Is happiness really what we’re all after in retirement?

Life after work for women. As a client commented to me - my only KPI should be 'am I happy'?

By Megan Giles, Retirement Transition Consultant.

I posted a quote on my Facebook page recently “my only KPI should be am I happy” and interestingly it stimulated quite a lot of discussion! This was a quote taken from a recent conversation with one switched-on and highly successful lady who was looking forward to the change of motivators and drivers in retirement. i.e. we get to focus on what is important to us rather than what motivates our bosses. This, however, raised a question with others - is it actually healthy to strive to be ‘happy’ (i.e. cheerful) all of the time?

In big organisations the focus tends to be on results - increased volume, greater stakeholder satisfaction, higher profits etc. We may feel that the business strategies are not aligned with our personal values, and the cynic in us predicts that the latest and greatest idea will never work (again…). As you’ve probably found for yourself, this can actually be quite de-motivating -‘remind me why we’re writing this business case when we’ve got waiting lists longer than my arm’. We therefore anticipate greater happiness (and certainly less frustration) in retirement because we no longer have to be responsive to the latest ‘pop term’ or political whim.

But is ‘happyness’ what we are truly seeking? Can we really be happy all the time? And if I’m pretending that everything is hunky-dory all of the time, will that make it more difficult for me to ask for help when things are tough?

Being in that moment of happiness is a wonderful thing – that deep belly laugh can be invigorating and that special event can make you smile when you think of it even years later.

Happiness vs fulfillment. What are we really seeking to ensure a fulfilling and meaningful retirement?

But do we want to strive to be happy all of the time? If feeling happy is a measure of success, does that inadvertently mean that we are a failure if we are not feeling happy? I think that it is a valid question and there is research to support this (Seligman, 2002).

We all experience hardships, things don’t always go to plan and sometimes we simply have an ‘off’ day. This doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with us. Sad moments remind us to truly appreciate the good in the world, and setbacks enable us to learn and grow. Until we find ourselves out of our comfort zone we never really know how we are going to react. 

My husband lost his job during the GFC. I had never been much of a saver and we were reduced to living on one salary. Being faced with redundancy is tough and there were some low moments. But what we were able to do was agree on what was important to us. For us at that time, living in London (and admittedly without a mortgage or kids), it was travel. We amazed ourselves with how far we could make the pound stretch and the trips abroad that were possible when we became clear on our priorities. It could have been a really miserable period in our lives, but instead we chose to make the most of the circumstances and created so many unforgettable memories (along with some questionable cost-saving strategies!).

It is the richness of human experience, both positive and negative, that shapes who we are and our values.

So perhaps we should instead focus on fulfilment. Fulfilment refers to a deeper sense of satisfaction about the purpose in one’s life (*). It’s about getting clear on what you value and your goals so that when life throws you a curve-ball you can respond from a position of strength. Visiting a loved one in hospital may create a sense of sadness and helplessness, particularly if they are in pain, however, you may be content in the knowledge that you are able to; visit them, ensure that they do not feel alone, and support them in their recovery. You may not be happy in that moment but you can feel confident that in time a sense of happiness will return.

So no, striving to be happy 100% of the time is unlikely a healthy pursuit, however, knowing what makes you happy and lights you up is critical in creating a lifestyle in retirement that is meaningful to you. As women we tend to take care of others before ourselves and so it is important to reflect on what brings us joy and ensure that this is weaved into the decisions we make. In being true to ourselves we are then in a better position to give to others, thus creating a sense of connectedness and ultimately fulfilment in life after work.

This week I'd love to hear from you - what are the things that you enjoy, that make you smile but that you just never quite get around to doing (it seems that something else always comes up or someone else needs something from you)? And what can you do to inject a little bit more of that into your life? Comment below or jump over to the Facebook page and share your thoughts there!

Until next time!


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Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.