by Joe Casey
State Street Global Advisors recently released their 2018 Global Retirement Reality Report titled The Happiness Formula.
The survey is macro-focused and the formula consists of three factors – Trust in the Savings Systems, Ownership of Retirement Role and (financial) Preparedness. Of eight countries, the US scored highest in Ownership and Preparedness and second in Trust, far behind Sweden. The Netherlands scored the lowest in two of the three categories and the UK was in the bottom three in two of the categories. From the US perspective, it was interesting to see the gap between these two questions:
% Optimistic About Financial Situation in Retirement 27%
% Who Said They Are Happy in Their Retirement 53%
It got me thinking about an age-0ld question: Does money buy happiness?
Sometimes when Happiness is used it’s as an all-encompassing term. However, the more useful concept may be well-being, of which happiness is one aspect. Psychologists differentiate between three types of well-being. Hedonic well-being is what we tend to think of with happiness – the feeling of happiness. But there’s also Evaluative well-being, which is about life satisfaction and Eudemonic well-being, which is about purpose and meaning (1). Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning writes about this and highlights the value of pursuing Eudemonic well-being over Hedonic well-being, as the latter is fleeting.
There are a lot of studies on money and happiness. One that captured my interest is by Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University (author of Thinking Fast and Slow) and Angus Deaton. They highlighted that high incomes impacted the Evaluative well-being, but not Hedonic well-being – the emotional feeling of happiness. Writing about the concept of “hedonic adaptation“, they conclude that:
“More money does not necessarily buy more happiness, but less money is associated with emotional pain. Perhaps $75,000 is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.”(3)
If money is not the sole path to satisfaction, then it’s smart to take a balanced approach to retirement planning. The first step is taking charge. An interesting 2017 study of early retirees noted that people with proactive personalities reported a higher level of life satisfaction, perhaps due to a higher level of initiative. While the study focused on personality tendencies, the authors note that proactivity may be learned, and training and coaching can be beneficial in preparing for the transition to retirement. (4)
Much of the focus of retirement planning is on the financial side. That’s certainly important – but it’s not the whole story. Why not be proactive about also planning for how you’ll invest your time? Laura Carstensen’s Socioemotional Selectivity Theory tells us that as people perceive that time is more limited, we become more selective about how we choose to use our time. (5)
1. Look to Your Past
Remember those things you loved to do when you were younger? Not the ones you just liked, but the ones you really loved to do? Maybe you put them aside or gave them up entirely because you simply didn’t have time with the responsibilities of mid-life. Retirement, or semi-retirement, offers the freedom to pick one or more them up again.
2. Look at Your Present
What things that you do today give you the greatest enjoyment and satisfaction? Pick two weeks and track how you’re spending your time. You’ll probably have some surprises. It doesn’t need to be a complex analysis. Circle the things you’d like to do more off. Zero in on the things to spend less time on and free yourself up to do more of those things that give you greatest joy.
3. Look to Your Future
Do you have goals in your retirement? I’ve heard some people say, “No. I gave those up when I stopped working.” Well, that’s where redefining your purpose comes in. Having a vision for what you’d like your retirement life to be like in the future can be a strong motivating force. Carl Richards in The New York Times poses a powerful question:
“If we were having tea three years from now in this exact same place, sitting in these exact same chairs, what would need to happen for each of us to be happy with those three years?” Worth thinking about.
4. Try New Things
It turns out that there’s a lot of wisdom in the old saying “Variety is the spice of life.” Are you stuck in some repeated loops?Has the phrase “Rinse and Repeat” become your personal motto? Fielding casting calls for a role in Groundhog Day II?
Mix it up. Take a different route. Try something new for dinner. Be open to that new restaurant when you notice that your first reaction is an eye roll. Look at a course to take online or locally on something you’re curious about.
5. Take on a Challenge
Often people think of retirement as a time to finally kick back and relax. That can certainly be a key part of any retirement, but too much of a good thing can be problematic – even too much relaxation. In his new book Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging, Alan Castel notes that we can also benefit as we get older by embracing new challenges. It may be mastering a sport or an activity or learning a new language. Having something in your life that stretches you can be an important ingredient. (6)How Can You Be Better with Age? Author Alan Castel joins us on The Retirement Conversation podcast with insights you'll want to hear from his new book https://www.retirementwisdom.com/how-can-you-be-better-with-age-podcast/ Click To Tweet
6. Stay Connected (but with the Right People)
Loneliness can be a real problem in retirement, so it’s important to cultivate social relationships beyond your workplace. But it’s wise to look at who you’re spending your time with. Take a step back and look at your relationships. Where you have a choice, are there people you want to spend more time with or less time with? Do they bring out your best or drag you down? (Listening to complaining can be draining. Is it time to do less with Debby Downer or Negatron Nate?).
7. Be Physically Active
And last, but not least, build the habit of exercise and activity. We know that physical activity is something we should do regularly for our health. It turns out that the benefits may be broader. It’s one of the most important factors connecting subjective well-being and health (1).
Money may not buy happiness, but it does create freedom. And freedom offers choices about how to wisely invest your time. So, be proactive about preparing for the non-financial side of retirement. Your happiness and satisfaction may depend on it.
Joe Casey is an executive coach, who also helps people think through and create their Second Acts and life in retirement, at retirementwisdom.com.
(1) Steptoe, A., Deaton, A., & Stone, A. A. (2015). Subjective well-being, health, and ageing. The Lancet, 385(9968), 640-648.
(2) Smith, E. E. (2017). The power of meaning: Crafting a life that matters. Random House.
(3) Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences, 107(38), 16489-16493.
(4) Maurer, T. J., & Chapman, E. F. (2017). Relationship of proactive personality with life satisfaction during late career and early retirement. Journal of Career Development, 0894845317697381.
(5) Carstensen, L. L. (1992). Social and emotional patterns in adulthood: support for socioemotional selectivity theory. Psychology and aging, 7(3), 331.
(6) Castel, A. D. (2018). Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging. Oxford University Press.