In my most recent article, I wrote about Why 28% of Retirees Are Depressed.
Shortly after publishing that article, I received an e-mail from a reader named Jeff. His points were valid and gave me pause, so today I am addressing his comments with a “Part 2” on the topic, as he suggested.
- Part 1: Why 28% of Retirees Are Depressed
- Part 2: Why 72% of Retirees Are Happy
Jeff, I trust you approve of the positive spin. Wink.
More importantly, we’re going to look into the differences between the two camps. What is it about the 72% of retirees who are happy vs. the 28% who are depressed? What should you think about as you plan for retirement to increase your odds of falling into the “Happy Camp?”
Today, I’m sharing the 9 Traits I’ve discovered that are unique to happy retirees.
Thanks to Jeff for suggesting today’s post. If you’re planning for retirement, try to apply as many of the traits as possible to your retirement planning. The effort will reduce your risk of depression and increase your odds of a happy retirement.These 9 traits differentiate the 72% of retirees who are happy from the 28% who are depressed. Click To Tweet
Why 72% of Retirees Are Happy
Since Jeff’s e-mail was the genesis of today’s post, it seems appropriate to start by sharing the full content:
When I write I don’t worry about “framing” or “messaging.” I try to focus on the facts. The reality is that 28% of retirees ARE depressed (much higher than the ~10% of the population at large that are depressed), and it’s something we don’t talk about often enough. Of course, that’s a negative “frame,” but it’s honest and was the focus of Post 1 in this series.
That said, I realized Jeff had some valid points and decided to write a second post focused on the 72% of happy retirees. My motive isn’t around “framing” a more “positive” message, but rather an attempt to determine some facts. Jeff’s next-to-last sentence is what drove me to write today’s post. “Let’s see why they’re satisfied and how to emulate them.”
What if we can identify the difference between the two groups, and use the findings to help the reader improve their odds of being happy retirees?
What Percentage of Retirees Are Happy?
While it’s hard to determine exactly how many retirees are happy, using the 72% inverse of the 28% who are depressed may actually be pretty accurate. Following is a relevant quote I found in this article from New Retirement (citing Age Wave/Merril Lynch research), bold added by me:
- Only 51% of 25–34-year-olds say that they often feel happy compared to 76% of people ages 65–74
- Only 47% of youngsters say that they often feel content, while 71% of those retired report contentment.
Bottom Line: For the sake of this article, assuming 72% of retirees are happy is a reasonable position. The fact that it’s the inverse of the 28% who are depressed is not merely a coincidence but appears to be supported based on my review of available data.
What’s Different About Happy vs. Depressed Retirees?
In writing today’s article, I have attempted to differentiate between the two groups (Depressed vs. Happy) to see what we can learn. I conducted online research on happiness in retirees and have compiled my findings into the following 9 traits (3 financial and 6 non-financial) that are common among happy retirees.
3 Financial Traits of Happy Retirees
It’s worth noting these 3 financial traits identified by Wes Moss in his book, “What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits for a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life.” (Amazon Affiliate link, I’ll get a small commission at no charge to you if you order). I’ve not read it yet, but this article on Fortune provides a good summary. Summarizing from that article:
3 Financial Traits of Happy Retirees:
- Having at least $500,000 in liquid assets.
- Having your mortgage paid off.
- Having multiple streams of income.
6 Non-Financial Traits of Happy Retirees
As I’ve researched the differences between Happy vs. Depressed retirees, I’ve found there are several critical non-financial traits to consider. Some of these factors have a higher correlation to happiness than financial wealth and are worth considering as you seek to achieve happiness in retirement.
Wes Moss highlights several important non-financial traits of the happiest retirees, starting with curiosity. Quoting from the Fortune article cited above:
“We hear curiosity killed the cat. A lack of curiosity kills the happy retiree, plain and simple.” Wes Moss
Moss cites curiosity as a key driver for happiness in retirement, with the happiest retirees having an average of 3.6 core pursuits (most of which were driven by pursuing curiosity). By comparison, the unhappiest retirees have an average of only 1.9 core pursuits.
As I read Moss’ findings on curiosity, I couldn’t help but see the similarity between his findings and my consistent advice to pursue your curiosity as a means of finding your purpose. I’ve become convinced that Purpose matters, but what does the research say? Following is a quote I found in this article that highlights the importance of Purpose, and its relevance between Happy vs. Depressed retirees:
“97% of retirees with a strong sense of purpose were generally happy, compared with 76% without that sense.”
