Robert Warner

Retirement Goals Can Focus on Meaning – Not Just Money

I usually talk about planning for retirement by focusing on financial goals and building a portfolio for a comfortable retirement. But, for this post, I want to talk about your retirement lifestyle. Retirement is envisioned as the time after your career to pursue a few dreams such as traveling around the world, climbing a mountain or taking up a new hobby. Some future retirees even write a personal “bucket list” they believe will fulfill their dreams for happiness and adventure.

However, much like the discovery that money alone can’t make you happy, some retirees may learn travel and adventure alone can’t complete their retirement. For some, finding purpose and meaning in their lives can make for a more enjoyable retirement than the next safari or ocean cruise.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey found the more time Americans spend socially with family and friends, the more likely they are to report enjoyment and happiness in their lives with relatively little stress and worry. The Well-Being Index also notes Americans age 60 and older have significantly higher levels of emotional health than those who are younger. A person in his or her 70s is much more likely to be happy than someone in his or her 30s, even when considering demographic factors such as gender, education and standard of living. In other words, people generally become happier as they age, especially if they can spend time with family and friends. You may not necessarily need adventure or excitement to achieve the fulfillment you want out of retirement.

As a pilot, especially, whose career can make even the most exotic travel seem routine, it’s a factor worth considering when setting your retirement goals.

Define Your Dreams

So, what’s the best way to figure out what your meaningful retirement will look like?

There is no correct answer; it depends on what is most important for you, or what’s important for you and your spouse or family. Even so, deciding how you will spend your time in retirement is a key part of building your financial planning for retirement.

With life expectancy for 65-year-olds extending to 86 years for men and 88 years for women, it’s vital to identify what is most important to you and how you want to live during those years. The model of working until age 65 and having a quiet life with little activity in retirement has evolved. For some, retirement is no longer the end of working; it’s a transition to the next stage in their life, which could include work.

Numerous studies show increasing numbers of people expect to work in some way after they retire from their current career, but a significant portion plan to seek unpaid work. A 2015 AARP study found that while 37 percent of retirees expect to work for pay, 25 percent expect to do volunteer work. Many see retirement as an opportunity to pursue an interest or passion, to give back to their community or to support a cause they believe in they had to put aside during their working years.

Purpose in retirement may come from the impact you can have on your community, in providing support and mentoring others, or maybe one-on-one time with grandchildren on educational adventures. You may find it more meaningful to host your extended family in a beach house or ski lodge, than to take a long vacation overseas.

For as much as we envision an ideal retirement, there can be downsides to life after a career. Some research indicates there can be negative consequences from retirement such as an increase in health problems. There also are clear benefits and rewards from having the time to relax and explore opportunities previously unavailable with a full-time job. Elderly participants in a Boston study on aging issues identified four defining factors when asked what made their retirement enjoyable and rewarding:

  • The ability to form new social networks beyond family and work;
  • Having time and opportunity for activities they enjoy, such as sports or hobbies;
  • Tapping their creativity with activities such as painting or gardening;
  • Continuing to learn, like creativity, keeps the mind active. Examples include learning a new language or taking a course in an area of interest.

If you want to learn more about your path to a rewarding, meaningful retirement, there are resources and tools available for you. Some resources include Coming of Age, an organization founded in Philadelphia that helps those age 50 and older connect and contribute to their communities;, whose motto is “second acts for the greater good” and which helps people use their skills and ability to benefit society; and Life Planning Network, which helps individuals evaluate their lives, clarify goals and challenges and identify ways to move forward.

Understanding what will make you happy in retirement takes planning. Once you’ve identified your path, you can better define the financial plan you will need to complement the retirement lifestyle you desire. We recommend working with an advisor to help ensure you’re saving enough to achieve the financial and life goals you desire. For more advice on building a retirement financial plan, click here.

Whatever your choices are, your path to a happy, meaningful retirement will benefit from financial plans built to support the dreams on your personal bucket list.

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Views and comments expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the positions of Cleary Gull or fellow Cleary Gull associates.