The following is a guest post by Janet Stanton Burt from SEI Goal Investor.
U.S. retirees report they’re having less fun, no matter how much money they have. Discover what research says you should do now to make your retirement more satisfying later.
Fewer retirees than ever report they are enjoying themselves in retirement — a trend that’s consistent across income groups, new research found. Discover how you can plan for a retirement that maximizes your chances for satisfying golden years.
Downward Satisfaction Trend
As you might expect, good health and plenty of money help retired workers enjoy themselves, but something else seems to be lowering retirees’ satisfaction. The proportion of retirees who say they feel “very satisfied,” dropped significantly in both the highest- and lowest-income groups between 1998 and 2012, according to a 2016 Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) survey.
ERBI also uncovered an increase in the number of people who found retirement “not at all satisfying.” Retirees with pension income, who you’d think would feel satisfied because they’re financially secure, also reported rising dissatisfaction.
How to Plan for a Happy Retirement
Why aren’t more people happy in retirement? While the EBRI study didn’t explore the reasons for the drop, many other researchers have explored the factors that make retirement satisfying.
Build Your Nest Egg
Studies have linked wealth to retirement satisfaction, despite the ERBI data showing plenty of unsatisfied wealthy retirees. To give yourself the financial flexibility to change plans or pursue alternative retirement lifestyles, set a specific savings goal, and start investing as early as possible in your 401(k), IRA or other retirement accounts.
Starting to save and invest early maximizes the benefit of compound earnings over time. Consistent investing helps you build a nest egg so you can switch gears if you’re not satisfied with your original retirement plan.
Take Care of Your Health Now
Surprisingly, financial security isn’t the No. 1 ingredient in the recipe for retirement satisfaction: 81% of retired people said good health was the most important factor, a 2014 survey from Merrill Lynch revealed.
Other studies bear out that finding. About 80% of people who say they’re in excellent health also say they’re very satisfied with their retirements, while only 25% of folks in poor health report very satisfying retirements, according to the EBRI survey.
There’s nothing you can do about the genetic hand you’re dealt, but it’s never too late to make healthy lifestyle changes that can have a powerful impact on your health and longevity. Recommendations for healthy living in the Merrill report include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol
Budget for Travel
Traveling is, by far, the most popular retirement dream, a 2015 Transamerica study found. Seeing the world is a smart way to build life satisfaction. Research shows travelers are overall happier and healthier than non-travelers. Unfortunately, relatively few retirees travel frequently, and many regret not putting a higher priority on budgeting for retirement travel.
Avoid regrets: Why not fold travel into your retirement plan as a fixed, yearly expense, so you’ll have the resources to indulge your wanderlust?
There is a wealth of scientific evidence that social connection helps humans stay healthy and feel happier.
- Community volunteering provides many health benefits, and those 60 and older benefit most, research from the Corporation for National and Community Service shows
- Loneliness has more impact on life span than known vices like smoking, according to Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples, by John Robbins
- At least three hours socializing with family and friends is linked to a dramatic increase in happiness, a 2011 Gallup poll revealed
Once you leave the workforce, hobbies and activities can help rebuild the social networks you formed at the office.
Recent psychological research shows training our brains to be mindful dramatically impacts overall happiness. Mindfulness is a mental technique, somewhat like mediation, that promotes focusing on the present moment without judgement.
Studies have found that practicing mindfulness for even a few weeks can provide an array of physical, social and mental health benefits, including:
- Boosting immune function
- Reducing stress and depression
- Enhancing relationships between spouses
You’re probably not going to be able to accurately predict what you’ll do in retirement if you’re decades away from that life stage. But you can keep your options open through careful planning. Aim to head into retirement as healthy as possible, with a nest egg that will give you the financial flexibility to adapt and change your lifestyle to your satisfaction.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide investment or legal advice. SEI does not claim responsibility for the accuracy or reliability of the information provided.
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