What Dampens Happiness?
Since the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, the panelists spent an equal amount of time dissecting the things that will dampen happiness. One of the biggest problems Holland sees is clients who have adult children not yet fully launched. “If a child begins to come back to the well too often for financial support, helping the client say no is a very important job for the financial advisor,” she said. “Helping those parents launch those children before 30 and helping them say no and helping them learn to create those skill sets is a very powerful influence in being happy in retirement.”

What about buying that sports car? Or moving to the beach cottage you enjoyed so much once a year while you were working?

“If you buy a sports car and it gives you entrée into a new social group, if it becomes a hobby that increases your probability of interactions with other people who are interested in the same kind of thing and that you enjoy talking with, then that’s worth doing,” Finke said. But simply buying the sports car or the RV or the vacation home is not going to lead to happiness and satisfaction, he continued.

“The problem with the working years is we want to get away from social interactions because we get enough of it during our weekdays, but in retirement we can easily become more socially isolated to the point where we actually crave more of those types of social interactions,” he said, and suddenly that beautiful beach cottage is a detractor. “We’re not very good at imagining what’s going to make us happy in the future. Very often what we do is we look at what makes us happy today, but retirement is different. And what makes us happier is a new lifestyle, a new lifestyle that gives us the opportunities for social interaction, for living a more meaningful life. Going out to eat with friends, or going on vacations, or going to an event, these are things that actually provide true happiness in retirement.”

Linday agreed and gave a hat tip to a close friend who encouraged him to find a new way of thinking about retirement in the years before the actual event. “He said, ‘Don’t think about retirement as going off and being on those white clouds and being fed bonbons and 18-year-old scotch. Think of it as taking a new job. A very good job with great benefits. And approach it the same way. Do your research, ask more questions than you make statements and give answers.’”

In Linday’s case, having a daily goal has contributed far more to his happiness than having more money in the bank, he said. “At the end of the day, I want to be able to look back and say there’s something I did or accomplished. Now it may be as simple as going out and weeding the garden. But this idea that retirement is six Saturdays and a Sunday, if you do that I think you will find yourself, if not dissatisfied, you will be totally numb to the wonderful retirement experience.”

And though the word “relationships” began sounding like a mantra, not all of them are created equal.

“Friendships and maintaining them outside of the workplace is every bit as important as socking another $500 into your 401(k),” Finke said. “The one relationship that does not provide greater life satisfaction in retirement is the relationship you have with your children. This is a bit surprising. The frequency of contact with your children is not a source of greater life satisfaction. Even the depth of the relationship is not a source of life satisfaction as it is with your spouse and as it is with your friends. I see a lot of retirees thinking they’re going to spend a lot more time with their children, and that relationship is going to deepen in retirement, when the reality is there’s not a whole lot of data to back that up.”      

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