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Published: Mar 19, 2024 5 min read
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Many Americans dream of the day that they’ll hang up their briefcases and enter life's third act, but a recent study suggests that retirement isn't joyful for everyone.

A new survey from insurance company MassMutual found that a third of retired adults aren’t happier since retiring. Among those respondents, many report feeling lonely. There may be a few factors that could increase those retirees’ happiness and sense of satisfaction, though.

MassMutual surveyed 2,000 U.S. retirees and workers approaching retirement between late January and early February.

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The keys to happiness in retirement

For the most part, retirement does increase people's sense of wellbeing, according to the survey. About 67% of retirees who are 15 years or less into retirement said they’re happier since retiring, and 82% said they’re more relaxed on a typical day.

While only 8% report feeling less happy in retirement, about a third said they’re not more happy than they were before leaving the workforce. Almost half of those who don’t feel happier in retirement said that they feel lonely sometimes, and 33% said there was less romance or dating in their lives.

Respondents who said they're happier in retirement shared a few things in common. Sixty-one percent who reported feeling “much happier” said they paid off their debt at least five years before retiring. By comparison, among those who are not happier, only 48% said the same regarding debt. And nearly half of the much-happier crowd said they planned for retirement by taking steps to improve their health, while only 32% of those who aren’t happier said the same.

The much-happier retirees also fill their free time with activities: 76% said they spend time with loved ones, 70% make sure to exercise, 63% pursue hobbies, and 62% said they travel.

Shifting definitions of retirement

Many of today’s “pre-retirees” have a different vision for their retirement. MassMutual defines this group as workers who are at least 40 years old, have at least $50,000 in savings and investments, are active in their household financial planning and are within 15 years or less of retirement.

Rather than leaving the workforce full-stop, 38% of pre-retirees think retirement should be a shift to a “new type of work or fulfilling purpose,” while 17% think of it as working less. Comparatively, 60% of retirees define retirement as “an end to working,” while only 44% of pre-retirees said the same.

Pre-retirees prioritize their wellbeing in their retirement planning, with 66% saying that they’re taking steps to improve their health. In terms of financial preparation, 65% said they’re focused on making contributions to a retirement account, and a similar share said they’re increasing their savings. A little more than half said they’re calculating how much they’ll need in retirement.

Those who are already retired were more focused on their finances than their physical and social health before retiring. Only 39% said they took steps to take care of their health, and only 7% said they reached out to old friends or tried to make new ones leading up to retirement.

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Retirement trends and the ideal retirement age

Other survey data shows that nearly half of retirees left the workforce earlier than planned, with 33% reporting that they did so due to changes at work. Twenty-eight percent said they were able to afford retirement sooner than anticipated, and about a quarter said they had to leave their job early because of an illness or injury.

The same share said they wanted to relax and enjoy more free time, and 17% said they retired early because they were burned out.

On average, both retirees and pre-retirees said 63 is the ideal age for retirement — and current retirees left the workforce pretty close to that mark. The survey found that 62 is the average retirement age, but future retirees may have some challenges retiring on time.

More than a third of pre-retirees said their savings aren’t on track for them to retire at 63, and a similar share said they think they might outlive their money. Comparatively, only 22% of current retirees are worried about running out of retirement funds.

More from Money:

Retirement Is Broken — Is a 'Pension Renaissance' Coming to Save Us?

6 Smart Ways to Deal With Debt in Retirement

Why Retirement Savings in Roth IRAs Tend to Outlast Traditional 401(k)s

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