Being Rich in Retirement vs. Being Happy: There’s a Difference

Money obviously plays a role, but how much you have isn’t as important as the quality of your life when it comes to health, relationships and activities.

An older couple happily dance in the surf at a beach.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The concept of “investing” is often associated solely with monetary pursuits. It has become synonymous with growing a portfolio, aimed at securing a future filled with affluence. However, in my experience, this one-dimensional interpretation of wealth fails to capture its full essence. Our understanding of wealth needs to evolve, going beyond the confines of financial accumulation, to encompass the necessary conditions for a well-rounded, successful retirement.

The prospect of an ideal future isn’t encapsulated by a mere stack of hundred-dollar bills. Instead, it’s shaped by the quality of life that these financial resources can provide. When there is a pursuit of wealth, money is assumed to be the definitive goal. However, what is often being pursued is the atmosphere that money can create — the lifestyle and environment we envision for our future self — that truly matters.

You could possess all the wealth in the world, but without the cornerstones of a fulfilling life such as health, income, cognitive ability, thriving relationships and a nurturing environment, its value becomes questionable. What benefit do stacks of hundred-dollar bills offer if they are not instrumental in manifesting a meaningful life?

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In this new paradigm, wealth extends beyond the mere accumulation of money. It becomes about the life you construct around it, the “atmospheric condition” you create for yourself.

Having money doesn’t automatically grant you a steady income, and even with an income, if the other crucial elements of your life are lacking, the allure of monetary wealth diminishes. This perspective underscores the idea that an ideal future isn’t marked by how much money you possess, but by the conditions you’ve cultivated around yourself.

Don’t get me wrong: Money plays an integral role, but in my 30 years of experience, I know that we need to exercise caution in our perception of wealth and the significance we ascribe to money. Instead of seeing investing solely as your contribution toward your financial future, consider it to mean an investment in your ideal future.

What does your life look like in two or three decades?

If you stop to think and imagine your life two or three decades from now, you likely see people and activities. There are activities that will occupy your time, requiring good health and cognitive abilities. The people participating alongside of you in these activities are the relationships you have invested in over time.

It is the overall “atmospheric condition” that defines your retirement and offers a keen understanding of what is genuinely important. This vision serves as a guiding light for investing in other aspects of your life that will lead to better health, nurturing relationships, a stable income and, essentially, the life you’ve envisioned for yourself.

I had a client who was very successful and was the embodiment of the rags-to-riches tale that everyone admires. I saw his commitment to the business and his pursuit of wealth. I got to know him well over the years and watched him burn the candle at both ends.

He became very wealthy and had everything he desired, but as he got closer to retirement, his health choices caught up with him. He was diagnosed with various lifestyle-related diseases, and soon his life was no longer his own. It was now governed by countless doctors’ appointments, and he became too sick to enjoy any of it.

Everything he was working toward was replaced with hospital visits. His goals for traveling the world were replaced with quiet evenings spent alone. His wealth, which was his life’s work, was now being spent on recuperating his health.

The Dalai Lama said, “Man sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.” A healthy lifestyle lays the foundation for our capacity to live fully and pursue our ambitions actively.

Think of preventive health care as an investment

The importance of investing in health cannot be overstated. This can take the form of hiring a health coach, consulting a functional doctor, following a balanced diet or maintaining a regular exercise routine.

Instead of viewing preventive health as an expense, view it as an investment in your future self, securing the quality of life we all crave. I recorded a podcast on this recently with my good friend Regan Archibald.

Simultaneously, investing in relationships is paramount. Relationships, whether they are family, friends or romantic, all form an integral part of our emotional support system. Investing time and energy in nurturing these relationships might involve caring for others, reaching out to friends and family or investing in others through mentorship. The rewards of these investments, though not always tangible, foster emotional well-being and personal growth.

Relationships don’t have to be monetary investments, but can be an investment of time. Either way, you must be intentional, setting aside the “what’s in it for me?” attitude and committing to “what’s in it for them?” Joe Polish’s book What’s in It for Them? goes deep into how this is done.

In parallel to investing in health and relationships, investing in income is of course critical. Accumulating wealth is one thing, but ensuring a steady flow of income is another. Starting a business or acquiring income-generating assets are foundational for having a continuous fountain of cash flow that funds your lifestyle. Cash flow affords you the freedom to retire and enjoy the life you have created for yourself.

Retirement is a time of shifting from a diversification of growth assets to a diversification of income-producing assets. In my article Financial Freedom in Retirement Is All About Cash Flow, I share my thoughts on cash flow and how income is like the water that you can’t live without.

Ultimately, the true essence of investing isn’t limited to increasing your wealth. It’s about building the “atmospheric condition” that aligns with your ideal future self. It’s about nurturing your health, cultivating meaningful relationships, ensuring a steady income and fostering cognitive ability.

Money is simply a tool

As you begin to recognize this, you gain the understanding that money is simply a tool that enables us to reach these goals and is not the goal itself. Consequently, when you start thinking about an ideal future, you embark on the path to truly manifesting your ideal future self.

Retirement should be viewed not just as a time of unemployment, but as a new chapter that is ripe with potential. A successful retirement is a culmination of careful planning and wise investments in income-oriented assets, health and relationships. It’s about spending time doing things you love, being surrounded by people you cherish, enjoying robust health and having the financial security to live comfortably.

In the end, it’s the quality of your life in retirement, not the size of your bank account, that determines your satisfaction. Only then can you truly understand and appreciate the significance of investing as a means of creating not just a wealthy, but also a meaningful, lifestyle. True wealth, therefore, is not merely an abundance of money, but the presence of all the components that make life fulfilling.

For more information on creating passive income and achieving financial freedom, visit

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Brian Skrobonja, Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®)
Founder & President, Skrobonja Financial Group LLC and Skrobonja Wealth Management, LLC

Brian Skrobonja is a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®) and Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA®), as well as an author, blogger, podcaster and speaker. He is the founder and president of a St. Louis, Mo.-based wealth management firm. His goal is to help his audience discover the root of their beliefs about money and challenge them to think differently to reach their goals. Brian is the author of three books, and his Common Sense podcast was named one of the Top 10 podcasts by Forbes. In 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, Brian was awarded Best Wealth Manager. In 2021, he received Best in Business and the Future 50 in 2018 from St. Louis Small Business.