What Does It Take To Be Happy In Retirement?

Being with family over the holidays is always a time to reflect on the lives of those who passed before us and are no longer present at the holiday table. It also makes each of us consider what we require to be really happy. We can’t bring them back, which might make us happy, but we can remember what things or events made them happy; kitchen utensils passed down from a generation or so ago, plates and furniture made by ancestors under very trying times, little prized possessions with immeasurable value.

And yet if we remember them as happy people, we realize it wasn’t the money they left us, or the difficulties at the end of their lives, or the tough time we had to fit in more frequent visits and trips to the doctors’ offices, or the time we sat with them in the hospital. We remember their smiles, their gifts (sometimes homemade), the childhood memories they shared with us, the sheer joy at seeing us for holidays or hospital visits, the reverence with which they saved the bronzed baby shoes, or the first tooth.

Happiness in retirement is often just the ability to be around family, to share in the simple passages of age (the Bat/Bar Mitzvahs, First Holy Communion, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries), the time around the holidays, the dinners at the table, the games we played after dinner. These don’t cost much.

Knowing this on some level, so many of our clients are opting for something simpler, which can often mean downsizing a lifestyle. No need to have the big house in the right neighborhood, to drive the status car, to be a member of the most prestigious country club, to attend all the annual charity events. These clients would give anything to be near their grandchildren, to watch them in the school play, to sit proudly in the audience of their dance recital, to take them to vacations which require an adult who can safely revert to his or her own childhood (Disney?), and relive their lives as parents. Of course, at the end of the day, they can hand them back to their children and get a good night’s sleep.

So how much does this all cost? A lot less than the “number” you need to have in retirement. As a child who is now cleaning out my mother’s household, I realize all the things she did to have a very comfortable life in retirement: at age 80, she sold the house she lived in, moved next door to my sister and her husband, and two of her 11 grandchildren, four or more pets, and a totally new life. She became a member of a new church, started going to senior centers, adopted a shelter cat, and became addicted to the Food Network. Her life was definitely downscaled from the one she lived before her second husband died. But she was happy.

As we sat around the table at this Thanksgiving, with one place setting missing, I was reminded how much she was moved to tears when last Thanksgiving her three children and their spouses, several of her grandchildren and the menagerie of pets were gathered at the table. We teased her about it, but now we realize how important that was to her own happiness.

Don’t let your goals for a successful retirement lose site of the importance of being happy. Amen.

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Photo Credit: artzeechris via Compfight cc


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