How to Have a Happy Retirement

These eight tips for a happy retirement are backed by solid evidence.

A grandmother gives her granddaughter a piggyback ride
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Want a happy retirement? Of course, you do! The Dalai Lama himself described happiness as “the purpose of our lives.” At retirement, however, that desire often becomes an expectation. 

A white paper from Empower found that 83% of pre-retirees expect to “live their best life” in retirement. After all, it’s the moment you’ve been working toward. 

Indeed, retirees are generally happier. But it’d be wrong to think once you clock out for the last time, you can finally be happy. That’s because happiness is more than just a feeling.

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For a happy retirement, cultivate purpose

Psychologists say happiness involves both the experience of positive emotions (I’m happy it’s warm today) and a deeper sense of fulfillment and meaning in life (I made a difference volunteering). It’s about evaluating our lives as a whole, rather than momentary feelings.

If you want to be happy, you have to keep doing things that give your life meaning. While sources of happiness are personal, there are certain actions research has shown to promote well-being, purpose and connection — key ingredients for a happy retirement.

1. Nurture your relationships 

We’re social creatures. It’s undeniable relationships have a significant impact on our well-being. Look no further than Havard’s decades-long happiness study. It found that close relationships, more than money or fame, keep people happy throughout their lives.

Retirement can be a time when our social interactions wane. So, consider using it as an opportunity to broaden your social life. Call old friends. Travel to visit family. Attend community events. A happy retirement is as much about who you spend time with as what you spend your time doing.

2. Never stop moving 

Physical activity is widely recognized for its health benefits and its ability to enhance mood. Research indicates that those who enjoy retirement are often healthier. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should hit the gym every day.

In regions known as “blue zones” — where people live notably longer and report higher satisfaction with life — physical activity is baked into daily routines. Dan Buettner and his team found that the longest-lived people in blue zones don’t “exercise” in the conventional sense. Instead, their lifestyles naturally incorporate movement: gardening, kneading bread by hand and using manual tools.  

3. Find a sense of purpose  

Even if you didn’t enjoy your job, it likely provided something valuable beyond money: purpose. A sense of purpose is linked to living longer, healthier, happier lives. 

Finding purpose doesn’t require grand gestures. It can stem from hobbies, travel, family moments or even a pet. Find what matters to you through relationships, meaningful experiences, or both. Prioritizing what you care about consistently can lead to a more purposeful, fulfilling life.

4. Serve

Giving back qualifies as a source of purpose, but it’s worth discussing on its own because of its significant impact on happiness. People who give to others — through time, money or energy — tend to be much happier on average than those who don’t.

Interestingly, focusing less on oneself in retirement correlates with higher levels of happiness. One survey found that nearly 70% of retirees say being generous is an important source of happiness in retirement. 

Engaging in acts of giving, such as volunteering at a local shelter or making annual donations, can make a profound difference in the lives of others — and your own.

5. Work with a financial professional

Money may not buy happiness, but it helps, especially in retirement. At this stage, you need to fund your lifestyle without running out of money — something many Americans fear even more than death, as one study shows.

But retirement decisions can be overwhelming. Should you pay off your mortgage? How much money can you safely withdraw each year? That’s why getting help from a professional is a smart move. According to a 2021 study, people with a financial advisor are three times happier than those without one. 

6. Be curious

Wes Moss, a financial planner and author, surveyed around 2,000 U.S. households nearing or in retirement. He found that the happiest retirees shared a common trait: curiosity for new “core pursuits,” or passionate hobbies. They had, on average, four core pursuits. 

It reveals how retirement offers a chance to expand your horizons. You may want to adopt what Zen Buddhists call a “beginner's mind,” seeing things with an open mind and fresh eyes, just like a beginner. This mindset prioritizes the joy of the journey over the outcome. So, embracing new experiences, like learning a language or trying paddleboarding, can boost happiness.

7. Raise your emotional intelligence

Retirement brings significant changes. Adapting gracefully to these changes requires high emotional intelligence (EQ). This is your ability to identify and manage both your own emotions and those of others. It involves self-reflection, acknowledging the present, understanding your feelings and developing healthy coping strategies. A high EQ can enhance your capacity for empathy and deepen relationships. 

Unsurprisingly, various studies associate higher emotional intelligence with increased happiness, highlighting its importance in effectively navigating retirement’s ups and downs. 

8. Stop trying to be happy

Along with wisdom, you can add happiness to the list of things that come with age. Studies show people tend to grow happier as they grow older

One widely accepted reason is that older adults realize time is limited. They shift their focus from seeking happiness to appreciating the present. This perspective aligns with findings that gratitude is strongly and consistently linked to greater happiness. 

Fortunately, this mindset shift isn’t exclusive to aging. You can cultivate presence and gratitude through practices like meditation or journaling.

Henry David Thoreau, the American naturalist and philosopher, suggested that happiness comes when you stop actively pursuing it, writing: “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.”

So, have dinner with your family or go to a concert with friends. If you’re motivated, work part-time or volunteer at your favorite charity. Refine your backstroke or tend to your garden. 

With luck, happiness will follow. Even if it eludes you, your time won’t be wasted. You may be helping to make the world a happier place. 

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Jacob Schroeder

Jacob Schroeder is a financial writer covering topics related to personal finance and retirement. Over the course of a decade in the financial services industry, he has written materials to educate people on saving, investing and life in retirement.

With the love of telling a good story, his work has appeared in publications including Yahoo Finance, Wealth Management magazine, The Detroit News and, as a short-story writer, various literary journals. He is also the creator of the finance newsletter The Root of All (, exploring how money shapes the world around us. Drawing from research and personal experiences, he relates lessons that readers can apply to make more informed financial decisions and live happier lives.