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Happiness Before and After Retirement

Hello and welcome to the Her Retirement podcast. I am your host Lynn Toomey, and here in my podcast each week, I talk about how to live a better, more intentional, and financially secure life now, and in retirement. Whether you’re single, suddenly single or a partnered-up woman, your only sure investment is an investment in yourself and financial wellness, also known as financial security. It isn’t just a dream. It’s a decision. And when you decide to make a commitment to yourself and change your financial destiny, our fresh modern platform will help you know more and have more, now and in retirement. Welcome to Her Retirement. Welcome to my know more, have more financial wellness platform and welcome to my podcast. Are you ready to get her done? Let’s do this.

Hello there and welcome to this week’s episode of the Her Retirement podcast. I’ve been pondering a question lately pretty much since 2022 started about two weeks ago. And the question is how much of your happiness is actually under your control. And, you know, we talk about happiness and what it means to be happy. There’s the happiness you experience before retirement. And then, you know, how much happiness will you experience in retirement? Will your happiness level change because you don’t maybe have the pressures of pre-retirement life working, saving money, taking care of children, uh, so on and so forth. So, I’ve been pondering this myself lately, as I’m going through some major life transition going through empty nesting, moving to a new town, a new home, pondering what the rest of my life looks like, redefining it, deciding what are the things that are going to make me happy and probably questioning it a little bit because of COVID.

I was commenting the other day on Facebook. I saw that there’s people going on cruises and traveling and having the time of their lives. And then there’s other people that are hiding out in their homes, afraid to go to the grocery store. And it’s such a crazy spectrum. And I think a crazy spectrum of, of happiness and contentment, as we all struggle through this pandemic and trying to figure out, you know, what is going to make us happy, um, will it make us happy to stay home and stay safe and stay away from people and not get sick? Or should we just go on and continue to live our life? I think this is just one thing. And one of the recesses of my brain kind of affecting my own personal happiness and my happiness outlook. And I also wonder as we age, what impact happiness has on that aging process, or do we get happier as we get older?

So I wanted to talk about this a little bit and dig into it and also give you some ideas that I’m, I’m going to walk the talk and practice what I teach, but maybe go through some of these ideas that if you aren’t feeling as happy as you would like to be, what are some things that you could do to change that daily things that you could do? And then a few big picture things that you can do. I know for one thinking about my new home and how I’m going to decorate it and furnish it is giving me a little extra boost of happiness, I guess. And also what is the relationship between money and happiness? Because Her Retirement is about financial wellness. What part does money play in that happiness factor?

So, let’s dig into some of this. So, one of the things that I wanted to look into is how much of our happiness is under our control. And researchers created something called the happiness pie chart in an article in 2020. They talked about some of the things they’ve learned over the past 15 years. And I’m wondering how many of you have seen or heard of this happiness pie chart, but you know, if you’ve read a book or listened to any talks about happiness in the last 15 years, there’s a good chance that you heard that percent of our happiness is determined by our genes 40% by our activities and 10% by our life circumstances. And you know, one of the interesting things about this is that there’s direct relationship between our life circumstances and activities that allow us to impact our happiness directly. So by engaging in healthy mental and physical happiness, we can exert a lot of control over our own happiness, but of course there’s the biology and the genetics. And sometimes, you know, the life circumstances that we don’t, won’t always control.

Sometimes we put ourselves into those circumstances and we have to figure out a way out of them. But in the article that I just mentioned, they talk about some things that can give us a happiness boost, and thanks to research we also have an understanding of what we can do to give ourselves the best chance of happiness success. And one of those things is choosing activities that fit our personality in our interests. Activities fit us better when they feel natural, enjoyable, and aligned with our values, rather than driven by guilt or other people’s expectations. Number two, choose activities that are virtuous and meaningful rather than obsessing about feeling good all the time. I know that sometimes I go down that rabbit hole and I’m constantly checking like, okay, what’s my mood. You know, how am I feeling? Uh, what do I feel like doing today?

Hedonism won’t necessarily make you happy. Even if you feel good in the moment, if we pursue pleasure, it shouldn’t be at the expense of living a meaningful life. We also need to pursue a purpose and practice forgiveness, gratitude, and generosity. Those give us a set sense of competence, autonomy and connection, which are core human needs. According to this article, number three, commit to and put effort into the process. Okay? Unsurprisingly, people who invest more effort into these new habits see greater improvements and their wellbeing. And lastly, it’s important to add variety to our routine. You know, it can get very boring. And, and perhaps this is to another side effect of COVID. Some of us are kind of living this very routine daily, like mask wearing, stay in the house, don’t go out in public, don’t socialize. And as human being, we are very social creatures and having that interaction is important to our overall wellbeing.

