The secret to a fulfilling, happy retirement starts with you

Feb 26, 2020
Staying connected could be the key to a happy retirement. Source: Getty

After years of slogging it out in the workforce, the thought of retiring is no doubt exciting, with opportunities to travel abroad or simply sit back and put your feet up. But it may not be as blissful as you have imagined, in fact, one expert says retirement could have dire impacts on your wellbeing.

Researcher Dr Adam Fraser says although you’ve reached a major milestone and goal, life could become a little flat. The expert, who recently released a new book titled Strive, encourages retirees to continue to challenge themselves to keep life exciting.

While writing the book Fraser spoke to many people including professional athletes, retirees and others who have achieved big life goals, and perhaps surprisingly, they all admitted the feeling of success after these events were fleeting. Instead, they said it was the journey and overcoming obstacles that brought them the most happiness.

“When we set a goal, we believe that the achievement of the goal is going to be the best part,” Fraser says. “But what our research shows is that most people enjoy or get fulfilment from striving towards a goal, rather than achieving it. That’s what happens to people in retirement, they enjoy it for a while but then they go into this flat spot where they feel lost, feel like they’ve lost their meaning in life.”

According to Beyond Blue, poor mental health is common among Aussie seniors, due to physical illness or personal loss. In fact, between 10 and 15 per cent of older people experience depression and about 10 per cent experience anxiety. A recent study linked this decrease in wellbeing to a change in routine, loss of income and lack of socialisation.

“These changes take time and as a result, a person’s experience of adjustment may fluctuate depending on factors such as the nature of a person’s work when employed, their general health and wellbeing, their financial standing, their work exit conditions and their networks of support,” the study published in the Social Issues and Policies Review explains.

However, Fraser says it’s also in part because a person’s level of striving goes down. They aren’t striving to achieve things or setting goals anymore. He says although it may be uncomfortable, we do need to struggle and overcome difficult things in life to feel happy. It doesn’t have to be traumatic things, but small challenges that make us evolve and change.

Using his own parents as an example, Fraser says their initial view of retirement was to just take it easy and spend time with the grandkids. But when the time came to give up work, this wasn’t enough to keep them happy.

“My dad handled retirement far better because he had lots of hobbies that he was passionate about and that were challenging; he kept that stimulation,” Fraser says. “Whereas, Mum didn’t have that; the focus was just the grandkids. She found it very, very hard; she lacked routine, she was bored, it was a real problem for her.”

Fraser says what you do to fill your time is up to you, but some options that can keep you striving include taking up casual work, focusing on hobbies, helping out with a charity or using your skills to mentor others.

“Retirement can be a glorious, awesome thing,” he says. “It’s just ensuring that strive continues and that you’re challenging yourself, that’s the real key.”

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