What else can you do to prepare for a happy retirement, besides saving money and letting it grow? Begin by thinking about the lifestyle you hope to lead in retirement. This should include reviewing your finances, and asking tough questions like: "How close should I live to my children? How will I stay active? When should I downsize or transition into a new home?"
Then, focus on the three things you can actually control in retirement: health, time and income.
1. Value Your Health More Than Your Wealth
A survey by Age Wave and Merrill Lynch of 3,300 pre-retirees and retirees said good health was the number one key to happiness in retirement. The byproduct of increasing your health will allow you to engage in more social behaviors, and you will be able to enjoy your wealth more. This may seem like common sense, but Americans struggle with good health in retirement. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third, or 36.5%, of adults in the U.S. are obese. This is also a financial burden. The medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher on average than those of normal weight. Take the steps today to make your health a priority and you can check that box off on your way to retirement happiness.
2. Maximize Your Time
According to research conducted in Taiwan, which has a higher life expectancy than the U.S., the quality of one's retirement is largely dependent on how retirees spend their free time. The researchers discovered retirees with more free time weren’t happier than ones with less on their schedule. The telling factor was how the retirees used their idle hours. That's why it is no surprise the happiest retirees have multiple hobbies. The Harvard School of Public Health found that people with strong social networks in retirement report good personal health at a rate two times higher than people who are isolated. Thus, spending your time interacting with others, volunteering or enjoying hobbies with friends is a sure-fire way to retire happy.
3. Make Your Income Predictable
This makes sense mathematically and psychologically—it is crucial for retirees to feel confident about their wealth. The former Towers Watson happiness survey found retirees who rely mostly on investments had the highest financial anxiety: "Almost a third of retirees who get less than 25% of their income from a pension or annuity were worried about their financial future; of those who receive 50% or more of their income from such a predictable source, just under a quarter expressed the same anxiety.”
Combine health, time and income in such a way that you can achieve a lifestyle that is personally fulfilling in retirement. This includes completing a personalized financial plan with realistic return and expenditure assumptions. Happy retirements need to go beyond the numbers.
(For more from this author, see: 4 Investing Biases You Should Avoid.)