Fewer than than half of retirees say they are having a very enjoyable retirement, according to a recent research brief on retirement satisfaction from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Which is a shame, considering how diligently many of us save and plan for our post-career lives. Fortunately, there are ways you can improve your odds of having a more rewarding retirement, especially if you're willing to be creative, resourceful and a bit adventurous. Here are three:
1. Think big, act bold. When news broke last year of the theft of upwards of $300 million of jewels and gold from the Hatton Gardens safe deposit facility in London's diamond district, experts assumed that the physically demanding heist must have been pulled off by a team of extremely fit burglars. But it turned out that what's been described as the largest burglary in English legal history was actually the last hurrah of a group of mostly retirement-age crooks, some well into their 60s and 70s.
I'm not suggesting that anyone plan anything for retirement that could end with a stint in the slammer. But criminality aside, the example of these career criminals attempting such an ambitious caper at an age where most people believe their biggest achievements are behind them shows that hitting retirement age doesn't necessarily mean scaling back one's aspirations. Indeed, when Allianz Life asked 3,000 adults as part of its Gift of Time study how they viewed the extra years afforded by today's longer lifespans, 49% said the increased longevity "could open a lot of new and interesting possibilities for people's lives."
I couldn't agree more. Retirement can, and ideally should, be a time to aim for new goals and accomplishments, whether that means pursuing a passion or activity you always dreamed about but never got around to doing (writing a book, starting a blog, creating an app, learning to play a musical instrument, whatever) or finding new ways to employ the skills you developed during your career (such as helping those who've been less fortunate than you, in which case, you may want to check out options and resources at Encore.org). The point, though, is that just because you're retired doesn't mean you shouldn't still think big, take chances and even be a bit audacious.
2. Make new friends, reconnect with old. Research shows that retirees who have a solid circle of friends are much more likely to say they're happy with their lives. Unfortunately, forging new relationships can be more of a challenge after leaving the work-a-day world. But it can be done. Volunteering at local charitable organizations, taking a part-time job, joining groups that get together to pursue a common interest (dancing, hiking, historical preservation, whatever) and enrolling for classes at a local college are all excellent ways to meet new people and broaden your social network.
But while you're forging new connections, be sure to maintain relationships with older friends, the people with whom you shared formative experiences in earlier stages of your life and who knew you before you became the person you are today.
For example, every year I get together for a weekend with a dozen or so men and women who were members of the University of Pennsylvania's rowing team back in the early '70s. Ostensibly, we come to Philadelphia (some from as far away as California and Hawaii) to watch Penn's "Class Day" race, a tradition in which freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors compete against each other in eight-oared shells. But the real draw is the chance to spend time with people with whom, despite the passage of years, we still share a deep bond. More than merely a stroll down memory lane, get-togethers with old friends can enhance our perspective on life and serve to remind us that what makes life truly meaningful are the relationships we have with friends and family over the course of our lives.
3. Seize opportunities to shake things up. The chance to kick back and relax without having a daily to-do list hanging over one's head is one of the great benefits of retirement. But a steady diet of relaxation—or adhering too closely to any daily pattern for that matter—can lead to boredom and a sense of listlessness. Which is why it's important to find ways to break out of the usual routine and spice things up occasionally.
That could involve something as simple as taking a spur-of-the-moment road trip, trying out a new hobby, attending local cultural events, sampling new cuisines, etc. Or, you could try something a bit more radical to push you out of your comfort zone, which is what my wife and I did earlier this year when we decided to live in Buenos Aires for a month.
We'd never been to South America before and neither of us spoke more than a few phrases of Spanish. But we figured that as long as we had decent wifi access, we could do our work from there while getting to know a new city and experience a different culture. And, in fact, we found our stint in Argentina's capital invigorating and rejuvenating, if for no other reason than the unfamiliar surroundings and grappling with a foreign language forced us to be more resourceful in performing basic everyday tasks.
There are other practical ways to improve your chances of having a happier post-career life, including creating a viable retirement income plan and, as research studies suggest, maintaining an active sex life. Doing a bit of lifestyle planning in final stretch of your career to prepare for the transition into retirement can also help. But the most important thing is to enter this phase of life not just open to new possibilities, but ready to seek out challenges and adventures.
Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com. If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can tweet Walter at @RealDealRetire.