Smart Money Tips

7 Tips to a Happy Retirement Transition

“I have been working hard my whole life. I can’t even picture retirement.”

I’ve heard this from clients before. Discussing a retirement plan is a happy topic for many people, but for some, it can be a daunting task. Saving and investing in tax-advantaged accounts, analyzing optimal Social Security strategies, and building the right risk management plan might be easy enough steps to take along a financial journey. But it’s the discussions about what life might look like after you call it quits from the 9 to 5 grind that intimidates people approaching retirement.

If you are a high-achieving, goal-oriented, type-A personality, then you are more likely to have anxiety if you do not have meaningful activities, or even work, in your retirement years. “Work” and “retirement” don’t sound like they should go in the same sentence, right? But we aren’t talking about traditional full-time employment. Rather, simply engaging in tasks that stimulate your mind, senses, and social desires is critical to a happy and rewarding retirement (and any stage of life, for that matter).

If you think you might struggle with life after work in this way, here’s something you can begin thinking about right now: Reframing thoughts from “what am I retiring FROM” to “what am I retiring TO” is often a helpful mental exercise. What gets you excited each day? What activities does a fulfilling day consist of? What is your “joie de vivre” so to speak?

I have a few thoughts after helping thousands of people retire over the last 15 years. These 7 steps can help you find your retirement happy place and avoid falling victim to a retirement rut.

1. Start a List

Maybe you’ve seen the 2007, now classic, film The Bucket List where Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman cross off all the to-dos before they… you know. Your list is a bit different. You likely have decades of life ahead. That is a lot of time to make new memories with loved ones, head out on your own adventures, and simply relax and absorb new experiences.

Part of retirement planning, though, is listing out all the things you have wanted to try or do when you “just have more time.” Writing it down helps draw action. The more detailed, salient, and tangible you make your activity list, the more likely it is you will actually do them in retirement. Consider people you want to connect with, places to see, hobbies to lean into, and even just projects to complete around the home.

2. Develop a Gratitude Process

Growing scientific and medical evidence suggests that being thankful has far-reaching positive impacts on our health. People practicing gratitude are more likely to exercise, eat well, and take care of their health. Lower stress and reduced pain and inflammation are commonly seen.

And you thought retirement planning was all about the numbers! Not so. You don’t have to run through a list of, say, 100 things you are thankful for, but you should find and appreciate what is valuable to you.

As you think about retirement, write positive statements about that future period. “I will really enjoy spending more time in the morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, and not rushing off to work.”

Another good thought with action: “I am excited to reconnect with friends, family, and acquaintances.” Perhaps you have goals and projects yet to accomplish: “I’m grateful I’ll have time to work _____ project when I’m retired.” This task helps quell anxiety as you move toward life transitioning from full-time work to retirement.

3. Find a ‘Retirement Mentor’

Have conversations with friends and family who have retired ahead of you. Ask them how they transitioned emotionally during that change of life stage. What helped them? How did they fill their days at the onset of retirement? Share your own anxieties and plans.

4. Get Involved with Community Programs

Review your town’s bulletin for classes to take or groups to get involved in. Seek volunteer opportunities aligned with causes you are passionate about. I sit down with so many individuals and couples – some starting to plan for retirement, others right near the goal line, and many more in between. A common value we uncover is that they want time to be meaningful during their golden years. Being engaged in social activities with people in your community often touches on so many important aspects of an enriching retirement.

5. Build Routines

Are you a creature of habit? We all are to a certain degree, and work provides us with structure and routine. Consider finding healthy habits you can consistently build into your schedule.

When I was a regular visitor to a nearby dog park, many dog parents visited around the same time to connect. That turned out to be a fun time to chat with friends and acquaintances during the day.

What routines might work for you? Do you have grandchildren you can help get off the bus each school day? Is there a neighbor you can schedule evening walks with? These are the little things in life that creep up and grab a hold of you (in a good way). They turn into valuable memories you had no idea were being made.

6. Take Care of Your Health

I had a client who recently retired. She hired a personal trainer and joined a senior yoga class. I was excited that she was grabbing the retirement bull by its horns. She loved having these two routines to build into her schedule and working on her health and fitness. The goal wasn’t to become the ultimate specimen of health and muscle. Instead, her motivator was to simply be in shape for retirement travel.

7. Consider Reducing Your Hours

If your career allows, consider slowly reducing your hours rather than going through an abrupt change from 40+ hours on the job to suddenly no work. A dimmer switch is better than flipping a light switch in this instance. A gradual ease into retirement allows you to do a test drive to get accustomed to more free time.

Keep in mind that the concept of retirement is something new to all of us. A hundred years ago, for example, nobody retired. They worked until they couldn’t work any longer. It is ingrained in our psyche to always be working, so it takes a plan and specific intentions to thrive in retirement.

A Nod to Financial Planning

And of course… find the right planner to help you with the anxieties around financial planning. Once you have developed a solid plan that has been stress-tested, you will feel more confident in your life once the paychecks stop. A planner helps you make a checklist and develop a strategy for other key areas such as Medicare and Social Security filing, along with prioritizing which investments and accounts to draw from first.

What did I miss? If you are retired for nearing retirement, what has helped you feel ready?

Deeper Reading: Why Wait Until Your 60s to Quit Working? Here’s How You Can Retire Early