When it comes to retirement planning, our thoughts usually jump straight to finances. Do I have enough saved in my 401k? How will I manage healthcare costs? When should I start collecting Social Security?
All valid concerns, for sure. But Eric Thurman, author of Thrive in Retirement: Simple Secrets for Being Happy for the Rest of Your Life, says money is just one key factor to consider as you transition to this new life stage.
“Many people expect to live ‘happily ever after’ in retirement but haven’t thought much about how that will occur,” he says. He lists these areas as focus points for a happy retirement.
1. Nurture your mind
Thurman points to two key factors for keeping your mind healthy in retirement — cognitive strength and mental health. He says there are lots of options for maintaining a strong brain as you age, and he doesn’t think crossword puzzles and card games are enough. “You need to stretch. You need to be learning a foreign language or a musical instrument — something that’s forcing you to develop new skills,” he says.
Appreciating or creating art might help too. One study found that artistic activities boosted cognitive function in older people. And another study found that people predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease who were intellectually active delayed the start of the disease by nine years.
Your mental health needs attention, too. Thurman says that the unresolved hurts and losses that can surface in retirement may need attention. “If you’re raising children and busy with your career you can get distracted all of the time. Once you’ve got a lot of free time you can ruminate,” he says.
Counseling, support groups, or grief recovery programs could help. “Don’t let your mind be captive to old wounds that keep coming up,” he says.
2. Nurture your body
Your retirement years won’t be nearly as happy if you’re frail and unhealthy. Thurman thinks some people stop taking care of their health as they age because they may not realize how much longer they are likely to live. By 2050, a projected 19 million people in the US will be age 85 or older. (The Social Security Administration can estimate your lifespan based on your birthdate.)
He encourages people to think about themselves in the future: “If you get to be 90, what kind of a 90-year-old do you want to be? Do you want to be stuck in a chair, or need help or a walker to get around? Or do you want to be able to do anything you want to do?”
You don’t have to train for a marathon, or eliminate cookies and potato chips. Just boosting the intensity of what you already do and adding more nutritious foods to your diet can help you stay fit and healthy.
3. Nurture your relationships
“I have a friend who is a psychiatrist who says that the number one health issue in the U.S. and the world is loneliness,” Thurman says. “We can have hundreds of followers on Instagram or Facebook and not have that personal human contact necessary for wellbeing. We aren’t good about that.”
He says employment patterns in the last generation or two have increased isolation, since it’s more common for people to relocate for work and live further away from their families.
According to the National Institute on Aging, social isolation and loneliness are linked with high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, reduced immune system function, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you need to foster new relationships, Thurman recommends finding people who share an interest on MeetUp, joining a faith community, or signing up for classes at a college, museum, library, or community center. And while every situation is different, if you’ve drifted apart from friends or don’t see your family as often as you like, you can attempt to rekindle those relationships.
4. Nurture your soul
Caring for your soul can bring substantial benefits. Studies have linked attendance at regular religious services with longer lives, and research from Ohio State University pegs the gain at four years. Acknowledging the link between body and soul, Harvard launched an initiative on health, religion, and spirituality.
“It’s not based on believing the right things, but being involved in a faith community,” Thurman says.
What about nonbelievers? The OSU study says that some of the increased lifespan comes from other longevity boosts, like volunteering and joining social organizations. And some may stem from gratitude, meditation, or avoiding unhealthy practices. But those factors don’t account for all of the increase.
(OK, you can’t forget your finances)
Of course, you need enough money to cover your basic expenses in retirement, and some people struggle to make ends meet. But Thurman says many people are unnecessarily worried about their finances.
“There’s a miscorrelation between how we feel about finances and reality. People who are multimillionaires worry about dying broke,” Thurman says. “The thing we have to wrestle with is, is there a mind problem here? Do you really have a money worry?”
He recommends asking yourself to imagine the perfect, typical day five or 10 years from now. How do you spend your time? Who are you with? Many people find their dream day isn’t that expensive after all.