This essay forms part of a collection written by global experts in all aspects of retirement for Retire Inspire, published in 2019.
Don’t panic: Retire gracefully into an elegant cycle of happiness, wealth and impact.
One thing is for sure. Your life after work will be very different from that of earlier generations. You will redefine retirement. You are the cutting-edge architect of Retirement 2.0, keen to do it differently because you have different aspirations and concerns:
- You will probably live for much longer; if you are 65 now, you can reasonably expect to live to 85 or beyond.
- After the boom years of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the ‘00s recession and the 2008 financial crisis hit hard, and your pensions may not seem so rosy today.
- You may feel some responsibility for the state of the planet and economy and want to make amends.
- You are worried about the impact of retirement on your home life, fearful of becoming bored and purposeless without the meaning, spiritual nourishment and satisfaction that work provided.
- Saying farewell to clients, colleagues and your work community will be an emotional strain (I know, and I’ve seen others in tears at the prospect).
So if you are looking forward to retirement with some apprehension then pat yourself on the back, because you have understood that it will be challenging. You have already appreciated that health, community, connection, purpose and values, as well as money, contribute to a happy and ‘good’ retirement and need to be brought into your retirement equation.
I feel for my parents, who didn’t have a ‘good’ retirement. My father leaves the Forces in 1975 after serving in the war and numerous regional conflicts. My parents have money and good health. However, with little purpose to their lives in retirement their last decades seem empty and listless.
Fearful of going the same way as my parents, I view retirement as a series of stepping stones to an ever-improving lifestyle. I still need to make an impact, stay connected and be part of a community while letting go of the stress, pressure and anxiety associated with work.
It isn’t easy, and I want to let you into the secret of the virtuous circle of happiness, wealth and impact that delivered my own ‘good’ retirement. Happiness is an essential pre-requisite for managing and using your wealth successfully in retirement. Your wealth provides you with the resources to have an impact. In turn, making a difference brings meaning into your life and reinforces your happiness.
You may think that leaving work in good health and with a good pension will guarantee a successful and happy retirement. Well, I’ve got news for you.
‘Decades of research have shown that happiness is not the outcome of success, but rather its precursor’ writes health psychology expert Emma Seppälä . This may come as a surprise, especially if your lifelong career aspiration has been to achieve happiness through wealth, success and self-affirmation, rather than vice versa.
Seppälä cites a landmark study by Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher from North Carolina University, to back her claim. Fredrickson found that happiness has a significant positive impact on your intellectual, psychological, social and physical capacity. In other words, if you are fundamentally happy, you are more likely to perform better and achieve more. That applies in retirement as well as during your working life.
Neuroscientists define happiness as a sustainable state of heightened positive emotion. Fortunately, they have discovered that you can take simple steps to become happy rather than waiting for happiness to be thrust upon you.
The neurotransmitter serotonin is a brain chemical associated with the regulation of your moods. ‘It has its reputation firmly established for being important to feeling happy’ writes Amy Brann , a neuroscientist who helps coaches to understand how brain functions affect behaviour. Brann identifies ways to keep serotonin levels high, including eating dates, papayas and bananas, avoiding alcohol, sleeping well, recalling happy memories, listening to music, laughing and maintaining exposure to sunlight. Even massage appears to lift serotonin levels.
In other words, happiness is a habit, not a serendipitous event. It is a series of straightforward and intuitive practices and Brann’s suggestions for raising happiness through increased serotonin levels should not surprise you. Indeed you probably yearn instinctively for them and practice some already, noting their impact on your mood even if you don’t understand why.
I believe my happiness comes from a balanced and sensible diet, and a glass or two of good Chianti or Montepulciano each night. I attend regular yoga, Metafit, massage, meditation and counselling sessions, run between twenty and thirty kilometres a week and race up to half-marathon distances. Trips to sunny South Africa are essential, as is a less critical and stressful approach to life, listening to music, reading books, contributing to my local and virtual communities, taking time out to let my mind wander (especially when I’m walking), avoiding gossip, judgement and criticism of myself and others, and understanding that my mistakes are my greatest asset.
Happiness is essential for growing, maintaining and utilising your wealth. So what is wealth exactly?
In our money-obsessed world, the default measure of wealth is financial. Indeed, I would not be surprised if much of your pre-retirement preparation has revolved around the question my clients so often asked me: have I got enough money to retire?
One answer to that question comes in the form of research by Ed Diener , David Myers and others. Broadly, it seems that as you earn up to $75,000 pa (£55,000), happiness increases. However, after that happiness plateaus and more money has little impact on satisfaction with life.
