Five tips for a happy and fulfilling retirement

One year into retirement and already every day is beginning to resemble Groundhog Day. Mornings spent shopping, afternoons watching TV quiz shows, and evenings lost in crossword puzzles. The question to ask yourself is whether you’ll be satisfied with this lifestyle for 20 more years?

A recent survey by the Skipton Building Society questioned almost 700 retirees about life after work and found that 80 per cent of women and 54 per cent of men felt that they had no purpose in life. This can lead to chronic boredom and a sense of purposelessness which can quickly escalate to depression and ill-health. We are happiest and healthiest when we are living purposeful goal-directed lives full of meaning and contribution.

The following five tips will help you add more meaning and purpose to your day.

1. Identify meaningful activities

Research has established that the happiest retirees spend at least five hours each week engaged in purposeful activities that provide work-like benefits such as a daily routine, social interaction, skill development, service, and being appreciated. Think of activities that excite and energise you. You may find that you derive great meaning and purpose in continuing part-time work, playing bridge with your closest friends, volunteering at the local op shop, touring in your campervan around Australia, cycling around Tasmania with a group of retirees, doting on your grandchildren, landscaping your treasured flower beds, or being a wonderfully devoted husband or wife.

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2. Give back

Altruistic activities is one of the most powerful ways of having a happy purposeful retirement. Not only are you rewarded with a chemically-induced Helper’s High, but you also enjoy feelings of gratitude and are distracted from your own worries. Start by listing your strengths and the causes you consider worthwhile. You may like to give back through raising funds for a charity, volunteering your time to a Meals on Wheels kitchen or a Lions club, acting as the treasurer at your bowls club, mentoring young people using your work skills, or working for minimal pay at an organisation devoted to social issues close to your heart.

3. Cherish your health

Living each day with purpose and striving after all your retirement goals hinge on your having good health. Exercise helps keep your heart healthy, reduces weight, aids sleep quality, and bolsters self-confidence, while also alleviating stress and improving resiliency. Each year after the age of 40 we lose 1% of our muscle mass and 1 per cent of our bone mass so lifting light weights and walking regularly become increasingly important. Remember to get sufficient sleep each night and eat a well-balanced diet. Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two glasses per day to avoid excessive weight gain and its negative effects on your posture.

4. Develop close relationships

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One of your top retirement priorities is the health of your marriage. The divorce rate for people over the age of 50 has doubled in the past 20 years from 13 per cent to 28 per cent mainly due to differences in shared values. These differences can be overcome through regular discussions about common interests. Shared values might include a common religious affiliation, travelling together, charity work, or spending time with grandchildren.

Nurturing existing friendships is also important. Surveys reveal that people with five or more close friends are 60 per cent more likely to be very happy. Simply having people to talk to minimises the likelihood of depression, strengthens resiliency and reduces the risk of heart disease. Nurture your existing friendships while actively developing new ones through local clubs and voluntary activities.

5. Stay young at heart

Two of the main ingredients of staying young at heart are curiosity and being able to stay in the present. A recent study found that retirees who had a daily purpose showed a 30 per cent slower rate of cognitive decline than those who did not.

Just like our muscles, our brain needs regular training to stay healthy. Commit to lifelong curiosity by doing courses, learning a language or musical instrument, or joining a book club. Also, practise spending more time in the present. We spend 47 per cent of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we are doing. Practise giving your full attention to your activities such as when listening to your partner, gardening, or reading.

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Which of these tips resonates with you the most? What else do you think makes for a happy retirement?

Dr Bruce Wells is a happiness and wellness consultant. He works with companies, community groups, and individuals committed to improving performance, wellbeing, and happiness. He is the author of Happiness Anywhere Anytime. For more information visit www.drbruce.com.au.