keys to a great retirement

5 Keys To A Great Retirement

Can you imagine having the opportunity to study two decades worth of retirement research, and gleaning the keys to a great retirement from the experts?  I recently had that opportunity when I took the time to read a 90-page study titled “The Experience Of The Transition To Retirement”, a study that filtered through 1,800 research papers!

Pulling from two decades of retirement research, here are The 5 Keys To A Great Retirement. Click To Tweet

Today, I’m summarizing the results from that study and presenting to you 5 Keys To A Great Retirement, along with additional findings from this extensive research.

Using Research To Improve Retirement

The goal of this research project was to understand what led to successful retirement transitions and to “better understand how best to help individuals navigate this transition”, as well as “how to improve the quality of post-retirement life”.   Valuable information from which you, the reader, can benefit.

Before I present The 5 Keys To A Great Retirement, there are some findings in the study which I found interesting.  For the sake of brevity, below is a list in bullet form.  Note that the study did focus on gender/socioeconomic/ethnic/cultural differences, so it’s best to read the findings with that in mind:

  • 25% of retirees experience difficulties in the transition to retirement.
  • Men tend to have more positive attitudes toward retirement and be more engaged in planning for retirement than women.
  • Based on the studies, women appear to have greater difficulty in adjusting to retirement than men.
  • Those in higher Socioeconomic positions tend to work longer than those in lower positions.
  • Being married is associated with greater preparedness and a more proactive approach to planning for retirement.
  • Where work is important to an individual’s identity, retirement causes more conflict and anxiety.
  • Nearly half of those aged 50 and over said that they expect to retire later than they had thought they would.
  • Governments from around the world have enacted policies that seek to reverse an ‘early exit culture’ and extend the length of people’s working lives, maintaining economic productivity and reducing social spending.

5 Keys To A Great Retirement

Yes, there was a lot of interesting information in those 90 pages (trust me, I read every page). Boiling it all down, below are my takeaways on what comprises the 5 Keys To A Great Retirement.

1. Control Your Destiny

The first finding was that those who felt they had the most control over their retirement decision were also those that most enjoyed their transition into retirement.  To quote the study:

“One of the most consistent and convincing findings in this review is that a sense of control is associated with positive retirement outcomes.”

While you may feel that you don’t control your retirement as much as you’d like, the reality is that there are a lot of areas in your retirement planning where you can influence the results.  Simply taking the time to prepare for your transition into retirement (See Key #2) is, in itself, exerting some control over your destiny.

Don’t leave your retirement to chance.

Given that you’re reading a blog on retirement, you’re likely ahead of your peers in tackling the first of these Keys To A Great Retirement.  You’re taking control of your retirement, and your retirement will be better as a result.


2. Imagine What Your Retirement Will Be

imagine your retirement

The second of the 5 Keys To A Great Retirement was the finding that those who took time before retirement to imagine what their retirement would be were also those most likely to have a good retirement.  Think beyond finances. Finances play a small role post-retirement, and yet most folks think most about the financial implications of retirement when preparing for the transition.

Broaden your scope, and spend time thinking about what you want your retirement to be.  Dedicate some time, while you’re still working, to take a Test Run At Retirement like my wife and I did.  Take some time to think about:

  • What will your life look like when work is no longer mandatory?
  • How will you spend your time?
  • What will give you Purpose?
  • Where will you live?

The research indicates that retirement planning “has potentially important consequences”, not just for financial security in retirement, but also ” in promoting satisfaction with, and adjustment to, the retirement lifestyle”.

It’s been proven by the research that planning for retirement while you’re still working is one of the best things you can do to ensure that you’ll have a great retirement.  Make it a priority, it’s one of the keys to a great retirement.


3. Develop Retirement Goals

goals in retirement

Retirement is a luxury.

For the first time since you started school, you’re free to do whatever you want with your life.  It’s also the first time that you’re 100% responsible for deciding how you’re going to spend your time.

