," Waxman says. Good health is an essential component of a happy retirement.
A supportive spouse. Couples should decide whether they will retire at the same time or if one spouse will work longer than the other. When one or both spouses retire, couples must renegotiate household responsibilities and how much time to spend together. "Structure some time apart so you will not be together 24-7," advises Waxman. While it's a worthy goal to spend more time together than when you were working, being together all day, every day can put stress on a relationship.
Friends. Many of our adult friendships and social activities revolve around our jobs. After you retire, it's often difficult to maintain friendships with colleagues who are still working. Try to cultivate friendships outside of the office, perhaps centered around a shared activity, while you are still in the workforce. Also consider making an effort to meet your former coworkers for lunch on occasion.
Something to do. Instead of simply retiring from your job, it's important to set up an activity that you will retire to. "Build bridges to things that you are passionate about so that when retirement happens you have already stepped into the door of one of these activities," says Waxman. "Develop a portfolio of activities in addition to work." Come up with a list of projects or hobbies you want to pursue once the bulk of your day is no longer consumed by your job.
New challenges. Many people like to set up goals and challenges for themselves throughout their careers, and that desire to succeed doesn't necessarily go away in retirement. You might consider continuing to work in some capacity. "If you can, find a way to hang on to some aspect of your old career that you enjoy," says Nelson. You can also challenge yourself by pursuing a different type of work, learning a new activity or skill, or auditing a class at your local college.
Test it out. One of the best ways to find out if you will enjoy retirement is to test it out. "I recommend that people take a mini-retirement or a sabbatical for at least three months to practice retirement," says Nancy Schlossberg, an emeritus professor of the University of Maryland and author of Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose. "Don't burn your bridges yet, but find out if you are really ready for retirement." Some people may find out that what they really needed was an extended vacation, while others will realize they're truly ready to move on to a new phase of life.
Leave a legacy. Many retirees begin to focus on giving back to the community and leaving a legacy to future generations. Some people accomplish this by volunteering, consulting on projects, teaching, or mentoring young people in their area of expertise. "It can make life sweeter realizing that you don't have all the time in the world," says Carstensen. "It helps focus you on what matters most."