3 Retirement Fairy Tales on Social Media: To Be Happy, Don’t Believe Them!

The secret to a happy retirement can’t be found in the smiling fairy tale you see on Facebook. The fact is, while retirement has its joys, it also has its share of existential challenges. So, to be happy, be realistic, and do not believe these three myths.

A woman wears butterfly wings in a dark forest.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Social media has altered our perceptions of success, relationships and even retirement. Think about those stylized photos of older adults frolicking on the beach and strolling down cobblestone streets. Yes, those photos may look great, but they’re not the whole picture.

No matter what type of designer retirement you think you have put together for yourself, bereavement, illness, ennui and financial challenges happen to everyone. No amount of wealth, success or planning can make you impervious to them … but you can prepare yourself for them. And in doing so, you may create a retirement that’s richer, more fulfilling and more real.

Leave it to a couple rambunctious, overtired children to accentuate that bit of wisdom to me. Like many parents, I read to my kids before bed. Sometimes we make up our own stories. Trouble arises, however, when they won’t fall asleep, continually ask what happens next in my story.

The boy slayed the dragon and saved his village. And then? There were no more dragons left to slay, so he got a job bagging groceries. And then? Um, he worked his way up to manager. And then? He saved enough money to open his own supermarket franchise across the kingdom. And then? A new supermarket chain arrived offering cheaper prices and put him out of business. And then? To pay bills, he resorted to starring in commercials for whole life insurance and annuities. And then?

What a pertinent question: And then? What happens as we all “live happily ever after” in retirement?

In the era of Facebook and other social media, life is treated like a fairytale. People tend to project an image far better than the one we authentically experience. For retirement, a lot of attention is focused on the tip of the iceberg – the ideal lifestyle – rather than the unsentimental parts that actually make up most of one’s life.

When you scroll through your phone and see those intricately staged selfies posted by early retirees above Machu Picchu or aboard a sailboat cutting across the Caribbean, it’s hard not to revel in these stories (hey, I wish I were writing this under a cabana in the Maldives too!) and ignore the inconvenient parts of life, dismissing them as misfortunes that won’t happen to us.

But no one can escape the “and thens” of life: health issues, unexpected hardships, financial misfortunes, changing interests and goals, death.

As we work toward creating a more ideal life (opens in new tab), it’s easy to fall for myths about retirement. It is important to indulge your dreams and goals, but through a realistic lens. In other words, consider the whole story. That way, you avoid neglecting life right now for a future that isn’t achievable or that you find out you don’t actually want. Plus, when you humbly recognize every moment in retirement is not all sunshine and lollipops, you will better appreciate (opens in new tab) the times when it is.

Under the influence of social media, I think these are the three big retirement myths to watch out for:

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.

Jacob Schroeder, Manager of Investor Education
Manager of Investor Education, Advance Capital Management

Jacob Schroeder is the Manager of Investor Education at Advance Capital Management (www.acadviser.com/ (opens in new tab)). He is also the creator of the personal finance newsletter The Root of All (https://rootofall.substack.com/ (opens in new tab)), exploring how money shapes our lives. His goal is to help people make more informed financial decisions and live happier lives. His writing has been featured in publications such as Yahoo Finance, Wealth Management magazine, The Detroit News and, as a short-story writer, in various literary journals.