3. Social Connections
As I was doing my research for this post, the work of Wes Moss appeared frequently in my searches. In this article from The Street, the author cites Moss as stating:
“For retirees who are not married, they are 4.5 times more likely to be unhappy.” Wes Moss
To offset the increased risks if you’re not married, Moss encourages retirees to have strong support networks, stay active and socially engaged. His research also highlights the reality that “someone who has been divorced and remarried one time does not have a lower chance of happiness.” Moss also cites the fact that the happiest retirees have an average of 3.6 close friends, compared to only 2.6 close friends for unhappy retirees. Clearly, relationships are a critical element of happiness in retirement. In fact, the article states…
“…the number of friends a retiree has is more correlated to happiness than the amount of money they have.”
In a related field, Moss found that retirees who go to church on a weekly basis are 1.5 times more likely to be happy than other retirees. Those who volunteer also experience a higher chance of happiness.
In conclusion, these three key areas are worthy of your focus as you work to increase your chances of a happy retirement:
- Building Relationships
- Serving Others
4. Retiring At Your Planned Time
Research from Boston College concludes that both a) timing and reason for retirement and b) personal health have a higher correlation to happiness than financial well-being does.
As pointed out in Part I of this series, being forced into retirement before you’re ready significantly increases your odds of experiencing depression. According to this article in Forbes, 56% of retirees retired earlier than they expected. Read that sentence again.
The Boston College study includes this important finding:
“If individuals say that they voluntarily retired, they express much higher levels of well-being compared to those who did not voluntarily retire. It is likely that if they retired before they had expected to, they may not have completed financial or psychological preparations for retirement, leading to lower wellbeing in retirement.”
While we’re often not in control of when we’re able to retire, it’s important to be realistic regarding your risk. The facts are consistent and I’ve highlighted in past posts the very real risk of being forced into retirement earlier than you’d prefer. Recognize your risk, and begin preparing now for a scenario where you’ll be forced into retirement earlier than you expect.
It’s best to be prepared early, just in case.
5. Personal Health
From the Boston College Study: “The second major factor is health. Unsurprisingly, those with poor health also
experience dramatically lower levels of well-being.” The importance of doing everything within our control (exercise) is a consistent theme when studying happy retirees.
I write about the importance of exercise frequently, and I continually expand my self-learning in this area. I’m currently reading an excellent book, “Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity” by Peter Attia MD (Amazon Affiliate Link). It’s a fairly heavy read, but learning about the physiological realities of the benefits of exercise is motivating. There is nothing more important one can do to improve longevity than focus on consistent exercise, and it’s a trait more common among the happiest retirees. From The Street:
“…those retirees who take care of themselves in retirement and maintain a healthier lifestyle are generally happier than those who do not. Happy retirees are fans of what Moss calls the “ings.” These are low-cost forms of exercise such as walking, swimming, biking, and hiking.”
The following quote from this article is relevant:
Passive activities like watching television and staying at home were found to generate the lowest amount of happiness in a retirement study, while more active endeavors, like socializing, volunteering, walking, or exercising, were associated with the highest level of happiness.
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it should be the importance of exercise when striving for happiness in retirement.
6. Planning For A Happy Retirement
Finally, a difference between Happy vs. Depressed retirees is the amount of planning they’ve invested into their retirements. Of the 4 Paths To Retirement, the happiest have proven to be the “Purposeful Pathfinders,” or those who have invested the most amount of time in planning for their retirements. Conversely, the “Regretful Strugglers” are the ones least enjoying retirement, and are likely the highest to suffer from depression.
Research has shown a correlation between the amount of time spent planning for retirement (both financial and non-financial aspects) and the resulting success of the transition into retirement. If you want to increase your odds of a happy retirement, take the time to expand your focus beyond the “money stuff.” Finding ways to replace those non-financial rewards of work (social connections, sense of identity, structure, purpose, etc) is some of the most important work you’ll do as you plan for retirement.
The following article from INC summarizes it nicely:
“…few people realize that planning for retirement contentment is as important as planning for economic health.”
If you’d like to read additional articles I’ve written on how to achieve a successful retirement, the following are some of my most-read posts on the topic (or, read my book, Keys To A Successful Retirement):
- 7 Secrets To A Great Retirement
- 20 Ways To Be Happier In Life
- Wise Advice For A Successful Retirement
- How To Get In Shape For Retirement
The 9 traits I’ve discovered that differentiate happy vs. depressed retirees are worth considering as you work toward your ideal retirement. To summarize:
- Having at least $500,000 in liquid assets.
- Having your mortgage paid off.
- Having multiple streams of income.
- Social Connections
- Retirement Timing & Reason
- Personal Health
- Planning For A Happy Retirement
Apply as many as possible into your life. If you’re struggling through the “Messy Middle,” have confidence in the fact that the happiest retirees are those who have been retired for more than two years. Focus on your mindset, and seek out those things that bring you joy in life. Happiness is more within your control than you realize, especially in retirement.
If you do nothing else, go outside and walk a few miles, and think about what you just read.
You’ll be happy you did.
Your Turn: Are you happy in retirement? If so, why? What advice would you give those who are struggling to find happiness in retirement? Let’s chat…