What's the theme song for your retirement years?

Ever get a song stuck in your head that won't stop playing? Next time that happens to you, rather than just being annoyed by it, try using the song to inspire you. Music can give us the motivation or solace to get through the worst of times, and help us celebrate the best of times. Let's see just how music can help us make the most of our retirement years.

I was inspired to think about retirement theme songs while I was reading Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations, a recent report from Merrill Lynch/Bank of America in collaboration with Age Wave. This report included profiles of four types of working retirees, along with the soundtracks that applied to their lives:

  • "Driven achievers" describes about 15 percent of the working retired population. These individuals are satisfied with work and feel as if they're at the top of their game. Many own a business or are self-employed, and they've actively planned to work in retirement. Their retirement soundtrack, according to the report: "Forever Young" by Rod Stewart.
  • "Caring contributors" comprise about 33 percent of working retirees. They seek to give back to their communities or worthwhile causes, often work for nonprofit organizations, and are highly satisfied with their work. Many volunteered even before they retired. Their retirement soundtrack: "The Best Is Yet to Come" by Frank Sinatra.

Both of these groups are likely to feel financially prepared for retirement.

  • "Life balancers" is the term used to identify about 24 percent of working retirees. These retirees want to keep working primarily for the workplace friendships and social connections they've developed, but they definitely need the extra money, too. Few thought about working before they retired, and they're less likely to feel financially prepared for retirement compared to the first two groups. In retirement, they seek work that's fun and not stressful, and they often just work part time. "Take It Easy" by the Eagles describes their lifestyle.
  • "Earnest earners" sums up the remaining 28 percent of working retirees. These individuals need income to pay their bills, and they're the least satisfied of the four groups with their work. Many have frustrations and regrets regarding having to work in their later years, but they did little to prepare for retirement and very few feel financially secure. "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon & Garfunkel best describes their situation.

Comparing the outcomes of the four groups reveals a common theme: Those who take responsibility for planning their retirement years are more likely to be happy. So perhaps the last group could boost their motivation for retirement planning by using "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The Animals as their theme song. Here are some relevant lyrics:

We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do, we gotta get out of this place, girl, there's a better life for me and you

The Merrill Lynch report inspired me to ask some people I know who are doing quite well in their retirement years about the song or songs that inspire them. Here's a sample of the responses I got:

A retired publishing executive who "drove a desk" for 30 years now wants to farm, get her hands dirty and be active in the environmental movement. "Out in the Country" by Three Dog Night inspires her with these lyrics:

Before the breathin' air is gone, before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime, out where the rivers like to run, I stand alone and take back somethin' worth rememberin'

A very active couple who've been married for more than 50 years named several songs that move them. "You're Still The One" by Shania Twain helps them look forward to each day while remembering their shared past of hard work and sacrifice:

Looks like we've made it
, look how far we've come, my baby
, we mighta took the long way
, we knew we'd get there someday, they said, "I bet they'll never make it"
, but just look at us holding on
, we're still together, still going strong

"Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," written by George Gershwin and performed by a number of artists, inspires a seventy-something portrait artist who's lived a full life ... so far:

Life is just a bowl of cherries, don't take it serious, life's too mysterious, you work, you save, you worry so, but you can't take your dough, when you go, go, go

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John inspires a seventy-something editing executive to return to her writing roots:

Oh I've finally decided my future lies, beyond the yellow brick road

A husband-and-wife team I know ran a successful accounting practice for many years. Now they're slowly winding down their business, a form of phased retirement. "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin describes how they feel now:

In every life we have some trouble, when you worry you make it double, don't worry, be happy

What's my own retirement theme song? "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" by Cat Stevens from the movie Harold and Maude really sums it up for me:

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out, and if you want to be free, be free, 'cause there's a million things to be, you know that there are

What's your retirement theme song?

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    View all articles by Steve Vernon on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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