How to Find Greater Happiness in Your Retirement

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By: The Mindfulness Meditation Institute | Last Updated: Mar 29, 2021

14 minute read

“Retirement is a time to enjoy the things you never could before.”

Retirement is supposed to bring some of the happiest years of our lives. We no longer have to work every day or deal with stressful demands from our job. We can just relax and enjoy life. However, a recent study found that there is a growing trend in retirees who are unhappy in their retirement.

When many of us begin planning for our retirement, what we usually focus on is our finances. We wonder if we’ll have enough money to last us the rest of our lives. While it is certainly important to focus on finances, many people don’t consider their psychological needs that retirement will bring. Without planning for these needs, we could end up disappointed with our new life.

If we want to be happy in our retirement, then we need to be aware of what to expect in this dramatic change in lifestyle. This change can cause a significant amount of stress in a time when we want to be enjoying ourselves. Here are some of the things you need to consider as you approach retirement. How much planning you do will depend on how close you are to retirement.

Planning For Your Retirement

How Are We Going to Spend Our Time?

You probably have some idea of what you would like to do when you retire. Maybe you would like to travel, get involved in a hobby, or spend more time with your family. These are certainly great ways to spend your retirement. However, keep in mind that your entire days will be free, and that is a lot of time to fill. So you may also need to factor in some downtime.

One thing you can do prior to retirement is take a test run. For example, if you think you would like to travel when you retire, try taking a trip on your next vacation, and see how you like it. Or if you think you would like to spend more time with a hobby, then try that on your vacation. This approach will give you some idea of what your retirement will be like.1

How Are We Going to Spend Our Money?

When you retire, your finances will certainly change. For one thing, you will no longer receive the salary that you’re accustomed to. But at the same time, most of your expenses will probably remain, and you’ll probably gain some new ones. For example, you may experience more travel expenses, if you plan on traveling; more food and entertainment expenses, if you plan on eating out more often; and you will most likely have more health and medical expenses.

If you’ve done your financial planning well ahead of time, you’ll probably be receiving income from various sources, such as Social Security, 401k retirement plan, and other investments. When you retire, your new finances will likely require significant changes. It would be a good idea to draft a budget. It doesn’t have to be exact if you haven’t retired yet. This will give you some idea of what to expect so that you’re prepared and don’t have any surprises when you do retire.

How Can We Develop New Social Networks?

When we retire, we lose our main social network, our coworkers.2 To make matters worse, when we’re older it is more difficult for us to make new friends. Our social skills are rusty, and the number of people we encounter after retirement is usually much lower.

One possible solution is to move into a retirement community. This is a great way to find other people with similar interests. These communities usually have a lot of activities for retirees to engage each other. Studies have shown that people who live in retirement communities experience a greater level of satisfaction.2 Now I realize this isn’t for everyone, but it’s something worth considering.

Another way to make new friends is to take on some volunteer work. There are three benefits to volunteering. First, it is a great way to meet new people. Second, it will help you stay busy. And third, it will give you something meaningful to do when you retire.

“My best days in retirement are when I give back to the community.”

There are many volunteer opportunities, such as your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or hospital. You can also volunteer in something related to your career. If you were a business person, you can mentor up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Another possibility is to volunteer in something related to a hobby, such as quilting or gardening. The possibilities are endless; just use your imagination.

Early in Retirement

Emotional Changes

When we first retire, we may experience exhilaration. After all, we may have been looking forward to our retirement for a long time. We will enjoy not having to get up early every morning, and putting in a full day of hard work. However, this exhilaration usually wears off after a few months when reality sets in, much like when we first get married.

When the novelty of retirement begins to wear off, we may experience stress or depression. This is a time when we need to put into action our psychological plan.2 That is, we need to have planned how we’re going to find happiness and fulfillment in our new life.

This new life is characterized by a slower pace. We will no longer be in a rush to get to work every day, meet deadlines, or juggle various commitments. We will now have 8 to 10 hours of free time in our day, every day. This requires a significant mental adjustment.

Staying Productive

One of the greatest challenges facing retirees is how to remain productive when they’re no longer working. For some, this adjustment is not so difficult, but for others, it can be, especially if their self-identity is strongly tied to their career. There are a few ways to deal with this issue:

  • Work part-time. Instead of fully retiring, maybe ease into your retirement. If possible, reduce your hours, or take on an easy part-time job. This approach can ease the stress of working so much, and of not working at all.

