5 min read
July 16, 2013

Seven habits of happily retired people

By Dave Dineen

If you want your retirement to be the best stage of your life, focus your energies on who you are or would like to become, not on who you were.

The other day, I noticed a personalized licence plate: EX CGA. I’m guessing that the driver used to be a certified general accountant. That’s certainly a good career and something to be proud of.

But who is he today?

I don’t personally know this former CGA. But I hope he is so happy and fulfilled that a licence plate can’t begin to describe how great his retirement or new career is. I hope that’s why his licence plate focuses on who he was, not on who he is or aspires to be.

For those who want retirement (however you define it) to be the best stage of their lives, I’m sharing my observations, as a former retirement researcher and current retiree, of seven habits that happily retired people seem to have in common. They:

1. Try new things

Retiring is one of the biggest transitions you’ll go through in your life. When you disembark from your career, you need to be open to embarking on new activities in your new life stage. Whether those new activities include starting a new hobby, becoming an expert at something you’ve only dabbled at, or starting an entirely new career — if you aren’t starting new things, you risk getting old.

2. Value time

Happy retirees value their time, seeing it as precious, not a burden. As a result, they:

  • Keep a calendar. Not just to keep track of obligations such as doctors’ appointments, but so they can keep track of the good things going on in their lives and the lives of those around them. If the days ahead are looking kind of quiet, happy retirees are proactive and will schedule a get-together or other activity to spice things up.
  • Keep a daily schedule. Maybe not with every hour accounted for, but with enough detail to provide structure for a meaningful daily routine.
  • Prioritize. Time is short and they want to make sure they get to the good stuff.

3. Look after themselves

  • Exercise their bodies. Whatever activities fit with their interests and level of health, well-adjusted retirees know the worst place to maintain a healthy body is on the couch.
  • Exercise their minds. Earlier generations couldn’t have imagined the wealth of mental stimulus available to today’s retirees (part-time or consulting work, online and real-world courses, special-interest social media, accessible travel, etc.). My friend Kathy is a retired teacher who continues to challenge herself by tutoring Chinese students, helping them improve their English writing skills.
  • Manage their health. They use the Internet, social media and community resources to inform themselves about nutritional and health issues. They use that information to improve their eating and exercise habits. They ask relevant questions and actively participate in health care decisions.

4. Care for others

At every stage of life, happy people are engaged in the lives of others. I’ve observed that retirees who volunteer, fund-raise or care for friends and family find themselves enriched and that their own lives are more meaningful.

5. Socialize

My friends Bob and Janice participate in a “gourmet club,” in which four couples take turns each month, preparing a fancy meal. The food is great, but the companionship is even better. They know that time spent with friends is not time wasted. Fortunately, milder winters, social media, low long-distance phone rates, digital photography and Skype are all helping retirees stay regularly connected with friends and family.

6. Work at something

Most people today wouldn’t think twice if you told them you’re retired, but also doing some work. The part-time construction work my wife’s 75-year-old uncle does pays for a big trip to his childhood home in Europe each year. Even retirees who rely on some employment income enjoy having control over their schedule.

7. Stay engaged

Humans are social creatures. To be actively involved in life around you is one of retirement’s great rewards.

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