Building a happy retirement

Viewing retirement as being a time of endless opportunity is the first step, says retirement expert David Kennedy. And if you're looking to start a business but think you're too old – think again: experience, networks and resilience are just three valuable qualities you can bring to the entrepreneurial world, writes Danielle McCarthy.

Building a happy retirement
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The conversation so often heard about retirement focuses on its many financial challenges. With people living longer and less government support available, careful financial planning for these valuable years can’t be understated. For some, choosing to work longer to boost their savings will help achieve greater long-term financial certainty.

But your financial wellbeing shouldn’t be your only consideration. Any planning for a rewarding retirement should also consider meaning and purpose. Remember that this is going to be a multidecade period of your life.

Positive Ageing

Psychologist Tim Sharp, author of Live Happier, Live Longer: Your Guide to Positive Ageing and Making the Most of Life, is an expert on positive ageing. Sharp is a believer in the idea that happiness can increase with age, provided you understand some of the proven inputs to your health and wellbeing, and provided you are willing to put effort into the right places. So, where should you focus?

“Firstly, in planning – determining and defining exactly what a ‘happy retirement’ would look like for you – and then clarifying exactly what you need to do to make that a reality in your life,” he says.

While acknowledging that everyone is unique, Sharp goes on to list the most common inputs to a happier and more fulfilling experience in the years following traditional employment:

  1. Ensure there is meaning and purpose in your life outside of work.
  2. Be physically fit and healthy.
  3. Think optimistically about the future and the ageing process.
  4. Develop and foster good quality relationships and connectedness within key communities.
  5. Have fun!

If these things are missing, older people may experience depression, says Sharp. “As well as all the usual causes of and contributors to depression, there are also some especially concerning ones for older people, none more worrying than isolation and loneliness. Just as good quality relationships are vital for our health and happiness, a lack of these is increasingly being viewed as one of the major health issues for our future with an ageing population.

“The good news is that as individuals, families and communities, we can recognise this and work together to do something about it,” says Sharp.

“As part of the research effort for this book, I sought a range of views by speaking to retirement coaches, workplace experts, academics, business owners, athletes, psychologists, actuaries and finance experts.”

One of the recurring themes during these interactions, Sharp says, was a growing urgency to fundamentally reinvent retirement with a definition that better serves you, as an existing or soon-to-be-retiree, and society more broadly.

Over the years, Sharp has given this topic plenty of thought. In many ways, he was ahead of his time when, in 2014, he proposed a framework referred to as ‘protirement’. In his book, he provides a positive vision for how the chronology of retirement might better play out to be a more satisfying and fulfilling transition.

“In protirement, people plan for, and conceptualise, a positive transition gradually, from full-time work to a ‘portfolio’ of employment, voluntary, social and recreational activities. I’ve no doubt this approach will become increasingly popular and, in fact, the norm,” he says.

Sharp says that while it’s important to prepare financially for retirement (or protirement), you must also prepare mentally and emotionally for growing older. “I don’t think most prepare very effectively in these areas at all ... Even if many don’t do this as well as some would like, almost everyone is doing at least something in the financial domain ... You can have all the money you like. Yet if you’re sick and tired and unhappy and lonely, then no amount of dollars in the bank will make for a happy retirement.”

The reinvention of retirement thinking requires planning, research and motivation to move towards a new reality.

So, how can you ensure a happy, fulfilling retirement? By ensuring you have something to retire to, rather than something to retire from.

This is an edited extract from End of the Retirement Age: Embracing the Pursuit of Meaning, Purpose and Prosperity 2017 © by David Kennedy. Available at and via Amazon, Booktopia, and Angus & Robertson.

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