What will you do with your time in retirement? This question can extract a lot of different answers. Some people have a very clear vision and can quickly imagine what their days will look like. Others may not have such a clear picture and the transition from working to retirement can be worrying. Fortunately, for those that are worried, you can turn to those already retired to help gain clarity about what life in retirement may look like.
A paper from Merrill Lynch in partnership with AgeWave, a thought leader on issues related to aging, explores and documents the experiences of retirees in a paper titled, “Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List.” Below are some of the key findings from this paper.
The very idea and concept of retirement is changing: “Rather than winding down, retirement is becoming the time of life when most individuals report having the greatest fun.” With average life expectancies consistently increasing, retirees today have decades of life to plan for.
This increasing life span gives retirees the time to follow and cultivate new passions and interests. Retirement is no longer viewed as a time of winding down, but rather as fresh start and a new chapter in life’s story. “Rather than viewing retirement as the finish line, 9 out of 10 retirees now describe it as an opportunity for new beginnings, bringing greater freedom and flexibility and often an entirely new state of mind.”
Fun, happiness and general well being are usually portrayed as the domain of the youth. However, “contrary to stereotypes that portray youth as a time of psycho-social vitality and maturity as a period of emotional decline, our study reveals that lifetime wellbeing actually peaks in retirement. Feelings of happiness, contentment and relaxation soar, while anxiety seems to plummet.”
A number of studies have shown that retirees suffer less from depression, experience fewer negative emotions than people in their 20s and 30s, and when they do experience negative emotions they tend to get over it much quicker than younger people.
In her book “A Long Bright Future,” Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, tells the story about a 104-year-old woman who was asked, “What’s the best thing about being over one hundred?” Her reply: “No peer pressure.”
One of the many possible reasons for this general contentment is that retirees tend to put more emphasis on experiences vs. things. “Most retirees (95%) say they would prefer to have more enjoyable experiences rather than buy more things.” A key finding that was discussed in the book “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending” by Elizabeth Dunn was that purchasing experiences leads to more and longer lasting happiness than purchases of material goods.
The study also showed promising results in the experience of the initial transition into retirement: “Although you might assume that leaving the structured environment of work behind would be difficult to adjust to, nearly all retirees (92%) say they definitely enjoy the freedom of a less structured life in retirement.”
Social relationships are a key to both mental and physical health for retirees. Retirees can find time in retirement to deepen their relationships with existing friends and find new ones.
Family is another area that retirees place high value. As the father of a 6 month old baby, I found one area in particular quite interesting: “Most retirees (60%) say spending time with grandkids is more fulfilling than spending time with their own children.”
Obviously not every experience will look the same and their will be challenges that retirees face, but I found the overall message of this study to be encouraging. Many retirees are able to craft a new identity, enjoy their freedom, and experience fulfillment throughout retirement.
For soon to be retirees, it may help to start thinking more about what you want your retirement to look like. What experiences do you want to have and who do you want to share them with? Are their old hobbies that you would like to pick back up or new hobbies that you want to start? What are potential roadblocks that can get in the way of this vision?