What Really Makes Retirees Happy (Hint: It Isn’t the Money)

July 3, 2017


Sixty-one percent of retirees surveyed said who they spend time with is far more important than what they are actually doing, according to WSJ Retirement Expert Maddy Dychtwald.

By Maddy Dychtwald

We’ve all heard it before: Being rich doesn’t make you happy. Why then, has our retirement planning focused almost exclusively on financial planning with little regard to life planning? For years, we have heard the message that it’s important to save for retirement to ensure our future happiness and security. No question this is true; more than ever, having financial security in retirement can bring peace of mind. But happiness? A sense of emotional well-being? Is money the primary variable?


My firm, Age Wave, recently partnered with Bank of America Merrill Lynch on a research study, “Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List” to ask this question and many more as we dug deep into leisure in retirement.

The good news is, the majority of retirees (93%) feel their life is as good or better than it was before they retired. And retirees told us that money is not the primary factor in enjoying their retirement. Sure, you don’t want to be worrying about it all the time. However, most retirees, regardless of net worth, believe they have greater freedom and flexibility to do what they want, when they want, during retirement—and that alone brings them a sense of joy and happiness.


Add to that the fact that nine out of 10 of today’s retirees are having positive experiences with their leisure in retirement, no matter how much or how little money they have. Indeed, 86% of retirees report that it’s easy to find inexpensive leisure activities they enjoy doing. It might be curling up with a good book, hiking a local trail, or babysitting their grandchildren. In fact, buying things, big or small, just isn’t a large source of joy for retirees. Ninety-five percent of retirees, regardless of net worth, say they prefer experiences of all kinds to buying more things.

What is most important to retirement happiness?

Retirees tell us it’s who you’re with, not what you do. Sixty-one percent of retirees told us who they spend time with is far more important than what they are actually doing. For example, one focus group participant told us, “Before retirement, my identity was primarily tied to my work. Now, I define myself by what I do and, even more important, who I spend my time with. I love hanging out with my grandkids. And, I have become close friends with a group of women I hike with. Life couldn’t be richer.”

We also found that while there is often a period of transition into retirement that can be a bit bumpy, once retirees settle into their more “time affluent” lifestyle and no longer have to deal with the daily stress and grind of the workplace, they enter a “freedom zone,” where they have more fun, less stress and worry, a strong sense of freedom, and overall emotional well-being.

The findings of our study aren’t to suggest that money isn’t important or that saving for retirement isn’t crucial, but rather that, in these tumultuous times we live in, Americans could benefit from taking a more holistic view to their retirement planning—moving well beyond just assets and accounts to thinking about what makes them feel happy, gives them a sense of purpose, and focuses on who and what really matters in their lives.

URL: https://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2016/11/27/what-really-makes-retirees-happy-hint-it-isnt-the-money/

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