Nothing applies to everyone. That’s one of the fascinating aspects of being a financial planner. There are however, many areas of planning where there is consistency. Take, for example, the elements that make for a happy retirement.

Research on happiness abounds. There is the Journal of Happiness and Well Being, a Journal of Happiness Studies and an International Journal of Happiness and Development, for instance. With the goal of a happy retirement nearly universal, financial planners would do well to understand the drivers of happiness.

Most of the ingredients required can be lumped into six broad categories: Health, Connection, Purpose, Growth, Play and Money.

The first thing to note about this list is that really it applies to all ages. One big difference in retirement is how people go about seeking success in these areas. For many, they derive success through employment. They have a job but they do not feel it is “work.” One key to a successful transition to retirement is to help such clients think through how they will replace their workplace as a source for fulfillment in these items.

You may also notice that when these things are lacking or are undermined in the workplace, people tend to dislike their jobs. Work becomes a four-letter word. This presents an opportunity to help clients redirect their efforts to maximize their human capital by finding better work. It also is a potential problem should a client get so focused on retiring to get out of a bad job, they are not prepared for what they face on the other side. This is the classic mistake of emphasizing retiring from something bad rather than to something good.

No matter what we do or how hard we try, we just keep getting older. Every day, we are flooded with images and messages about being healthy. It looks great on TV, but we are all affected by things we can not control, like genetics.   
Eat right and exercise your body and your brain. It is easy to say but often hard to do. The research is clear. Our lifestyle choices can help us or quite literally, kill us. Most clients do not need to go on any radical dietary change or spend hours in the gym. Paying a little more attention to what they eat and staying active can boost their health and happiness. Some encouragement for small changes can make a big difference.   

It is easy to focus on good health as a way to cut down on visits to the doctor and health-care costs, but an underappreciated benefit is that paying a little more attention to one’s physical and mental health makes success in these other areas more likely.

One of the times I remember my grandfather at his happiest, and he was usually very happy, was when I had a conversation with him while he was on his deathbed. His heart was failing and he had little time. He was downright content because he had this one nailed. His relationship with my grandmother and God were so good, it overwhelmed what was happening to his body.  

For many, this item is the most important on the list. Strong relationships yield happiness. Poor relationships yield unhappiness.

People with good relationships and real connection with their coworkers often enjoy their jobs even if their tasks are stressful, unfulfilling or dangerous. On the other hand sometimes people put so much energy into their work, they neglect or damage relationships with others, especially the people at home. This is a common source of profound regret. Put on Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in The Cradle and see if you can stop yourself from second guessing how well you have kept a balance between work life and home life.

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