What is your definition of a successful retirement?
Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Nor is there a right or wrong answer, although you could say that the best answer is a thought-out, well-defined answer that’s right for you, and the worst answer is no answer at all.
Trying to define a successful retirement is like trying to define good art. You may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it.
There is value in attempting to define what a successful retirement means to you. The process of creating this definition will illuminate what you should include in your life and what you should deprioritize or eliminate.
Many factors work together to create a successful retirement. These questions will help you clarify what you would like your retirement to look like.
Do you enjoy your daily routine?
Your retirement is characterized more by how you spend your typical days and less by the occasional major trips or events that take place. Do you spend enough time doing things you enjoy?
Do your daily and weekly routines include a mix of physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, and fulfillment? To be clear, this means socializing in person, not just online.
If there are elements of your daily life that don’t bring you much value or joy, can you eliminate them?
What are you doing that brings you fulfillment?
The concept of fulfillment also has no one-size-fits-all definition. But we can probably agree that the things that bring you fulfillment are the things that make you excited about getting up each day. They are pursuits that engage you so much that you lose track of time. They are what make your heart sing.
If you currently have nothing in your life that stirs these kinds of emotions and you are frequently bored, some re-focusing is probably in order. What have you done in the past that has been fulfilling? What have you always wished you could do?
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Who are the most important people in your life? Do you spend enough time with them?
These days, Facebook and other social media and electronic communication tools enable you to stay informed about the lives of many people. But are they the right people?
You might find that you are spending more time keeping up with former classmates and people who are merely acquaintances from years past because they post frequently, rather than focusing your attention on the people who are most important to you.
If you belong to any groups that no longer bring you sufficient enjoyment, drop them. If you have negative or toxic people in your life, distance yourself from them.
One of the greatest regrets of people who are approaching the end of their lives is that they didn’t spend enough time with the people who mattered most to them. Who matters most to you?
What are you doing for others?
An excellent way to make your retirement more satisfying is to help others. This includes volunteering for organizations that help others, mentoring or tutoring, caring for animals or the environment, or sharing your knowledge and wisdom through books or workshops.
You have gained a lot of skills, knowledge, and wisdom over the years. Why keep it to yourself?
What are you looking forward to?
Having things to look forward to keeps your life meaningful and provides incentives to keep moving forward. The things you are looking forward to can include big things like a major trip you have been anticipating for years, or simple things like a social gathering for an upcoming holiday or a concert.
You might find it helpful to look ahead on your calendar every few weeks to see if there are any holidays or birthdays coming up, and make plans to do something with others to celebrate those events. That way, you won’t have a holiday sneak up on you and realize that you have nothing to do. Even doing something out of the ordinary by yourself is a good way to celebrate a special day.
Are you happy?
Happiness is difficult to define, highly subjective, and different for each of us. Happiness is a topic too broad to cover in a few paragraphs, but you can probably tell whether you are sufficiently happy or not.
Happiness does not mean that you are in a good mood all the time. We all have good days and bad days.
Happiness also does not come from having enough money to be able to buy whatever you want. Plenty of people who live modestly are happy, while plenty of wealthy people are unhappy.
I’m referring to happiness as an overall satisfaction with the current state of your life.
I like this quote from Charles Spurgeon: “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.”
After contemplating the questions above, I hope you have concluded that your life is good overall. But you have probably identified a few ways that your retirement is not quite as enjoyable or successful as you would like it to be.
What do you need to change?
Some changes can be made by taking a specific action, such as dropping out of a group you longer enjoy or signing up for a class you want to take.
Much of your life is controlled by your habits. An effective way to change the direction of your life is simply to add, change, or discard some of your habits.
Most new habits are formed in four to six weeks. Changing your habits is easiest when you change one habit at a time, rather than attempt to make a lot of changes all at once.
Are there any important decisions that you have been avoiding?
It’s easy to procrastinate on making important decisions. Perhaps you feel that you still need to do more research and gather more information. Maybe you are concerned about disrupting, disappointing, or otherwise impacting others. Or you may be afraid of what could go wrong and you would rather stay with the situation as it is.
In cases where you have many options, it helps to realize that you may never make the absolutely best choice. But as long as you make a good choice that you are comfortable with, you will be able to move forward and everything should turn out okay. Often, there is no single ‘right’ or ‘best’ choice. So just do your best and move on.
How can you make your life simpler?
Nowadays, you probably experience more distractions and more things competing for your time and attention than ever before. Every time you open your email, there are a dozen new messages. Your to-do list seems to grow all by itself. Life seems to be more multi-faceted and complicated than ever.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Try stepping back and taking a fresh look at everything.
Are there emails that arrive in your inbox frequently that you rarely read? Unsubscribe from them. (But not from Retire Fabulously!, of course.)
Delete some apps you never use from your phone and your computer. Delete some old emails and old documents.
Are there bills you can set up to be paid automatically?
Are there stacks of magazines that have been piling up for years, waiting to be read “someday”? Recycle them and unsubscribe!
If you have a backlog of books, movies, or music that you have purchased but haven’t read, watched, or listened to yet, consider foregoing all new purchases until you have enjoyed everything that’s waiting for you now.
Thin out your collection of books, movies, and music by removing items you know you’ll never use again or that you wouldn’t replace or miss if they were lost in a fire.
Having clutter around your home contributes to a feeling of overwhelm. Everything seems to cry out for you to do something with it. Clutter that has been sitting around your house for months is probably not very important. Devote a few hours one day to clearing it out. Walk around your house, gather up all the clutter, and deposit it all on a table or on the floor. Then examine each item and either toss it, put it away, or deal with it. If de-cluttering your whole house at one time is too much, just tackle one room at a time.
With fewer things competing for space and attention in your life, you’ll have more time for the things you enjoy and fewer things distracting you.
If you feel bogged down by having too many tasks on your to-do list, consider how long they have been waiting to get done. If they have been waiting for months or even years, maybe they don’t need to get done at all.
If they do need to get done, just pick one, block out enough time to do it, and get it over with.
Chances are, a lot of items on your to-do list are self-imposed tasks that you feel you should do, but you don’t really desire to do them. If there’s no real consequence to not doing them, cross them off the list. If they were that important, you would have already done them.
It may help to imagine what it would be like to move to a faraway land, where you don’t have any obligations, you don’t know anyone, and you don’t own anything. You are starting fresh. You can choose whatever you want to include in your new life and leave everything else out. What would you choose to include?
Then you can compare your start-from-scratch vision with your life today, and it will be easier to decide what will constitute your successful retirement.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what a successful retirement looks like. Once you no longer have a job dominating your life, you have a surprising amount of control over whether things or people stay in your life or go. Exercise that control! It’s amazing how many mediocre things we continue to tolerate out of habit and familiarity.
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© 2018 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.