So if you are one of those that are, you know, trying to isolate a little bit more, staying home, staying out of the public, so to speak, maybe there’s some things you can do to change up your routine at home. And, you know, they might include things like doing an exercise, like writing letters, to friends, maybe doing a new walking routine, maybe changing up your daily routine, take bath in the morning. Instead of at night, do some self-care. You need to keep your brain alive to possibilities and to up those routines. Next, I want to talk about why you don’t need more to be happier and live better. I believe that we all already have the keys to a better life. I wanna give you some ideas, how to use them few questions. We, what would make your life better? Would it be a new house, a car, a bigger paycheck, a bigger bank account.

It’s easy to want more when you think of being happier and living better. And I think there’s a little doubt that money can buy some more happiness, but the happiness we get from money is fundamentally limited. It leaves us wanting more and it’s not enough on its own to enjoy a truly satisfying life. Research has proven this over and over again. The reality is a lot of things that can make us happy and enrich our lives have nothing to do with money. And some of the things that bring us the joy could already be within our reach. So what are they and how can they improve our lives? Well, I’m gonna talk about some little life upgrades, I talked about a few things in just a short time ago, but now I’m gonna give you some other ideas. These things that I’m going to suggest can transform the way you experience and enjoy life.

So, let’s talk about these seven little upgrades that can make life better and big ways. Number one, I want you to go outside as little as 20 minutes. Outdoors can make you happier and healthier. Even if you don’t exercise, simply being outside can be good for your mind and your body. It can relax you and lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. And it doesn’t take long to feel the effects. In fact, last night, my significant other said about 10 o’clock, do you wanna go for a walk? And I was being lazy, sleepy getting ready for bed. You know, my mental mood at the moment was, oh, I’m all cozy. I’m warm. I really don’t wanna go outside in the cold, but guess what? I threw on my boots. I threw on my coat, hat and mittens, and I’m so glad I went for a walk. It actually eased me into a relaxing night of sleep. This is why. So doctors are even writing what we call nature prescriptions. These days, prescribing time outdoors for all sorts of conditions. So, make it a habit, get it done, set aside at least 20 minutes, a few times a week to get outside. If you’re short on time, try bringing parts of your daily routine outdoors in night. So climates, obviously dining El fresco or exercising outside. Obviously weather permitting. I know here in Massachusetts earlier this week, it was about seven degrees outside. So, I did do some walking, but it was very short walk.  I dressed for the weather obviously.

Now number two, say no to things that drain you. And I think this is an important thing. As we age, we tend to think about how we want to spend our time, because we realize that time is our most precious commodity. And I know that I think about it a lot more like, do I really wanna do this? Is this specific thing going to bring me more joy, more happiness? Is it going to drain me? Obviously, there’s things that you’re going to do that drain you, that you can’t ignore, but how often are you scrambling for time? Most of us say we’re too busy to enjoy life. At least sometimes about one in eight people feel that way. Most of the time, whenever we get busy and stressed for time, it’s often our own psychology, not the clock. That’s the source of our stress. In fact, we tend to feel the most press for time when it seems like we don’t have control over our schedules and we fill our time with activities, we don’t really enjoy. So do a checkup, see how you’re spending your time, your activities, and make adjustments saying no to activities that can drain us can help put a stop to this. It can open up more time and more opportunities for happiness. So out with the clutter of the drains, you know, the stuff that clutters you and drains your time and open up those opportunities for more happiness to come in and make it a habit, identify the activities in your schedule that are draining your time and energy, delegate. What you can say, no extra favors, consider setting up some boundaries for your time like off limit days for certain activities. Self-care is very, very important and setting up your time is critical.