  • Take on a hobby. Engage in a hobby that allows you to express yourself, such as something creative. Maybe you like to write, paint, or some other craft.3

  • Practice personal development. Engage in a practice of self-exploration, such as mindfulness meditation, tai chi, or yoga. This will help you get a better perspective of who you really are, and help you disassociate your self-identity with your old job.

“For many, retirement is a time for personal growth, which becomes the path to greater freedom.” ~ Robert Delamontague

Changing Relationships

As we and our loved ones get older, the nature of our relationships will naturally change due to our changing needs. It takes a great deal of awareness to recognize these changes and to adapt to them. If we don’t, then we can create tensions in otherwise healthy relationships.

Relationship with Our Spouse or Partner

Many of us are not used to spending a lot of time with our partner. When we retire, we’ll be spending more time with them, so it’s a good idea to consider how this is going to affect your relationship.

When you are both working, you usually spend little time together. If you both have busy careers, you usually just see each other in the mornings and in the evenings. Depending on the nature of your relationship, you may actually enjoy spending more time together. If not, then maybe you should consider having separate activities, and spending the amount of time together that you both feel comfortable with.

“I want to hold your hand when we are 80 and say ‘We made it.'”

Relationships With Our Children 

When we retire, our needs will certainly change, mainly how to make use of all the extra time on our hands. We may want to spend more time with our children, and grandchildren. However, they all have busy lives and may find it hard to find extra time, or even recognize our desire to spend more time with them.

In our later years, we may also need more assistance. As our health begins to decline, we may need help with some of our basic needs, such as cooking or household chores. We can’t always expect our children to pick up the slack, but they may be able to help us find assistance.

The best thing to do is to communicate with them. Be open about your needs and desires, and be mindful of their limitations. This can be hard if we’re very independent. However, if we are going to continue to have healthy relationships with our children, then we need to learn how to swallow some of our pride.4

Health Considerations

With retirement also comes various health considerations. By this time, we’re usually in our mid-sixties and our health is not what it used to be. This is when our lifestyle choices, such as overeating and lack of exercise, will catch up with us.5 But even without these lifestyle choices, our health begins to decline.

How healthy you are will determine how you spend your retirement. If you’ve lived a healthy lifestyle and are in good health, then you can certainly be more active. You’ll be more able to engage in activities that you planned on.

Regardless of how healthy you are, you still need to be very mindful of your health. First, you need to be fully aware of what your health risks are. For example, you may have a family history of certain illnesses, such as diabetes or cancer. Second, be aware that your body changes as you get older, and not just in the obvious ways. Some of us experience lower tolerance for certain foods, such as dairy and spices. This is quite common.

It’s important to have good health insurance when we retire. Most of us will have Medicare that we can count on, but Medicare doesn’t cover everything. If your finances are tight, you may want to consider a Medicare supplement insurance. These are usually pretty cost-effective, so it’ll be easy on your budget.

Our Later Years

Our Declining Health

Our later years are probably the hardest years of our lives. This is a time when our health begins to decline more rapidly. We begin to experience immobility, loss of independence, cognitive decline and may develop a serious illness. For those of us who have been very independent most of our lives, this can be really hard to adjust to. To make things worse, we begin to lose our family and friends, making us feel quite lonely.

There is no easy way to deal with this time of our lives. But there are things we can do to slow our decline. Probably the best way to stave off our physical and mental decline is to stay busy and properly nourished. I realize this can be a challenge when we’re not feeling well. However, if we neglect them because we’re not feeling well, then we simply accelerate the decline.

It takes a great deal of inner strength to motivate yourself to keep going. This is when your earlier work on self-improvement will pay off. If you are mindful of your health in your earlier years, then your later years will not be so difficult. And if you have developed the ability to keep a positive attitude and stay motivated, then it will be easier to keep yourself going when times are tough.

One of the hardest parts about getting old is loneliness. Due to our declining mobility and loss of friends and relatives, we begin to isolate. We no longer receive the social interactions necessary for good mental and emotional health. In addition, our younger family members have their own busy lives and are not able to come and visit us very often.

Our Mortality

Our later years are also a time when we explore ourselves more deeply our mortality. Though we probably have already given it some thought, now is the time that understanding our mortality takes on greater urgency. After all, the reality is that we don’t have many years left on this earth.