‘Wealth’ has its origins in the Old English for ‘well health’, and your true wealth comprises your physical, financial, spiritual and emotional well-being. In particular, as a baby boomer with forty years of experience behind you, much of your wealth lies in your wisdom.
Wisdom grows out of the pain of your mistakes. Shame, humiliation, fear and rejection are heavy burdens. If you handled them with courage and vulnerability you would have grown and changed. Then your mistakes become your greatest asset, the source of your real wealth.
I have made life-changing mistakes in my life. On one occasion, I borrow money to fund myself through an MBA. It doesn’t go quite as planned after I graduate, and my fall is hard and painful. However, I pick myself up, learn some powerful life and financial lessons and resolve to use the wisdom I have gained through my suffering to help others. The emphasis of my work gradually changes from financial returns to our relationship with, and humanity of, money.
So as you prepare for retirement, examine your wealth and identify the wisdom and experience you can use to make an impact. Write down as many of your stories as you can remember. A useful structure for these vignettes is ‘this was the situation; this is what I did; this was the outcome.’ Write stories of your successes and failures, and narrate them with honesty and integrity. Become more self-aware (another cornerstone of happiness) and identify the lessons and skills you learnt and the wisdom you gained. Consider how you might use these in the next stage of your life to make an impact and a difference.
Of Emma Seppälä’s six keys to happiness and success, ‘compassion serves you better than self-interest’ goes to the heart of a successful, happy retirement. You will get more out of retirement by doing what you can for others than by looking inwards and putting yourself first.
Based on my own experience and that of my clients, family and friends, those who veer towards living for others are generally happier and more satisfied with their retirement than those who focus on themselves. When you make a difference in the lives of others, your own life develops meaning which, in turn, reinforces your happiness.
One of my friends, Tim, a retired doctor and now a local councillor, is active with his family in fighting fracking in North Yorkshire where I live. He uses his medical knowledge to provide counter-arguments to the fracking companies who claim fracking is harmless. He spends part of his time at a protest camp with other members of his family and is a respected member of the anti-fracking community. He and his fellow protesters were interviewed recently for a radio series on happiness. They asserted that their joy came from their cause, community, purpose and the fulfilment from making a difference.
My own experience, though different, echoes the sentiments of Tim and his fellow protesters. After a lifetime spent helping clients with their life and money problems, I now sit on a mountain of value. It is a privilege to use this to make an impact in my retirement. I set up a coaching and training practice to foster a happy, healthy and wealthy community of people themselves empowered to make a difference. I am also the managing trustee of a trust involved in education and career support, where my wisdom and experience contributes to creating a substantial difference to the younger generations.
Compare these approaches to that of my parents, whose story I told at the beginning, and you will see the difference.
Time to fly
I began this article by relating how the baby boomers are redefining retirement. Now it’s your opportunity to take everything you have gained from your working life, to re-purpose it and use it in a way that benefits you, your family and the wider world.
Research the science of happiness and get into the happiness habit now. Prepare to let go of your old life and give yourself space to build a new one. Catalogue and analyse your wealth and wisdom in all its forms and define the new you and your purpose. Decide on the arenas you want to step up to and use your wealth to make a difference to others.
Don’t let fear hold you back. Have the courage to face the changes. Accept your vulnerability with grace and resolve to fly.
The following books are recommended for further reading on the subject
The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist is a deeply thoughtful and inspiring examination of your relationship with money and how to connect your money and your humanity.
The Happiness Track by Emma Seppälä draws on research into the science of happiness and provides practical advice on how to nurture yourself for improved wellbeing and success
Insight by Dr Tasha Eurich is a guide to the self-awareness so necessary as you move into retirement.
Story Driven by Bernadette Jiwa provides an important framework that will help you develop and use your story to articulate your wisdom, inner wealth and vision for your retirement.
Finally, thanks to Tim Bulmer (www.timbulmer.com) for his wonderful cartoons
Brann, A. (2017). Neuroscience for Coaches: How to Use the Latest Insights for the Benefit of Your Clients. Kogan Page
Diener E. and Biswas-Diener R. (2002). Will money increase subjective well-being?: A review and guide to needed literature. Social Indicators Research 57: 119–169
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.
Johnson, L. (2019). Hacking Happiness Episode 4: Beyond Happiness, what if happiness isn’t about the self at all? BBC
Myers, DG. (2000). The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty. Yale University Press
Seppälä, E. (2017). The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success. Piatkus
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Your views are important, and your fellow readers would love to hear your opinion, so share your thoughts in the comments box below, and thank you for your time and generosity.