Next practice, gratitude daily. I know I get those moments where I feel anxious and my former psychologist. I hear her in my head saying, think about what you’re grateful for. Think about what you’re grateful for. And it’s true if in those moments of anxiety or stress or unhappiness, if you really focus on what you’re thankful for and have gratitude, negative emotions start kind of falling by the wayside. It’s a really interesting practice and feeling gratitude is closely linked to happiness and wellbeing. And when we appreciate the things that bring us joy, we focus on positive words and emotions that positivity can radiate inward and outward benefit. Both the person expressing gratitude and the recipient of it. It’s no wonder then the gratitude can be a mood and relationship booster. It also strengthens our immune systems promotes better sleep and makes us more resilient. So make it a habit commit to expressing gratitude at least once a day. Tell someone why you appreciate them or write a thank you note, or send an email for more meditative practice journal, or think about the three things that you are thankful for at the beginning or end of each day. I know some people keep a gratitude journal in their bedside table and they may write in it in the morning.I know my yoga teacher does like a 10-minute meditation every morning where she focuses on gratitude and she just says it opens more space in her mind, in her heart for the day.

Next prioritize self-care. I mentioned it just a short time ago, but nearly half of us put self-care on the back burner because we don’t think we have enough time for it. How much time do you have in the day to set aside time for self-care?  When we do this, we’re just making life harder for ourselves. When we don’t make time for self-care, we’re making it harder to manage our emotions, cope with stress and stay connected to the things that matter. And we’re undermining our self-esteem. Investing in some genuine self-care is the antidote to all of that. Just last night during the day, actually I was kind of pondering. Okay. I feel like I’m being sucked dry. Uh, I don’t feel like I, I have enough to go around to everybody that needs a piece of me. And I said, you know what? I’m going to make the rest of the day about me. And I really did a great self-care afternoon and it ended with a nice bath and this wonderful scrub that my sister-in-law, hand makes that she gave me for Christmas. And, you know, I followed that, up with a good night’s sleep. And obviously I mentioned that I went for a walk. Also, so that whole combination just set me up for good night’s sleep and a good start to today. And hence why I’m doing this podcast episode. You know, one of the other important things is that self-care can help us focus on our physical and psychological needs while making room for self-compassion.

It can also help you accept your imperfections and discover new paths to self-improvement. So, make it a habit, make self-care a habit, prioritize, eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. The combination of eating, sleeping and exercise is wonderful. Powerful trifecta of self-care. Also recognize self-care is about nurturing and not shaming yourself. Doesn’t mean like standing in front of the mirror and looking at the bumps and the bulges and you know, the wrinkles and the sags and whatever else that we see when we look in the mirror, the bags under our eyes, our crow’s feet. It really means appreciating the value of our self-care over getting one more task done by the end of the day. And self-care, isn’t about tearing ourselves down. It’s about building ourselves up and seeing our beauty next don’t let negativity take over. Negativity has a place in our lives, but optimism can do a lot more for our health and happiness studies show optimist have lower risks of heart disease and higher rates of cancer survival when compared to pessimist.

And I think it’s important that I bring up my mother here because she is in the middle of, ovarian cancer. And she’s doing amazing. Like her doctors are so happy and, optimistic about how she’s fighting her battle. She’s been in remission twice at 84 years old, the treatments she’s getting are not that severe that she can’t handle them, but she is the most optimistic person. I know. And I believe it. I believe that her optimism is helping her battle cancer successfully. So far. Optimist also tend to be more persistent and better at managing stress that can give them better chances of achieving their goals. Still that doesn’t mean optimism should go unchecked or blind you to real risks, finding a balance between staying positive in acknowledging life’s challenges is certainly the healthiest approach, but make it a habit. When you talk about your day, bring up the best parts first, even if you’ve had a rough day, if certain situations or people bring up negative emotions for you, do your best to minimize or avoid them and try to turn disappointments into learning lessons.

Next volunteer. Volunteering can support the causes in communities you care about while being personally rewarding. They can strengthen your social connections and give you a greatest sense of happiness. Purpose, pride, and accomplishment. Volunteering can also spark your creativity and renew your motivation. Beyond mental benefits. Volunteering can improve your physical help. It’s been linked to lower risk of hypertension and slower cognitive decline as you age. So certainly something to consider in retirement and why many retirees do volunteer over time. All these benefits can add up, making volunteering deeply enriching and fulfilling experience. Make it a habit, consider your skills, your interest in your time. As you choose some volunteer opportunities, try out a few options to find out which organizations and opportunities will be a good fit for you. And remember volunteering should be fun instead of something else to drain you. So start small while you figure out what time commitments will work for you enjoy just a couple hours a week. This can benefit you and cause you to volunteer even more down the road.