Are you going to Die While You’re Living, Or Live While You’re Dead?  Decide what retirement means to you, and develop some goals to help you prioritize the things which are most important to you.  Focus on what matters to you, and create a plan to do the things you want to do, and avoid doing the things you don’t.

Create an action plan to move your retirement From Good To Great.  Create your own 10 Commandments Of Retirement, and outline what really matters for your life in retirement.  Recognize that your role and identity will change from when you were a worker with employer-defined goals.  You’re now Independent, and you should define your own identity, supported by your own goals.

The third of the keys to a great retirement is to recognize that you’re entering a new phase of Independence in retirement and to create goals that support what you want your new life to be.


4. Don’t Go Solo

don't go solo in retirement

Don’t do retirement alone.

Evidence supports the fact that truly happy people tend to be people who are more social.  Be intentional in developing your social network in retirement, and realize that folks from work aren’t likely to be a part of your post-retirement life.

For those of you who are single, find ways to get engaged with other folks before you retire.  Join community groups with people of similar interests.  Volunteer in some organizations that interest you.  Check out Meetup.com for activities in your local area.  If you’re still working, develop a close friendship with someone who you can share your retirement ideas with.  Ask for their input, and incorporate it into your plans.

For those who are married, there is a direct correlation between the amount of collaboration you do with your spouse and your satisfaction with the transition into retirement.  Take the time to have some real heart-to-heart conversation with your spouse about their expectations for retirement, and build a plan that both of you support.  The transition to retirement affects both partners, and both partners deserve to be involved.  Research indicates that “planning together for retirement is also a factor for having better outcomes in retirement”, as well as helping couples in their transition to retirement.

Consider filling a Retirement Activity Jar, where both spouses drop pieces of paper into a jar with activities to try.  Once a week, pull an activity.  My wife and I have been doing that, and enjoy trying new activities in our new retirement life in an Appalachian mountain town.


5. Have A Positive Outlook

Don’t worry.  Be Happy.

Not only the catchy lyrics to a happy song…

…but also a proven way to have a better retirement.

It’s a proven fact that Attitude Affects Outcome.  You can choose to have a positive attitude toward retirement, but many people don’t.  From the research:  “only half of those who were planning to retire in the next five years were looking forward to it, with 41% worried about managing their money; a third concerned about feeling bored (33%) and missing their social connections from work (32%), and nearly a quarter worried about losing their purpose (24%).

Choose to be among the 50% who look forward to retirement.  A positive attitude can positively impact your retirement just as surely as a negative attitude can negatively affect it. From the research:  “Negative expectations about the consequences of retirement predict difficulties in adjusting both for the person retiring and for their partner.”

“These findings suggest that negative expectations about retirement could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that consideration of the retirement experience must take into account the partner of the retiring individual.”

We’re all free to choose the attitude with which we live our lives.  It’s a choice.  Make the right one. Choose To Be Happy, and choose to be excited about retirement.  (BTW, did you know that there are 45 Benefits Of Optimism?)

Focus On Health

On a related note, focusing on your health is a great way to improve your attitude.  From the study:  “good physical health is associated with a range of positive outcomes in retirement such as life satisfaction and quality of
life”.

Also from the study:  “More recently Barbosa, Monteiro and Murta (2016) classified adjustment predictors into 26 categories. Those that had the greatest impact on adjustment were physical health, finances, psychological health, and personality-related attributes, leisure, voluntary retirement, and social integration.”

Better yet, find a way to improve your health while also building your social network.  My wife and I attend a Barre Above class twice a week.  Not only are we improving our health, but we’re making a lot of great “classroom friends” in the process.  Even better, we’re doing it as a couple, and enjoy our time together in the class.

The fifth and final of the Keys To A Great Retirement?

Don’t Worry, Be Happy.


