Retirement Happiness and the World Happiness Report

If you are retired, is your retirement happiness connected to the privilege of living in a country ranked high in the world happiness report?

Earlier this year the United Nations released its world happiness report.  In the 2012 report Canada ranked as the 5th happiest country in the world — behind Denmark, Finland, Norway and Netherlands.

UN Headquarters, NY -- World Happiness Report -- photo courtesy of Rob Young
UN Headquarters, NY — World Happiness Report Issued — photo of UN Building courtesy of Rob Young

While this report does not specifically measure happiness of retired people, the findings are important for all age groups.

In April 2012, for its Conference on Happiness, the United Nations published The World Happiness Report. The UN commissioned the Earth Institute, Columbia University to do this study on happiness.

Postworksavvy finds it interesting that the United Nations has embraced happiness as an indicator of well-being.

As an aside, it is also ironic that the UN is studying happiness while so many other world problems persist — but I digress.

The findings of the report reflect judgements of individuals — scored on a scale of 1 – 10 — about how good life is in their country.

Countries with high average scores are among the richest countries of the world although income level did not rank as an important source of personal happiness. Saharan countries such as Togo scored among the lowest.

Key Factors related to high scores

High scores related to several factors.  These factors included

    • healthy life expectancy
    • availability of someone to count on in times of trouble
    • level of corruption in the country
    • perceived generosity
    • amount of political freedom
    • connection with nature/outdoors
    • satisfaction with progress toward goals
    • good ‘people’ landscape including friendly communities and connections with other people

It’s interesting that these factors are very similar to key indicators of happiness for retired people.

Happiness is like ‘putting the puck in the net’

I listened to a recent discussion of this UN report on a CBC radio

happiness is putting the puck in the net - photo courtesy of battlecreekcvb
happiness is putting the puck in the net — photo courtesy of battlecreekcvb

talk show.   One caller said,  “Happiness is like putting the puck in the net.”

He related happiness to achievement of goals — personal and professional.

Certainly, achievement of goals is part of the happiness equation.

Living in an environment that allows the freedom to meet life goals is equally important — as is good health.

Retirement Happiness – what’s work got to do with it?

Many achieve personal and professional goals at work.  The workplace is where the UN happiness indicator ‘satisfaction with progress toward goals’ usually plays out.

Once retired work is no longer a prime factor in happiness or nor is it relevant for goal achievement.

Meaningful and productive use of time for goals and projects becomes important for fulfillment and happiness in retirement — unless you choose to work part-time or as a volunteer.

Music and Happiness

Throughout life music plays a role in achieving personal happiness. Hearing a favourite song changes mood and creates an emotional response. Even babies respond to music.

Listening to music calms, energizes, and transports one to another level of thinking.

Music is often used as therapy for children and for people suffering various illnesses including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

happiness and making music together -- photo courtesy of US Mission Geneva
happiness and making music together — photo courtesy of US Mission Geneva

When people make music together a double whammy of happiness occurs — from the music and from social bonds in its creation.  Personal happiness increases when performing in choral societies or orchestral groups.

The double effect comes from the music and from the performers interacting with one another.

Retirement Happiness and The Role of Faith

Faith and spiritualism are strongly linked to personal happiness.

There is no agreement on whether the belief in God or some higher power brings extra happiness or whether happiness comes from participating in the church/faith community.

happiness is helping someone else - photo courtesy of ernohanik
Happiness is helping someone else – photo courtesy of ernohanik

A central tenet of most religions is the golden rule.  People in faith communities are usually involved in doing things for and with each other. Many retired people volunteer — sometimes in activities related to a faith community and sometimes in other organizations — it’s a way of giving back.

People who do things for others are happier. The social relationships that form through communities such as church communities increase engagement and increase happiness.

Church friends and the social aspects of the church community are factors that might be linked the UN indicator of having ‘someone you can count on in times of trouble’.

Role of Social Involvement and Retirement Happiness

Retirement happiness is strongly linked with having deep ties to family and friends.  Close interpersonal ties and social support increase the score on the personal happiness scale.

The October 14 online issue of The Independent published an article stating that there is a growing school of thought that believes Brits have gained something from the past few years of economic gloom.  They are starting to value friends, family, their homes, volunteerism and caring for the natural environment to a greater degree.  In turn they are happier.

happiness is deep connections with others -- photo courtesy of mikebaird
happiness is deep connections with others — photo courtesy of mikebaird

The UN Report had two happiness indicators that are linked to social involvement as reported by The Independent:  good people landscape, friendly communities and connections with other people; as well as, connection with nature/outdoors.

Friendships matter. Family connections matter.

Is Retirement Happiness linked to longevity?

Researchers have attempted to track the physiological and emotional effects of happiness.

A widely reported study published in 2011 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at happiness and longevity of 3800 people between the ages of 52 and 70.  Those who reported the highest levels of positive feelings and happiness were 35% less likely to die within 5 years than their unhappy counterparts.

This gives food for thought.  Bobby McFerrin’s advice in his 1988 hit ‘don’t worry, be happy’ might be the best longevity and retirement happiness advice for the postworksavvy reader.

The ‘takeaway’ — Achieving Retirement Happiness regardless of where you live

As I think about on the findings of the UN Report on World Happiness, I realize that happiness at any age is not about economics or money.

The report does show that there is more global attention to happiness.  Why else would the UN devote its attention to this topic?

However, the report does not measure personal responsibility for attaining happiness nor does it measure genetic pre-disposition.

I am still left wondering about what really makes people feel fulfilled, engaged and meaningfully happy?

I also wonder about government policy and its effect on happiness.  Countries ranked highest on the UN World Happiness Report have strong social programs ranging from child care, health care, public education support from kindergarten to post secondary, basic income guarantees and care for elderly people.

But I also realize that governments don’t really make anyone happy. More likely, government policies contribute to some level of personal discontent and unhappiness, especially with respect to taxes.

This reasoning leads to the conclusion that happiness is about the state of your heart.  Happiness is relative and based on personal perceptions.

Ultimately, happiness is an individual responsibility.

Retirement happiness is not about where you live but about how you live.

It is about how you see the world and how you interact in the world — your personal perspective. That said, I’m not about to move from Canada to Togo.

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