Next nurture your relationships. Relationships are so critical to happiness, good strong relationships benefit our and wellbeing beyond making us happy. The emotional support we get from the people we care about can help us through trauma while influencing us to make better decisions and adopt better habits. Psychologically that can lead to us feeling like we belong, giving us better coping skills and improving our quality of life physically <laugh>, which I love. Good relationships can boost our immune systems and even help us live longer. In fact, not having strong relationships can increase the risk of early death by about 50% that has roughly the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And speaking of relationships, you know, even though we were going through the height of COVID not long ago, it was winter here in Massachusetts. And our group of friends believed that our relationships with each other were so important to our wellbeing in getting through COVID that we all created outdoor living rooms, and we would bundle up and we would go to each other’s outdoor living rooms, and we would sit by the fire and we would visit and laugh and try to forget all the craziness going on in the outside world. And I truly believe that those outdoor living rooms really got us through that dark cold winter when the pandemic was at its height. So I want you to make relationships a habit. The impact of having positive relationships is also why some say that doubling a group of good friends can benefit you as much as seeing your income go up by 50%. So definitely the research and the statistics are real. Make relationships a habit, connect with at least one person you love every day.

For me, that’s my mom. Typically my children, also my significant other. And if problems arise, try to listen, show understanding, and don’t jump to conclusions and be honest, admit your mistakes and apologize if you’re in the wrong with those relationships. Remember to find even small ways to show the people that you have relationships with, that you care by giving a thoughtful compliment or anticipating a loved one’s needs. Certainly when you are thinking about other people that has been shown to increase your happiness factor, also for most of us, the barriers to being happy, come down to a few things. Really, it comes down to our attitudes, our behaviors, expectations, and fears.

So final lesson, the things holding you back could be in your power to change. Living better doesn’t mean we have to make radical changes and we don’t have to wait for some benchmark or gold post to start enjoying life more. With a few simple upgrades, we can reshape the way we experience life every day. And we’re likely to be happier and healthier for it. That sounds simple. And it is. So, what stops us from getting there and why can happiness and a better life feel also elusive? Sometimes the answer can be different for everyone. For most of us though, the barriers to being happier, come down to a few things. It’s our attitudes, our behaviors, expectations, and fears. We can start to break down those barriers by not trading what we really want in life for what want right now. And we can stay in touch with what we really need to be happy and live better by staying connected to the people we trust.

I wanna wrap up this week’s episode by talking about seven habits that happy retirees have in common, a long fulfilling retirement takes more than just money. Most of us understand this, you know, ask any retiree and they’ll likely tell you that money and knowing that you have enough is only half the story, of course you’ll need enough money to get by, but you don’t have to be super wealthy to be happy. In fact, life satisfaction tops out at an annual salary of $95,000. On average, according to a study by psychologist from Purdue University, enough money to never have to worry about going broke or paying for medical care is important, but money is not only, or even the most important piece of a fulfilling retirement. So once you have a retirement plan in place, it’s essential to focus on all the things that money can’t buy.

:           And so, let’s talk about seven healthy happy habits that studies show can improve life satisfaction in retirement habit.

Number one, happy retirees work at staying healthy. What good is money if you can’t enjoy it. The majority of retirees say that good health is the most important ingredient for happy retirement. According to a Merrill Lynch age wave report, studies show that exercise and healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing certain health conditions, increase energy levels, boost your immune system, and improve your mood. And guess what? It’s never too late to get moving and eat right. Even those who become physically active and adopt a healthy diet late in life research shows they too can lower the risk of cardiovascular illnesses and have a lower death rate than their appears. And the centers for disease control and prevention recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week. And so if you need some ideas, the National Institute on Aging has all sorts of really good information on how to get started with a physical activity exercise program in retirement, it’s all about living longer, living healthier habit.

Number two, they foster strong emotional connections. As I mentioned earlier in the podcast, relationships, hobbies, and activities with people we like can boost life satisfaction, especially social networks typically shrink after leaving the workforce, happier retirees were found to be those with more social interactions, according to one Gallup poll. And we talked about social isolation, it’s been linked to higher rates of heart disease and stroke increased risk of dementia and greater incidence of depression and anxiety habit.

Number three, happy retirees find a clear sense of purpose. The notion of retirement as time spent golfing strolling, the beach or reading classic novels is kind of outdated while fun. The stereotypical leisure activities associated with retirement don’t provide a sense of purpose or meaning, which is what many retirees say is important. One place retirees find a sense of purpose is work in a Gallop poll, nearly three and four Americans said they plan to work beyond traditional retirement age with the majority planning to do so because they want to not because they have to. And this is kind of where volunteering comes in. Retirees gained meaningful benefits from volunteering and that same age wave Merrill Lynch report referenced earlier found that retirees were three times more likely to say, helping people in need brings them happiness in retirement, then spending money on themselves. And for those who donated money or volunteered, they felt a stronger sense of purpose and self-esteem and were happier and healthier. And there’s an organization called volunteermatch.org, which lists volunteer opportunities that are searchable by city and category. So, you could go check that out. If you’re interested in doing volunteer work.

