When it comes to retirement, there is no shortage of information available to ensure you are financially on track; however, living well in retirement requires more than just financial security.
A fulfilling retirement also requires a healthy body and mind, having a purpose, and maintaining strong social connections. Even the World Health Organization recognizes the importance of holistic wellness. One of the guiding principles expressed in their constitution is, "Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Obviously, this goal is not exclusive to retirement, but to living a fulfilling life in general. Our time at work can facilitate this goal by providing us with physical or mental challenges, a sense of purpose and social connections with our co-workers. Some individuals experience a sense of loss when transitioning to retirement, as they lose a primary source of satisfaction.
Checklist for a rewarding and fulfilling life in retirement:
- Living a healthy and physically-active life
- Keeping your mind active
- Maintaining strong social connections
- Having a purpose
During our working years, the time we spend at work can check many of these boxes; however, when you are no longer working there can be a void in one or more of these areas. Ensuring you are living a balanced life pre-retirement and achieving these objectives through non-work related activities can help make the transition to retirement much easier.
Are you living a healthy and physically-active life?
An essential element of a rewarding retirement is being in good physical health. We spend a significant amount of time planning for financial freedom in retirement, but we also have to ensure we are working towards strong physical health. Poor health can derail many of the plans you have for retirement and can impact your independence. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that incorporates a healthy diet and regular exercise both during and before retirement is essential for a rewarding and active life.
If you are working in a physically-strenuous job, it is likely that your activity level may decline after you leave work. Alternatively, those in a more sedentary occupation may find retirement provides more time and opportunity to be physically active. Regardless of your situation, the focus on being physically active should be intentional and needs to become part of a balanced life before it’s time to retire.
Regardless of your fitness level, aging impacts everyone. Appropriate planning is required to prepare for declining health and the unexpected. Do you have plans in place for your continuing care needs? Do you want to live independently at home as long as possible? Have you saved or prepared for supportive living or long-term care? Ensure you set up both an Enduring Power of Attorney and Personal Directive. These documents will provide direction for your family, should the unexpected happen, by providing authority to someone to make decisions for you in the case of physical or mental incapacity.
Are you keeping your mind active?
In addition to physical health, strong mental health is a key element of living a rewarding life in retirement. Keeping your mind strong is important for maintaining independence and ensuring you are living your best life as long as possible.
Just as your physical body needs regular nourishment and exercise to stay healthy, so does your mind. You are never too old to learn something new. Retirement can provide you with the time you never had previously to pursue new hobbies and challenges. Whether it's pottery, ballroom dancing, woodworking, learning a new language or playing a musical instrument, new hobbies and experiences can keep your mind engaged and challenged.
Even just indulging in cognitive activities, such as solving puzzles and playing games, can keep your brain active. Word searches, crosswords, Sudoku puzzles and card games are just some of the cognitive activities that can keep your mind engaged.
Do you have strong social connections?
We often take for granted the relationships we have with our co-workers. The loss of those daily interactions cannot be understated. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown us the devastating impact that social isolation can have on our mental health. Whether it was residents in long-term care not being able to see their loved ones, grandparents unable to hug their grandchildren, or individuals suddenly working from home and no longer interacting daily with their co-workers, the impact of COVID-19 isolation has taken a huge toll on our collective mental health.
Having friends and developing new relationships contributes to a sense of belonging and well-being. Social interaction improves physical and emotional health and can increase both length and quality of your life.
Do you have a purpose?
While we are in our working years, our employment or profession often provides us with much of our identity and purpose. Employment can provide structure and a reason to get up in the morning. The transition to retirement can be difficult if we feel like we’ve lost our meaningfulness. Living a balanced life and having other pre-retirement interests that support our desire to make a difference can make this transition easier.
If capitalized on, retirement can provide even more time and opportunity to discover our true selves and our purpose. Whether we choose to develop our creativity, deepen our spirituality, or give back to our community or those in need, living a retirement with purpose can provide us with a reason for being and contentment.
Activities that support a rewarding retirement
It’s not surprising that the activities we commonly associate with retirees and living a life of leisure check many of the boxes above. Traditional retirement activities such as golf, travel and volunteering are fulfilling and can help retirees achieve happiness and contentment post-career. Some of the activities that support a rewarding retirement are:
- Volunteering or teaching others
Helping organizations you care about, providing services to those in need, or sharing your knowledge with others can help keep your body and mind fit, provide social connections with others and give you a purpose. Being able to give back to others is a great way to check all the boxes when it comes to living a rewarding life in retirement.
- Connecting with nature
Getting back to nature is a great way to enrich your time in retirement. Nature affords us a great backdrop for physical activity, an opportunity to learn more about the world around us, quality time alone or with others, and a spiritual connection with nature. Research has shown a strong correlation between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. In a 2015 Harvard Health Publishing study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that contributes to repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions. They also found that calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and stress levels.
Spending time in nature, with others or on our own, is a great way to stay physically active, improve our mental well-being and connect with something bigger than ourselves.
During your working years, your opportunity for travel is often limited due to time constraints, schedules, or work and family commitments. Time away is often used to simply rest and recharge, or to get things done around the house.
Assuming you have the financial means and are in good health, travelling in retirement can be incredibly fulfilling. Whether it’s immersing yourself in a new culture, learning different customs, trying a variety of foods, using foreign currency, or even driving on the other side of the road, travel provides an opportunity to keep your mind engaged with many new learnings and experiences.
Many people plan travel around a physical accomplishment in a foreign country. Whether it’s completing a marathon, trekking up Machu Picchu, or biking through the vineyards of France, active travel provides motivation to train and increase your level of physical activity, not to mention the sense of accomplishment when the goal is achieved. Group travel adventures and cruises can provide opportunities for social connection with other like-minded individuals. Spiritual pursuits and visits to places of religious significance are also a key purpose of travel, providing us with a deeper connection to the world around us.
Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to achieve many, if not all, of the requirements for a rewarding and fulfilling retirement.
- Working after retirement
Working because you have to and working because you want to can have very different psychological outcomes. A recent survey of retirees conducted by Fidelity Investments indicated that 28 per cent of retirees worked after transitioning to retirement. Of those, 52 per cent indicated it was to keep them mentally or physically active, 46 per cent indicated it was to keep them busy, 45 per cent also said it was for financial reasons. Other reasons cited included: a sense of purpose; social interaction; keeping current with recent developments; and for the workday routine. In other words, financial reasons were not the main reason retirees chose to work.
Choosing to work part-time or in a different capacity or occupation once you are retired can meet many of the needs that your previous full-time work life provided, not to mention, put a little extra cash in your pocket.
Living a balanced life before and after retirement
Although our checklist applies to life in retirement, you can see that all of these goals apply to living a fulfilling and rewarding life both before and after you have stopped working. Having balance with these activities before retirement will make the transition into retirement much easier. You will have had a head start in focusing on what your passions and purpose in retirement will be.
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