Retired and happy? Is this why?

Some people thrive in retirement, some dread it and struggle to adjust, while others opt to never really retire. 

In YourLifeChoices’ 2019 Insights Survey, which was answered by 7760 respondents, we asked those who said they had not retired when they planned to do so. Sixteen per cent said at 65, 13.4 per cent said at 70, and a surprising 24 per cent said at 70-plus. Which poses the questions: do they need to work for financial reasons, are they happy to work, or just too scared to retire?

Psychologist Michael Longhurst set out to understand retirement through his Retire 200 research program, which involved interviews with 200 retirees. He concluded that when it comes to planning behaviour, we generally fall into one of two types of people. There are those who are naturally goal and strategy-oriented, and who are therefore more likely to have action plans in place to meet their goals. Then there are those who are averse to planning and prefer to live life as it comes.

On the basis of the information gathered, Mr Longhurst identified eight factors that had helped those who had best adjusted to retirement. They are outlined in his book, Enjoying Retirement. 

The factors were:

– being able to retire of your own free will

– being able to retire at age 55 or younger

– being financially independent

– engaging in ‘purposeful activities’ for more than five hours per week

– having someone on whom you could rely for emotional support

– proactively maintaining your health through exercise, diet and regular medical check-ups

– planning for retirement – both financially and for an active lifestyle

– receiving pre-retirement advice or education.

Mr Longhurst wrote that those who planned for their retirement reported lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

He says: “Interestingly, the research findings indicated that it is not just financial planning that is relevant, it is also important to make plans for the type of lifestyle you wish to have. 

“For example, many of those on the Retire 200 program observed that planning for activities well before retirement had made their transition to retirement much less of a jolt. Their rationale was that if you became involved in a number of activities before you retired, there were more common factors linking your ‘pre-retirement life’ to your life in retirement.”

He warned that pre-retirement advice or education was invaluable. But where to get it? 

“People commencing retirement usually do so having very little objective knowledge of what that lifestyle will entail,” he wrote. “This is partly due to the fact that there has been very little accurate information on the effects of retirement lifestyles readily available.”

Most people automatically turn to retired friends and family for advice and inspiration, but people’s values and expectations vary widely. “What may be a satisfying retirement lifestyle for one person may turn out to be unsatisfactory for another,” Mr Longhurst wrote.

The research found that those who were able to source pre-retirement advice, or who attended pre-retirement training programs, reported significantly lower levels of depression than those who received no pre-retirement advice or training.

What do other experts in the field have to say?

Financial planner Emmett Wilkinson says retirement must be viewed as a journey, not an event.

He says: “Try to plan ahead. Any plan has to be based on assumptions and these will always be challenged by reality. It is therefore vital that a review is an integral part of the plan, particularly with regard to finances.”

Personal finance guru Noel Whittaker says in his book, 25 Years of Whitt & Wisdom: “Two of the major factors that make for a happy retirement are being involved in a social network and having a sense of giving back to the community.”

A 2018 report, The New Social Contract: a blueprint for retirement in the 21st century, by the Aegon Centre for Longevity and Retirement, says lifelong learning, longer working lives and flexible retirement are keys to helping people stay economically active for longer and be able to transition into retirement on their own terms.

The report also urged a positive view of ageing “that celebrates the value of older individuals and takes full advantage of the gift of longevity”.

What do you say?

YourLifeChoices member Stekmer sums it up well and can have the last word: “Once the finances are in order and you leave a working life behind, the real, and arguably harder side of retirement, appears – how to replace all that work gave us on a platter, eg, structure, routine, engagement, camaraderie, predictability, etc. It can be an exciting and challenging time as we seek new meaning and purpose. Once the big holiday is over, the roses all pruned, the enjoyment of golf and fishing and reading books exhausted – the real challenges begin.”

Were you able to access pre-retirement education? Did you talk with retired family and friends? Was the advice valuable or confusing?

Enjoying Retirement, by Michael Longhurst, is published by Hachette Australia. RRP $29.99.

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Written by Janelle Ward


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