Sure, money is important, and having our health is critical, but the currency through which we really conduct our lives is time. What we give our attention to becomes our reality, whether that’s worrying about news headlines or completing safari-themed jigsaw puzzles. Add in the simple fact that our lives are finite and time becomes an invaluable, diminishing resource with escalating value.
Even though time is our most precious, finite commodity, we do not consistently act with our values and priorities, and then wonder why we aren’t more fulfilled. Rather than merely spending time on distractions and low priorities because they are avoiding hard conversations and decisions, below are five ways happy retirees invest their time to optimize life, holistic wellness, and happiness in retirement.
1. Identifying Priorities
Facing the music on what is and isn’t actually getting done is uncomfortable at first, but is a great stress reliever in the long run. You can’t do everything, so pausing to identify a narrow scope of priorities with doable goals allows you to say what you’re not doing in equal balance with what you are doing.
If you owe someone a walk-back or an apology, tear off that adhesive bandage and reset expectations! As an example, I just declined an invitation to co-chair the fundraising committee at my synagogue and, instead, confirmed my continued participation as a committee member. The pragmatism of that — right-sizing the balance of my values and my commitments — felt great.
Recommended Action: Assess yourself and see what you’re spending time on that you don’t want to be or is simply unrealistic.
Pro Tip: If you’re on screens scrolling or flipping channels over an hour per day, you might want to reconsider that expenditure of your attention.
2. Experiencing Gratitude
We experience gratitude through meaningful relationships and points of contact. For some people that’s sharing a laugh with a friend, for another it could be writing a thank you note, and for yet another person it might be having a moment immersed in the divinity of the natural world.
We either design moments of lightness, levity, and pleasure into our time or we don’t.
Recommended Action: Identify a person for whom you feel gratitude and get them on the calendar within the next 2 weeks — whether it’s a walk or a Zoom call. Tell them what you appreciate about them. Then, book the next such moment with whoever feels right, and so on.
Pro Tip: Start with an easy relationship. With practice, you’ll be feeling and expressing more gratitude for the good you have.
3. Focusing On The Positive
In her extensive work on happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky of UC Riverside points to the importance of taking the long view rather than obsessing over perfection or constant happiness.
Spiritually grounded optimism and recognizing that things go imperfectly but eventually work out for the better allows for resilience. It’s fun to play the game of life with the understanding that “you can’t win ‘em all,” and you just want to make meaningful progress on the right track over time.
Recommended Action: Create a doable stretch goal for yourself over the next year. For example, “2023 is the year of deeper connection with my siblings,” and plug in actions on that theme.
Pro Tip: Communicate your big picture theme with the stakeholders who you’ll be bringing with you on the ride to enlist support and set expectations.
4. Playing To Strengths
There’s plenty to be said for novelty and getting out there to experience new things. Pushing yourself to learn provides a special stimulation. Do that! But there’s another form of happiness in retirement associated with a focus on, and an expression of, who you already are and what you do well.
It’s fulfilling to feel a comfortable grasp of your strengths, wielding their integrities deliberately and effectively. Developmental theorist Erik Erikson’s time-tested perspective points to the final phase of life as one where knowing what you contribute provides the ultimate enjoyment.
Recommended Action: Write down a list of your strengths in one column, and then write down where and when you express them in real-time in a second column. Assess where you could take those things further.
Pro Tip: To deepen your perspective and create other opportunities to express your strengths, discuss your two-column assessment with three people you know. They’ll have insights to add for you.
Investing in people proves to make a difference for the difference-makers themselves. In a study conducted from 2016–2018, Age Wave and Merrill Lynch found that 74 percent of people included “making a positive impact on society” in their definition of a life well-lived.
While the slippery slope of “too busy” is always available, retirees who carve out the time to contribute to society experience the measured, deeply fulfilling kind of contentment Lyubomirsky recommends.
Recommended Action: Set a deadline to get rolling and tell someone (or an organization) about it to create the accountability you need to follow through.
Pro Tip: If you don’t know your cause yet, break your process down into four steps: Brainstorm 10 causes that interest you, rank them in terms of your interest level, research options to participate in the top three, and choose which one it’s going to be.
The formula for investing in a happy retirement is as follows:
- Identifying Priorities
- Experiencing Gratitude
- Focusing On The Positive
- Playing To Strengths
You may have noticed that these five sources of retirement happiness follow a progression. Fulfillment is a process more than a destination, and these elements work in concert to enable self-reflection, imagination, decision, and action in potentially life-changing ways. Each of us has to carve out our own case-specific, personal roads to happiness. We also must bear in mind that we can either spend our time and wonder where it went, or invest our time in ways that will make all the difference for ourselves and our people.
Read up on all of our retirement tips, including: