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10 Tips for Happy Retirement Living

Make the most of the rest of your life

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Senior couple eating chinese dumplings in city
Allison Michael Orenstein/Taxi/Getty Images
With all the talk—and concern—about dwindling retirement funds and our shaky economy, many retirees and soon-to-be-retired boomers are concerned about the financial aspects of retirement planning. But what about retirement living?

In other words, what would you like to do with the rest of your life?

Financial issues aside, there's a lot you can do to make retirement living a great time of life.

"When I was younger, I thought retirement living would be boring," says John Handler, 76, of Seattle. "But I'm taking a watercolor class, meeting new people, and I have a part-time job I like. My days have a variety I never had before."

Here are a few retirement living tips, from suggestions by Joan Carter, cofounder of Life Options Institute. As you read these tips, think about how they apply to your life.

  1. Retirement living is about more than money. Financial planners tell us to start thinking about retirement living decades before we're ready to retire, and it's good to make a retirement planning checklist about five years before your retirement date.

    While you're thinking about how much money you'll need in retirement, think about what you want your life to look like, and how you want to feel.

  2. Make life plans. It's important to plan for the non-financial aspect of retirement living by considering what will make you happy. Maybe you’ll climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, go dog sledding in Alaska, make time to write that novel you've been thinking about, or even continue to work part-time. Make a life plan and tick off your experiences as you move ahead. (And no, I'm not talking about a "Bucket List!")
  3. Find a purpose. When making your retirement living plan, look for things you can do on an ongoing basis that bring you joy and add structure to your life. This can include travel, hobbies or even training for a new career.
  4. Keep your mind sharp. "Use it or lose it" applies to your brain. If you feel the need to replace the intellectual stimulation you found at work, try learning a foreign language or a musical instrument, or join a book club. Lifelong learning offers many opportunities to keep your mind sharp. How about checking out the lifelong learning classes offered by your local community center or college?
  5. Volunteer. Getting involved in your community is a great way to give back, and it's a wonderful opportunity to interact with people and make new friends. Senior Corps offers volunteer opportunities tailored for older adults.
  6. Develop new friendships. A measurement of whether people are successful at retirement living is the strength of their social network—that includes family and friends. Check out groups that help you meet new people or join community or religious organizations that have members who share your interests. It's possible to meet people and make new friends even if it's difficult to get around.

    Did you know that friendship helps to increase longevity?

  7. Ask your spouse or partner. If you live with someone or have a close partner, retirement living becomes a shared experience. It's important to make time for you and your partner to both share your dreams—you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that your partner wants to join you on that Mt. Kilimanjaro climb, and he or she may have ideas you'll enjoy.
  8. Increase your financial stability. If you can’t afford to retire yet, what about partial retirement? This can include working part-time in your current job or finding a retirement job that's new and interesting—and will also help you earn money.
  9. Keep your spirits up. The life changes that come with retirement living can be challenging, but your attitude plays a big part in whether you'll find happiness in retirement living or not. Check in with yourself to assess your mood; if you feel sad or hopeless it's important to see your doctor or a professional counselor. Learn the signs of and senior depression (or ask a friend or family member to assess your mood) and don't be afraid to ask for help.
  10. Remain healthy. Carter brought up an old adage: A lean horse for a long race. With increasing life spans, retirement living can be a long race, so get yourself in shape. That means eating well, watching your weight and staying active. When you feel good, it's easier to stay positive and open to new experiences.

Handler, who retired at 66, says he's looking forward to his next decade of retirement living. "I wake up every morning and wonder what I'll learn today."

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