How to Create and Live a Fulfilling Retirement

Last Updated Apr 25, 2011 9:12 AM EDT

Ten thousand Americans are retiring daily. And the sad truth is that most people spend less time planning for retirement than they do for a vacation. Anxiety about our futures is a common ailment, especially among the millions of Americans rapidly approaching retirement. And this ailment isn't unique. The age group 55-64 was the fastest growing over the last decade in the U.S., Europe and Japan.

Unfortunately, people have good reasons for their anxiety. Here are some sad facts:
  • Retiring is as stressful as getting married, losing your job or having a close family member become ill.
  • The highest suicide rate in the U.S. for any segment of the population is men over 70 (50 percent higher than the suicide rate for teenagers). The speculation is that these men have lost their life purpose and their zest for living.
  • Only 35 percent of retirees have a written plan for their future finances. This is unfortunate because it has been consistently demonstrated that having a plan is among the most important habits of the most successful retirees. Those who have a plan, both for fiscal and non-fiscal aspects, and who frequently revisit and update that plan, are the most satisfied with their retirement lives. Successful retirement is no different than successful investing: Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
  • Studies have shown that those with a positive attitude lived 7.5 years longer on average and were significantly less likely to become frail as they age. Attitude significantly influences the quality of your relationships, how you think about your financial security and how you respond to health-related issues -- all of which are critical to a fulfilling retirement. In fact, a University of California-San Diego School of Medicine study found that people who think they're aging well aren't necessarily the healthiest individuals. Optimism and effective coping styles were found to be more important to aging successfully than traditional measures of health and wellness, suggesting that physical health isn't the best indicator of successful aging, attitude is.
  • The average retiree spends 43 hours a week watching TV, while less than 4 percent of retirees invest more than four hours per week helping others and only 27 percent do community service. This is a particularly sad fact because, as one of the people interviewed in the new book Your Retirement Quest points out: "He learned about halfway through his life that the true measure of a person is not related to the blessings, small or large, with which they have been endowed, but rather how they are used in the betterment of those they can touch." In other words, the happiest people on the planet are "other centered."
  • The average person today has just 1.5 friends compared to three a decade ago. Yet, friends make a huge difference in our lives. The Pew Research Center studied and reported the effect of friendships on the satisfaction level of retirees. They found that retirees who are very satisfied with their number of friends are nearly three times more likely to be happy than those who have fewer friends and are worried about their relationships.
Here's a statistic I found particularly depressing (as a 59-year old): One-third of all men over 65 are depressed within one year of retirement. The reason is that work had been their primary source of meaning and the biggest occupier of their daytime hours. Replacing that time with activities that are both mentally challenging and/or emotionally fulfilling doesn't happen automatically.

Helping you meet the challenge of creating a mentally challenging and emotionally fulfilling retirement is the focus of Your Retirement Quest. The book provides roadmap and directions for developing a holistic plan that will enable you to live a fulfilling retirement. While financial security is an important aspect of retirement, this book focuses on the all-too-often neglected non-financial aspects. The authors also provide compelling (and perhaps surprising) data on why "it's not all about the money."

For example, the following is from a survey from the February 2010 edition of Consumer Reports:
  • Over 50 percent of retirees within the lowest net worth category (less than $250,000) reported being completely or very satisfied with retirement. Even with lesser assets, satisfaction is more than possible.
  • The level of retirement satisfaction was flat for those with any net worth greater than $1 million. More money made no difference.
  • Stress levels and issues with relationships, health, loss of identity and boredom impacted general satisfaction more than did net worth.
The first six of the book's 20 chapters provide the information you need to envision a fulfilling retirement. Chapters seven through 17 will enable you to develop the unique plan that is right for you. The last three chapters will you avoid typical pitfalls.

The book is filled with practical planning tips and worksheets that will help you think about critical choices, how to collaborate with those closest to you and guide you in putting the plan together. In my opinion, along with Mitch Anthony's The New Retirementality, if you are care about having a fulfilling retirement this book is a must read.

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    Larry Swedroe is director of research for The BAM Alliance. He has authored or co-authored 13 books, including his most recent, Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett. His opinions and comments expressed on this site are his own and may not accurately reflect those of the firm.

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