4 Tips for Creating a Meaningful Retirement

Older couple on tennis court

To paraphrase an automobile ad: This isn’t your father’s retirement.

Retirees are breaking molds and exploding stereotypes by staying more physically active, geographically mobile, and politically empowered than preceding generations. Many of them are tech-savvy, supporters of the arts, microbrewery aficionados, and world travelers – they can even be found in hip coffee shops, laptops open, as they browse the news, monitor their stocks, earn a little cash with a side hustle. Few of today’s 65-and-older crowd see retirement as a sudden transition into a life of leisure, spent in a lounge chair on the beach or playing shuffleboard in a retirement community somewhere – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Today’s retirees are simply looking for more from their retirement.

So how do you stay happy and engaged post-career? Here are four tips for living a meaningful life in retirement.

1.   Live with purpose

Although money matters are on the minds of most retirees, it’s not their most important concern. Many of those who leave the work force after 30 or 40 years feel a little rudderless when their time is finally their own. It’s important to find a pursuit that will occupy not only your time but also your mind. Research has found that people with purpose live longer, happier lives.

Volunteering is certainly one way to define “purpose” – and numerous studies and articles link happiness to helping others. Consider combining an interest with a volunteer opportunity – like protecting sea turtles in Costa Rica or volunteering on an organic farm here or abroad. Local governments often need volunteer involvement to get things done, and various schools and social services benefit from the patience and hard work of their volunteers. Your imagination is almost the only limit here.

Many retirees find that their volunteer positions – or even their hobbies – become platforms from which to launch second-act careers. The skills you already own can become a lucrative consulting job or a part-time source of extra income. Or consider turning a hobby or interest into a side hustle. As Chris Guillebeau, author and world traveler notes, “Starting a side hustle is like ‘playing entrepreneurially,’ without making a huge commitment. The stakes are low and the potential is high.” (His podcast is fun and informative, and his Side Hustle School website is chock-full of ideas and resources. Don’t worry: You won’t be the only over-35 person listening, reading, or contributing.)

2.   Optimize your health

One of the best ways to stay happy in retirement is to stay healthy. And staying healthy, according to research by both Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic, means paying attention to the body-mind connection through exercise, diet, and meditation. The old saying “You are what you eat” extends also to what you do and what you think.

Avoid skipping the gym. You’ve read it just about everywhere: Exercise releases endorphins that reduce stress, improve self-esteem, decrease the risk of depression, and increase feelings of well-being. Staying active as we age is especially important, and varying your routine around the four types of exercise you need to stay healthy (aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility training) can help you stay stronger longer.

Customize your plate. Eating healthy to lose weight or to manage various physical health conditions is common sense, but did you know that your diet also affects your brain health? There are many things you can do now to help defend against cognitive decline. So, in an effort to keep body and mind together, consider working with a nutritionist and/or a personal trainer. Both can work with you to customize a diet and exercise program according to your own and your family’s health history so that by the time you retire, you could be taking significant strides to supporting your optimal health and well-being.

Meditate to boost your brain. Meditation isn’t only sitting on a cushion and chanting “ohm.” Tai chi, qi gong, and yoga, for instance, are all meditative activities that incorporate movement and balance with concentration, focus, and mindfulness – all of which positively impact cognition and emotional regulation, as well as providing some physical benefits, such as improved flexibility and strength while reducing inflammation.

3.   Focus on cultivating your relationships

While grandchildren are a big focus for many retirees, maintaining a variety of social connections is vital to a happy, healthy retired life. From strengthening your relationship with your spouse or partner to increasing your involvement with your faith community, or meeting new people through neighborhood committees and volunteer opportunities, or taking classes in something you’re interested in, staying connected with others prevents isolation and fosters support networks. Even socializing online has health benefits. So, write an email, “waste” time on social media, or play a few games – board or digital. Just three hours of social activity a day is enough to boost your mood and help you stay mentally and emotionally healthy.

4.   Create a legacy

Many of us want to feel we’ve made an impact on the world that will last after we’ve gone. Preserving an inheritance for your loved ones is only one way to leave a legacy. Here are a few more ways to extend your influence and generosity that you might not have considered before:

Start a private foundation. If you’re passionate about a cause or new ideas or just helping others in a big way, you can start your own foundation. While they require a bit of planning and energy, they can also offer tax benefits. (Contact an advisor about how to get started on your foundation.)

Commission or donate art. Become a patron of the arts, even in a small way, by commissioning a piece for your personal collection or donating to a larger commission for a public space. If you collect art you might also consider either donating it or loaning it to museums and galleries for display, giving many people the chance to experience it for themselves (without tromping through your home).

Write a memoir. Whether you write it just for your family or for wider publication, your memoir could become a way of sharing family stories, teaching others about something you’ve learned, or providing a way for you to reflect on your life’s path – any and all of which potentially have value.

How ever you define “meaning,” most experts agree that making a plan for incorporating meaningful activity into your retirement years will help keep you youthful in your outlook as well as your health. So go ahead: Break some old molds and forge some new connections. This is your time, so make the most of it.

You have the vision. We can help you realize it. Talk to a financial advisor today!