Habit number four, they never stop learning. Experts believe that ongoing education and learning new things may help keep you mentally sharp simply by getting you in the habit of staying mentally active exercising, your brain may help cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia. In fact, my father-in-law who is 92 years old, he is actually talking to one of his clients <laugh> and you know, just engaging with him and keeping his mind sharp. He still comes into the office a couple days a week. That is how you keep dementia at bay. How you keep happiness going on, on and on in your life, challenging your brain with mental exercises, believe to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. This according to Harvard Medical School’s Health Beat newsletter. So, here’s a tip to take away. Exercising your brain. Isn’t all that different from exercising your body. It just requires consistent stimulation. And I love that word consistency, because it applies to so many factors in your life. One study found that people with dementia who did crossword puzzles delayed the onset of accelerated memory decline by 2.5 to 4 years. So try to choose something that’s new and that you enjoy consider taking a class at a senior center community college there’s online learning platforms like Coursera and teachable, all kinds of opportunities. The National Institute on Aging provides a list of activities.

Also, habit number five, they train their brains to be optimistic. A glass half full attitude may pay huge dividends. In fact, in my masterclass that I teach, I have a picture, a graphic of a glass half full, and I talk about how at Her Retirement we approach retirement planning and education from a glass half full perspective. So many people kind of start thinking about retirement from the glass half empty perspective, but you know what, it’s really important to think about what you have and not what you don’t have in an article published in Gemma Network. Researchers found that participants who rated highly in optimism were much less likely to suffer from heart attacks or other cardiovascular events and had a lower mortality rate than their pessimistic counterparts. And as I mentioned earlier in the podcast, my mom is the most optimistic person I know in my life. And up until the point where she got ovarian cancer a couple years ago, she didn’t take any pills. She took a multivitamin, if you can believe that crazy as it sounds, that was my mom. And I believe it’s because she was optimistic and happy.

Habit number six, happy retirees, practice, mindful gratitude. And I talked about this earlier in the podcast and it doesn’t change once we’re in retirement, really, really important. And it’s really supported by work by a psychologist named Nathaniel Lambert, he finds his stronger feelings of gratitude or associated with lower materialism, gratitude and enhances people’s satisfaction with life while reducing their desire to buy stuff. And one of the most effective ways to cultivate gratitude, I think is by writing in a journal. And there’s a journal called the five minute gratitude journal that you can grab off of Amazon. It’s a great little, um, uh, thing to have to help you develop your practice of gratitude.

And finally, habit number seven, they have a furry or feathered friend. It turns out that Fido or in my case, Finley and Nala, my two dogs can provide more benefits to you than grabbing the newspaper. The only thing is they were both barking incessantly the other night at like 3:00 AM. That didn’t make me very happy, but we figured it out. We got them to settle down and everyone was able to go back to sleep. But older dog owners who walk their dogs at least once a day, got 20% more physical activity than people without dogs. And they spent 30 fewer minutes a day being sedentary. And it’s really interesting statistic because my significant other, since we got our new puppy, Finley has been walking consistently for about nine months. He’s lost about 10 pounds, not the dog, my significant other, and he’s getting outside. And he didn’t ever really used to like walking that much. I would try to get him to go with me, but now does it. He’s enjoying the physical and mental benefits of it. Research has also indicated that dogs can help. So those suffering from cognitive decline and the physical and mental health benefits of owning a dog can boost the longevity of the owner. And if a dog is out the question, cats and birds are lower maintenance possibility, or you could even consider pursuing home visits from a therapy dog. Therapy Dog Internationals has a home visit program with over 20,000 volunteer dog handler and teams registered throughout all 50 states. So, consider the companionship of a furry friend as it can be just as beneficial as another human.

So, thank you for listening to this week’s episode. I certainly hope that after hearing some of these ideas, you go out and you improve your happiness factor now. And in retirement, it’s all about getting her happy, done, and I’m here to help you. I’m here to help you on the financial or lifestyle side, whichever you need. I’m here for you at Lynnt@herretirement.com. It’s all about knowing more and having more and getting her done. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week.

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