Some of us are more prepared than others. But it is still a difficult task to make sense of our entire lives. We ask ourselves:

  • Was my life meaningful?

  • Did I accomplish what I wanted to?

  • Do I leave a legacy? And if so, what is it?

  • What happens to me after I die?

How we answer these questions determines how peaceful we are, which is the ultimate goal. We may not be able to answer some of them, but we can be at peace with not knowing all the answers.

“Retirement is not a life without purpose; it is the ongoing purpose that provides meaningfulness.” ~ Robert Rivers

One thing to consider, as we approach the conclusion of our lives, is how it will affect our loved ones. Certainly, some will take it harder than others. However, if they know that we’re at peace when we pass on, then it’ll be much easier for them to accept.

The questions regarding our mortality can be much easier to answer if we’ve lived a mindful life. If we understand some of the mindfulness principles, such as impermanence, the nature of suffering, and interdependence, then the answers will just fall into place.

For example, if you understand that the sources of your suffering are your body and mind, then you will know that once these are gone that you will no longer suffer. This kind of deeper understanding of life will make it much easier to deal with our transition.

How Mindfulness Meditation Can Help

A mindfulness meditation practice can help us in so many ways. In general, mindfulness meditation can help us achieve greater understanding, which in and of itself will bring us peace. It will also help us develop greater inner strength. This will enable us to make better choices in our lives, which will lead to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Mindfulness of Your Body

Many of us are not fully aware of how our actions and lifestyle choices affect our body. Actually, many people don’t even care, until it’s too late and they’ve done irreversible damage. So the sooner you develop mindfulness, the sooner you’ll be able to take better care of your body.

One way of taking care of your body is through good nutrition. In order for your body to function at its best, it needs the right nutrients. This means consuming the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. We also need plenty of fluids and fiber.

Another type of nutrient that has tremendous health benefits is superfoods. These are foods that contain either high concentrations of micronutrients or other substances that help our body function better and ward off diseases, such as cancer. Some examples of superfoods are berries, green tea, broccoli, turmeric, and many more.

Many of us find it hard to start eating healthy when we’re so used to just eating what appeals to us. We think that in order to eat healthily we have to sacrifice good taste. Well, that just isn’t so. There are many dishes you can make that are both healthy and delicious. I’ve eaten healthy most of my life. I always enjoy what I eat, and never feel deprived.

One of the reasons I eat just about anything I want, which is also nutritious, is that I’m always physically active. In my younger years, I exercised heavily in the gym. Today I don’t have the time to spend hours in the gym every week, but I do make it a point to stay physically active. As a result, I am able to eat well, and maintain my weight and good health.

Another area where we can be mindful of our body is in lifestyle choices. By this, I mean consumption of substances like tobacco and alcohol and activities that put unnecessary stress on the body. For example, the training that I did in the gym when I was young was sometimes excessive and damaging to my body.

Of course, our lifestyle choices are our own business. However, be prepared to accept the consequences when you get older. No doctor will be able to repair years of abuse or neglect of our bodies. And those consequences are usually quite painful.

Mindfulness of Your Emotions

Our emotions can be difficult to understand. As we get older, we tend to gain a greater understanding of them, but at the same time we become set in our ways and resist change. That is, we resist learning how to manage our emotions more effectively. But if we can raise our emotional awareness, we can bring more peace and happiness into our later years.

As we develop mindfulness through our practice, our emotions will naturally change. The reason is that we begin to identify less with our ego, and we begin to see more clearly our connection with the rest of the world. And when we truly see this interconnection, our loneliness will disappear.

Through our mindfulness meditation practice, our anger and frustration will also subside. As we meditate, our mind will naturally calm down. This will reduce the mental agitation that triggers our unwholesome emotions. They will be replaced with more wholesome emotions, such as love, compassion, and joy.

“Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Our mind will also calm down simply from us not working every day. We’ll no longer have pressures of deadlines, or conflicts with other people. In addition, we’ll no longer have all the noise and activity that over-stimulated our mind, and this will help us sleep better at night.

The more we practice mindfulness meditation, the deeper our understanding of our emotions will be. When we are truly mindful, we are aware of when our emotions arise, what their sources are, and have the inner strength to resist the temptation to fuel the negative emotions, and be able to cultivate the positive ones. This will lead to greater equanimity.

Mindfulness of Your Mind

As we get older, our mental abilities begin to decline. Our memory, concentration, and reasoning ability slowly diminish. This is an inevitable sad truth about growing old. However, not all of our mental decline is due to age, and there is a lot we can do to slow this decline.

Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps preserve and even improve your mental abilities. Mindfulness meditation can improve your memory, concentration, and abstract thinking.[6] Several studies have shown that even small amounts of meditation can have a significant impact. The impact is even greater with years of practice.

Another thing we can do to preserve our mind is to keep it active. However, not all mental activity is equally beneficial. Mental activities that require little use of our mind, such as crossword puzzles, have little effect. What has the most impact is learning a new skill, such as a new language. Learning a new skill forces your brain to create new neural pathways.

Proper nutrition can also have a tremendous impact on our mental abilities. This is more a matter of giving our brain what it needs to function at an optimal level. For example, our brain needs a fair amount of protein and fat to work properly. We also need plenty of fluids. When we’re dehydrated, which many of us are, our memory and concentration are greatly diminished.

Physical activity will also improve our mental abilities. In order for oxygen and nutrients to reach our brain, they have to be transported there through our blood, and physical activity improves the blood flow to the brain. We don’t need to do a lot of exercise to get the health benefits. Sometimes just walking regularly is enough to improve the blood flow.

Mindfulness Principles

There are various mindfulness principles that can help us in our retirement. These are actually universal principles. If we understand them, then we can live by them, which will make our lives much easier, and happier.

Impermanence

Everything is always changing, and this includes our body and mind. When we develop mindfulness, we become aware of this truth. This is also a harsh reality that comes with old age.

“Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.” ~ Jack Kornfield

When we’re young, we don’t fully appreciate how things are always changing. We spend much of our time and effort creating the ideal circumstances we believe will make us happy, and believe that once we achieve them, they’ll remain that way for the rest of our lives. Sure, intellectually we wouldn’t admit that, but we’re disappointed when the things we worked so hard for begin to slip away.

When we accept that everything is impermanent, we can begin making peace with our aging body and mind.

Interdependence

Everything is also interdependent. Nothing exists in complete isolation. We depend on so many things in nature for our survival. For example, in order to breathe, we all need the oxygen that is produced by plants and trees. Conversely, they need the carbon dioxide we produce for their survival.

We also depend on various segments of society, such as food suppliers. Just think about how many people are involved in making food available to us; the farmers, workers at processing plants, shippers, and staff at the grocery store.

As we get older and our health declines, our needs change significantly. We begin to depend more on health care professionals, and other service providers. One of the hardest things for elderly people to accept is their loss of independence. As their health declines, they are less able to take care of themselves. It is truly humbling, and sometimes humiliating, to ask someone to take care of our basic needs, such as personal hygiene.

There are a couple of things that can bring us peace as we experience a loss of independence. First, when we came into this world, we were fully dependent on someone for our survival, and we accepted it without question. Second, most of us at some time in our lives, will care for someone else, such as a child or an aging parent. We do it because we care for our loved ones, and have compassion for them in their time of need. So don’t fret about asking people for help.

Final Thoughts

Retirement is a time to relax, and spend quality time with family and friends. It is a time when your mind is free of the stressful demands of your job. It is a time to be happy. However, that happiness doesn’t come automatically, as retirement brings a whole new set of issues to deal with.

If we want to be happy in our retirement, then we need to plan for it, and the mindfulness meditation practice can help you plan better. It’s important to prepare well ahead of time in three main areas: 1) our finances, 2) our health, and 3) our social needs. You’ve worked hard your entire life. You deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Don’t let poor planning derail your plans for enjoying your new life.

About the Author: This article was written by Charles Frances and edited and reprinted with the permission of our friends at The Mindfulness Meditation Institute. To learn more about their work, please visit www.mindfulnessmeditationinstitute.org. Find the original article here.

 

View References

1 Retirement Can Be a Tough Psychological Adjustment. Here Are Some Ways to Adapt https://www.barrons.com/articles/retirement-can-be-a-tough-psychological-adjustment-here-are-some-ways-to-adapt-51574941500

2 Retiring minds want to know https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/retiring-minds

3 Is retirement good for health or bad for it? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-retirement-good-for-health-or-bad-for-it-201212105625

4 Role Reversal with an Aging Parent https://www.sageminder.com/Caregiving/Relationships/RoleReversal.aspx

5 Why retirement can be bad for your health https://www.bbc.com/news/health-22553577

6 Is meditation the answer to cognitive decline? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321424

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