Happiness is the magic that brightens our world and makes everything possible. It is essential at every age and crucial to our retirement.

So what is happiness?

Happiness is a smile. It’s the smile of satisfaction that brightens your face when you achieve the impossible. It’s the smile of well-being that energizes you when you run longer and faster and still have enough zip to play catch with your little ones. It’s the smile of joy that fills your soul when you create new memories with family and friends.

Ask anyone to define happiness and you’ll find that for most, happiness is having someone to love, something to do, something to hope for. Sigmund Freud named the ability to love and the ability to work as pivotal to mental health. Today, we recognize the importance of good health as a major element of happiness.

Work, health, relationships — the triple crown of happiness at every age. Let’s explore why.

Work not only gives us an income but also an identity, a connection to society, a circle of friends. When we retire, these career-related benefits dissipate, and even our close friendships with co-workers weaken as we go our different ways. To achieve a happy retirement, we need to fill the space our careers occupied.

If you think about it, from the time we are born, work is an integral part of our existence. As children our work is to learn, as adults work is our livelihood. In this light, viewing retirement as the absence of work seems misguided. In truth, we are happiest when we are engaged in activities that please us, that keep our minds sharp, that connect us with people, that expose us to new experiences. Retirement is no exception.

Health is essential to a happy retirement and we ignore it at our peril. Fortunately, we have some control over the state of our health. The catch is that achieving and maintaining good health is not a spectator sport. It requires concerted action — attention to diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep.

Maintaining good health also requires taking an active role in managing your healthcare. As Canadians, we are fortunate to have universal healthcare, but it comes at a cost. With our doctors so pressed for time, the onus is now on each of us to become informed consumers of healthcare, to ask questions, listen carefully and comply with treatment. It is also up to you to take the initiative when necessary, and not be afraid to remind your doctor when you are due for routine tests and shots.

Relationships make life worth living. Life is good when we can turn to people who rejoice in our joy, who comfort us when the going gets tough. A beautiful sunset is vastly more beautiful when we share it and a loss easier to bear when we can turn to someone who cares, who does not judge and who we can count on to understand our feelings. A touch, a hug, a thoughtful word or deed connect us with others, make us feel less alone in the world and give us the strength to keep on truckin’. Happily, reaching out to others benefits both the giver and the receiver.