Psychologists have determined that each of us has our own individual set point of happiness. As events unfold in our lives, we may temporarily become more or less happy, but then as time goes on, we revert to our mean level of happiness. But the same experts also tell us that as we get older, our happiness set point gradually goes up over time. In other words, most people get happier as they get older.
Then retirement gives us a bonus. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, retirement by itself often produces a positive impact on people’s sense of well-being, a feeling that lasts for a considerable length of time. Why? Because there are fewer demands on our time, and we have more control over our own lives. We experience less pressure, less stress and enjoy a less-hectic lifestyle.
So how can we ensure that we get happier as we retire and get older? Here are five ways to maximize your happiness level when you’re retired.
1. Try not to worry about money.
It’s easier said than done. But multiple studies have shown that after a certain basic level of income that covers housing, health care and other necessities, there is no relationship between how much money we have and how happy we are. What matters more is what we focus on. There is no reason to envy those who have more than us, for they are not happier than we are. But there is plenty of reason to focus on the blessings we enjoy in life, whether it’s close family ties, a supportive group of friends or an opportunity to spend time pursuing an activity we love.
2. Use your money to purchase experiences, not possessions.
Or, as my wife says, we should marshal our money to create positive and lasting memories for our friends, our children and ourselves. So don’t take out a big loan to buy an expensive car. Instead, go on an exotic vacation with your spouse. Or invite a friend out to dinner and pick up the bill, or organize a family get-together at the beach and offer to pay for those who can’t afford to come.
3. Make time for friends and family.
You can see a theme developing here, one that provides the key to unlocking the secret to happiness in retirement. We all know that shared experiences bring more happiness than those experienced alone. Why else do people go on Facebook or Instagram? Just think of the last time you ate alone in a restaurant with your nose stuck in a book or magazine. It probably wasn’t much fun. But when you go to the same restaurant with friends, you almost always have a good time talking and laughing and sharing your stories.
4. Take care of yourself.
People in poor health almost always report lower levels of happiness than people who are in good shape. It works the other way around, too. People who eat better, get more exercise and suffer less stress tend to lead healthier and happier lives than sedentary couch potatoes. So while you want to be connected to other people, you also want to take the time to treat yourself right. Surprisingly, surveys have even shown that cosmetic surgery makes us happier, both in the short term and over longer periods of time. Why? Because nothing makes us feel better than knowing we look our best.
5. Engage in an interesting activity.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re perfecting your golf game, babysitting your grandchildren, doing arts and crafts or hiking the Appalachian Trail. The important thing is that you get involved in something that engages your interest – something that gets you out of bed in the morning and gives a sense of purpose to your retirement. The happiest people view retirement not as an endless vacation, but as a chance to pursue new opportunities and take on new challenges. Don’t be afraid to say no to people who even with the best of intentions try to steal your time for their own purposes. Instead, focus on the people who are important to you and the activities that are worth your time and energy.