Conclusion

There you have it, the 5 Keys To A Great Retirement based on extensive research:

  1. Control Your Destiny
  2. Imagine What Your Retirement Will Be
  3. Develop Retirement Goals
  4. Don’t Go Solo
  5. Have A Positive Outlook

Pick one or two to work on and make them a focus in the coming weeks.  Your retirement will be better as a result.

Your Turn:  Which of the 5 keys to a great retirement do you most relate to?  Have you intentionally applied any of these keys to improving your retirement?  Was it successful?  Let’s chat in the comments…

38 comments

  1. I would think the hardest for most folks (besides health which you didn’t officially include) is #2. I’ve seen so many testimonials from people who say that even thought they thought they knew how they’d spend their time it turned out being different. Even for me being only semi-retired that’s true. I thought I’d actually increase my already high cycling and running miles but I haven’t – I found they were just stress relievers from my W2. And I’m working on one side hustle way more than I thought I would, but I enjoy it. Life is hard to predict, and having free time after so many years of full time work seems like something that’s also hard to imagine.

  2. The list underscores a more general point that it’s always more fulfilling to be moving towards something than away from something. I’ve been in the HR sector for 20+ years, and with careers, I call this pull over push. You want to be pulled to your next career move b/c you want it, not pushed out from your previous step b/c you were bored, underpaid, etc. Similarly, in retirement, you want to retire as a choice (Control Your Destiny) and have something that pulls and compels you (Imagine Your Retirement, Develop A Goal, Have A Positive Outlook).

  3. I am impressed you read that entire study! Truly becoming an expert in the field. Great points, particularly the not going it alone. For most humans, social relationships is key to health and happiness. While Facebook may help it is not a substitute for the real thing. Break some bread with a friend, drink something and just hang out.

  4. I couldn’t imagine doing this retirement thingy alone. First of all, I never would have reached FI on my own financially speaking. Socially, I need my partner in crime when visiting new places and experiencing different cultures or scenery.

  5. Fritz, thanks for summarizing and sharing…

    I have focused on #2 and #5. For me they are connected. It’s very easy to get hung up on the financial piece and loose sight of why we chose to retire. 4 months in and enjoying the journey.

    Like you, my wife and I are also focusing on health, stretching daily along with walks/runs and focusing on preparing healthier meals. I liken this to one of my new “jobs” to help improve our health and control out of pocket health care expenses for as long as we can.

    1. I like your idea of my new job being to improve health by preparing healthier meals. This is something that is so difficult to do as I work full-time and manage my 2 homes (current rental and retirement home) on my own. I’m so excited about retiring and being able to have a garden and all day to prepare meals and can extras. =) 16 months and counting… Thanks for the mental idea.

        1. Yes, I have found your “Ultimate Pre-Retirement Checklist” very helpful. I’ve created my own Refrigerator Lake Journey. =) I am also finding the “20 Steps to take in the Year before Retirement” extremely helpful!

  6. Great post Fritz – thanks for summarizing that research!

    Per @jdroth – finding your next purpose is key that could go into #2 I also agree with Dave from Accidentak FIRE above about figuring out health insurance being a key factor for people.

    Finally – our tagline (which we tested into) support #1 https://www.newretirement.com/ 😊

  7. A very relevant article on retirement strategy. As a recent female retiree in my late 50’s, the most important element to my retirement was determining my lifestyle goals. That step requires sole searching as well as the courage to make life-altering decisions. It requires you to commit time and research to become comfortable with your choices. It is the framework for happiness, control, and success. As you point out in your article, this is the first time since starting school that we have total control of our time. I know I felt intimidated by it. I also knew I needed to solve it to be happy in retirement. So my motto is to be my 14-year-old self with a bank account, a drivers license and a sprinkle of wisdom. FYI…thank you for your weekly articles. They are thought-provoking!

    1. “The most important element to my retirement was determining my lifestyle goals.” Wise words, indeed. I feel the same about our retirement, and was pleased to see that coming in as one of the Top 5 Keys.

      BTW, I love your motto. Your 14-year-old self with a bank account! Great line!!

