By Catey Hill
Jack Nicholson in the 2002 movie ‘About Schmidt.’
You might not enjoy retirement nearly as much as you think you will.
More retirees than ever say they are “not at all satisfied” with retirement, according to a study published this year from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The institute used data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, collected from 1998 to 2012, in which more than 20,000 people are interviewed every two years.
The number of retirees reporting just moderate satisfaction with retirement increased from 31.7% to 40.9% and those who are completely unsatisfied with retirement climbed above 10%, up from fewer than 8% in 1998. Meanwhile, the number of retirees who say their retirement is “very satisfying” has dropped from 60.5% in 1998 to 48.6% in 2012 — the first time it’s ever dipped below half.
The study authors did not investigate the reasons behind these satisfaction dips, but other studies suggest that some of the reasons may be financial. Research published in 2004 by Constantijn Panis, who has a Ph.D. in economics and is also an expert in demographic issues, found that getting payouts from a pension was positively related to retirement satisfaction. But as the number of retirees drawing on traditional pensions declined — from 1980 to 2008, the proportion of non-government, salaried workers who got a traditional pension fell from 38% to 20%— retirement satisfaction may be dipping accordingly.
And experts have other theories about this decline. Vassar Byrd, the CEO of retirement community Rose Villa Senior Living in Portland, Ore., notes that “older adults have raised their expectations considerably” about retirement. Studies show that today’s retirees want more and varied activities in retirement, including flexible jobs, than did previous generations of retirees. Plus, surveys show that boomers — who are retiring in droves in recent years — are in general less happy than members of the so-called silent generation, and that may be reflected in these numbers.
Whatever the reasons for this significant dip in retiree satisfaction, one thing is clear: there are plenty of ways you can help make sure your retirement satisfies you. Here are a few:
Stay socially connected.
Rob Pascale, a psychologist and the co-author of “The Retirement Maze,” notes that keeping up with old friends and making news ones in retirement is “extremely important” to one’s mental health in retirement. “Building up your ‘friends list’ can be extremely rewarding, because new people can open your mind to new experiences and broaden your horizons,” he says. “Try to keep most of your social interactions face to face, and don’t rely exclusively on telephone or email — these are not as emotionally beneficial as personal contact.”
Find things you love to do.
“It may sound counterintuitive, but my happiest retirees are the ones who keep themselves busy,” says David Rae, a Los Angeles-based financial planner with Trilogy Financial. That could mean anything from an encore career or a weekly bridge game, to regular vacations. “Following your interest or passions can add years to your life, and joy to your golden years.”
To determine what it is you love to do, retirement consultant Jill Weaver, author of the forthcoming book “Retire Like a Rebel,” has retirees ask themselves: “What gave you joy as a child? Was it drawing, playing the clarinet, building things?” Then “reconnect with these joys and bring them back into your adult life,” she says.
Plan how you will use your time.
Pascale, who surveyed more than 1,400 retirees for his book, says fewer than three in 10 people planned for their personal activities, travel and recreation time in retirement. And, he cautions, “without adequate planning, you have a lack of structure, and that can make you feel you have little personal control over your life.” And that can make you less motivated to do interesting things in retirement, and then “things spiral downward from there: reluctance to act can lead to negative feelings about retirement, which in turn can lead to depression and a weakened emotional well-being.”
To combat this, Pascale recommends that retirees write out detailed goals for their retirement and a plan of action to make them happen. So, for example, if you want to take a trip to Scotland, you should write that down with rough dates, an itinerary and figure out how you will pay for it. In short: “Retiring happy depends on expectations: The better you plan for retirement, the more likely you are to meet or exceed those expectations,” says Stephen Rischall, a financial adviser www.1080financial.com in Sherman Oaks Calif.