Are you happy in your retirement?

Aristotle claimed that happiness is the ultimate purpose in life.  Finding happiness, especially during retirement, means different things for different people.

After reading Gretchen Rubin’s inspiring book The Happiness Project I have thought about the meaning of happiness — especially the meaning of happiness during retirement. I’ve also tried applying some of her tips to my postworksavvy lifestyle. Gretchen’s year-long quest for happiness has inspired many others to develop their own happiness projects.  Both her book and her website http://www.happiness-project.com give many tips for finding and monitoring your own happiness.

The pursuit of happiness has become a big money-making industry.  Bookshelves and websites abound with advice on how to achieve authentic happiness.  Certainly, thinking about and understanding what makes you happy can help you to improve your own state of happiness.  Using some of the recommended techniques can also energize your life.

Happiness Myths

The popular media espouses that happy people are healthy people.  This may or may not be so.  If having good health is a state of mind, then a happy state of mind will help to achieve a state of better health — at least better mental health.  Perhaps positive emotions are related to health but there is no proof that happy people are more physically healthy,  For the postworksavvy, a positive approach to life — if it helps with happiness or not — has a payoff.  A positive outlook just makes getting through each day easier.

Another myth is that happy people are more creative.  But is creativity related to happiness?  Or is it related to other traits such as fluidity of thought, pursuit of varied experiences, education, training, and novelty?  Creativity can lead to happiness but whether happiness leads to creativity is unknown.

Perhaps the biggest myth related to happiness is that money will make you happier.  There is certainly a connection between money and happiness. But after attaining the necessities of life — including some of the needs that modern society has deemed essential — there are few real happiness gains from having more money. Recent research by Ipsos Reid published in the Toronto Star indicates that having debt makes people unhappy — even wealthy people are less happy with debt.  The article states “if you are in debt, you tend to be less happy”.  Good advice.

Is happiness realistic — at all times?  

The lyrics of Bobby McFerrin’s popular song Don’t worry – Be Happy warn us to expect trouble to happen.  McFerrin admonishes us not to worry when these troubles come.  There certainly are times when it is normal to feel angry, anxious or sad.  Life is not one-dimensional.  A loved one dies and grief — not happiness results. Everyone has difficult experiences when happiness seems elusive.

You learn to become aware of those times when you aren’t happy — the blue days.  With postworksavvy maturity you also learn to apply certain positive psychology techniques (mindfulness, gratitude, optimism, generosity and perspective) to help you move from the present situation to a more ideal state.

Negative thinking contributes to unhappiness so avoiding the trap of ‘awfulizing’ a situation will help to keep you from a downward spiral.

Buddha teaches that suffering is part of living. There are some events that create a sense of indignation.  Unfairness, unkindness, lack of social justice usually cause a sense of indignation for me.

It frustrates me when people’s rights are violated, when children suffer unnecessarily, when opportunities in society are not equally available to all citizens.  These injustices make me angry.   My happiness is thwarted and I feel helpless about changes that I can make to make the world a better/happier place.

No one should expect to be happy all the time.  It is simply unrealistic.  But thinking about your happiness helps you understand yourself and make improvements in how you live to maximize happiness.  Compassion, spirituality and living authentically will improve your happiness level.

What does happiness mean for you?

John Hallward, author of The Happiness Equation:  The Human Nature of Happy People interviewed 1000 Canadians for the Ipsos Reid study already cited.  As well as the absence of debt, Hallward recommends keeping love in your life as a secret of happiness.  Relationships count toward happiness.

Hallward also found that happiness increased with age — especially after age 60 — when worries about money and career often decrease, children grow to independence, and life mellows.

I have thought about what happiness means for me.   Years of writing a journal have helped me to realize that happiness has meant different things at different ages and stages of my life. Happiness comes from my long and loving relationship with my husband. Being a mother has brought all the angst of parenting but has also brought much happiness.  I am proud of my adult son and enjoy being part of his life.  Having a rewarding career and the status that came along with success was an important factor in my happiness in years past and I now look back at that time and smile to myself.

At present, living a postworksavvy life of retirement where I am more focused on the immediate rewards of every day gives me the freedom to be happy in each moment.  This is especially true as I enjoy the long summer days and relaxed lifestyle at the cottage.

I’ve learned that life is not one-dimensional. There is no simplistic formula for happiness.  I’ve also learned that courage is necessary for achieving happiness. It takes courage to live your values, to say no to immediate gratifications, and to live according to a greater purpose. I am at peace with the knowledge that there is no perfect life, no perfect relationship and no perfect happiness.  I stay focused on making those small improvements and enjoying the journey to the best of my ability.

Thanks for reading this post.  I hope it has inspired you to think about your own happiness.  If you like my blog, please email it to a friend and please consider becoming a subscriber to receive regular updates.

7 Replies to “Are you happy in your retirement?”

  1. For some people happiness will come from work–which is ironic, but having a sense of economic contribution is part of the happiness equation for a lot of people. For others it may be a matter of turning necessity into a virtue, since so many people aren’t adequately prepared for fullblown retirement.

    Perhaps it comes down to balance–charitable work, personal and community connection, pursuing passions, finding new endeavors and continuing to contribute in an economic sense.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Achieving balance with those endeavors that are meaningful in life is an important step in the quest for happiness. I am grateful that retirement gives me the time to enjoy a better balance in my life. When I worked, my life was skewed and there was never enough time to pursue other ways of living, giving back, or hobbies. Sadly, I also neglected many relationships because there was insufficient time for connecting with friends. I’m happy to have the opportunity to rectify some of these mistakes. Be well, Jeanette

  2. For some people, helping others less fortunate than themselves is a reason to feel happiness and contentment in themselves. Worth a try if you’ve never done it.

    1. Hello Joy,
      Helping others and giving to others definitely provides deep happiness and contentment. Yesterday, a tornado hit Goderich which is about 30 minutes up the lake from our cottage. So many people are still without hydro. Many cannot enter their homes. In our little cottage enclave, we collected extra food and blankets today. Our contribution was a small gesture — but it made all of us feel less helpless in the wake of such a horrible event. Be well, Jeanette

  3. Jeanette,

    Happiness is an emotion that enriches our days. It makes us nicer to be around and easier on ourselves.

    One important lesson my faith has taught me is the difference with happiness and joy. They are not the same. Happiness is a state of mind that is triggered by circumstances and situations, often external in origin. As you note it can come and go.

    Joy, on the other hand, is an overall feeling of peace and contentment that is not influenced by external circumstances. Joy is deep within you. It is the belief that your life has meaning, that a creator loves you and will be with you in in the tough times. You can be unhappy but still joyful. You can be hurting but still joyful. You can be poor or rich and joyful. Money doesn’t have any effect on joy. Happiness is temporary, joy is on-going.

    Is that a bit too heavy for a Saturday morning?

    1. Hi Bob, I’ve been thinking about your insightful comment that differentiates joy from happiness. One of my long-time friends, a devout Christian, has a designer license plate “full of joy” which describes her faith as well as her attitude in life. The deep joy that comes from unwavering faith does truly transcend happiness as I have described it in my post.
      I wish you and your family joy — always.
      Be well, Jeanette

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