      And…you’re welcome. Smiles.

  8. Item #4 is the one that makes the most difference. We flourish with more personal connections. Having been retired for over 8 years now, I credit the lucky discovery of the book “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”, which I was reading for the last year of my employment. Seeking out group activities and making friends can be challenging, but it is too easy to spend time at home alone if you are not careful.

    My Mom is 85 and since my Dad died 4 years ago, it has been really hard for her to make new connections. She wants to stay at her home of 64 years, which is lonelier than Senior Living might be. This retirement challenge is easier to tackle at age 59 than it will be at 85, that is for sure!

    1. My heart goes out to your Mom, and all of the widows/widowers out there. It would be SO hard to make that adjustment to “being solo” late in life. As I age, I’m feeling much more sympathy for those who find themselves in that situation. Life, in general, is easier with connections. Even more so in retirement.

    2. Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll be retiring next year in my mid 50’s. I found Wes Moss’ book “You Can Retire Sooner than You Think” so helpful with respect to what things to consider outside of the financial piece.

  9. Packing the 26′ truck with the last of the house and belongings. Retired on Dec 31, bought a dream house in the mountains of Colorado and near the kids and grandkids.
    Thank you for all the encouragement and spreadsheets. We are 63 and realized we could get out of the rat race a few years early. We started late but made it work. Feel free to drop by in your travels.
    Thanks again.

  10. I struggled with #2 – Ok, that definitely didn’t sound right… let’s try that again. I had a picture of what my early retirement would look like. Unfortunately, it was still busier than the 24 hours a day we’re all stuck with – mostly because I also wanted to spend every waking minute with my daughter as well.

    That’s actually made my transition of the past couple of months a little tougher than I thought. However, I’m pushing with “the control your destiny” and trying to come up with a better routine. Everything in moderation, so I’m now working on my projects during the day and if it goes long, I’m trying to give myself permission to realize it’s Ok to continue on. Although my daughter won’t have her dad friend with her every minute, that’s probably better all around. It’s already made a big difference in my stress level. Time to enjoy retirement!

    — Jim

    1. This retirement stuff is hard, right Jim? I can relate. Retirement is exactly as I thought it’d be, and it’s nothing like I thought it’d be. Adjust, and move on. Ironically, I’m finding it harder to find time to write, even though I have more free hours than when I was working. Odd thing, this retirement.

      #LiveLife

  11. I was born to be retired and have taken to it with enthusiasm and energy. I really agree with the 5 principles you have outlined and my husband and I have often chatted about how planning our retirement has made a huge difference. We worked until we were financially stable, took up golf together and then I have consistently followed the values of Younger Next Year. I am truly happy in retirement and the days are packed with things I want to do.

  12. With the number of comments, it Looks like you hit a home run with this one.

    I too, enjoyed the post.
    I tend to feel each of the points you touched are equally important. It’s like a scale that needs equal weight on each end to be balanced.

    There are several different variations published about the “Cross of life” and the balance between work, play, love, and worship. To be happy in life you must hit the proper balance between these four things. Your cross must be “balanced”.

  13. All good points. My favorite is #5. Focus on health, fitness, and happiness. That will always put you in a great mood. People will want to be around you. People will want to do stuff with you. Early retirement is Life 2.0.

  14. For me, #1 is the key. I’m at my best when I can control my destiny. Retirement gives me that.
    All the other points are really good too. It’s funny that people mostly focus on money so much. It’s great that the researches show that happiness is all about the intangibles. Be happy!

  15. I think # 2 and # 4 are the biggies. Retirement is suddenly a lot of free time on your hands, so you need to have a plan in place on how to spend it or you’ll be lost. And #4 is huge because, speaking as someone who works from home, people vastly underestimate how lonely it can get when you’re not socializing in an office — even if those aren’t your favorite people, just being around others is good for you. So it’s important to have (once again) a plan in place of how you’re going to get out and meet folks.

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