Is Your Psychological Portfolio Ready for Retirement?

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  • September 2, 2014

A successful retirement takes more than just enough money. You will likely live a long time after you retire and the most important factor of your retirement is going to be the quality of your life during all of those years. Not only will you need sufficient financial resources to sustain a lifestyle that support your needs and interests, you will also want to be healthy, happy, and engaged in life.

Most people look forward to the time when they can leave the structure, responsibility, and demands of their daily work and enjoy the freedom of being able to do what they want to do, when they want to do it. Retirement seems as simple as setting a timeline, quitting work, and receiving your pension. If you want to enjoy the last third of your life, you have to do more than just financially plan for retirement. And this planning has to start many years before the day you begin your retirement.

The quality of your physical health in retirement is the result of the cumulative effect of biological factors, environmental factors, and lifestyle throughout the course of your life. While you can have some control over biological and environmental factors, you have complete control over your lifestyle. The sooner you take responsibility for developing a physically healthy and active lifestyle, the greater the quality of your physical health and mobility as you move into your retirement years.

Now what about your mental health? It has been said that there are three things required for happiness. First, you need to be involved in activities that are meaningful. Second, you need to be passionate about something. And third, you need to be engaged in significant relationships involving strong emotional bonds with others of all ages. Having relationships with people of all ages provides you with a flexible support system that can lead the way for you, keep you up-to-date with the world, and provide a wide variety of care when you need it as you get older.

Next, ask yourself these two questions: “Why am I retiring?” and “What am I retiring to?”

In the book Retire Smart, Retire Happy (Schlossberg, 2004) indicated there are six types of retirees:

  • Adventurers – who start new activities or learn new skills not related to their past work, such as learning to play the piano or taking on an entirely new job.
  • Continuers – who stay connected with past activities, but modifies them to fit retirement, such as volunteering or part-time work in their former field.
  • Easy Gliders – who enjoy unscheduled time and like their daily schedule to “go with the flow”.
  • Involved Spectators – who maintain an interest in their previous field of work but assume different roles.
  • Retreaters – who become depressed, retreat from life and give up on finding a new path.
  • Searchers – who learn by trial and error as they look for a niche; they have yet to find their meaningful activities in retirement.

Obviously, you do not want to be a Retreater, feeling like the best part of your life is gone and being bitter and resentful, and waiting to die. The point is that retirement is not a passive way of living; this is a big chunk of your life and it is up to you to build a retirement lifestyle that suits you, that keeps your mind and your body active, and that ensures the last years of your retirement are as enjoyable and fulfilling as the first years of your retirement.

So you have enough money for retirement, you’ve figured out how you want to retire and how you would like to set up your lifestyle, and you believe you have what you need to be happy. There is one more essential ingredient you will need to successfully handle the last thirty years of your life. That ingredient is resilience. Things are going to change a lot during the course of your retirement and you need to be ready and willing to adapt to those changes – whatever it takes. Resilience does not only involve successful adaptation to change, it is adaptation that is flavoured with a sense of humour and a willingness to steadily meet the future with grace – to view the inevitable changes you encounter as an opportunity to grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

Retirement isn’t an event; it’s a process. Start building your lifestyle now to be emotionally ready for this next chapter in your life.

Dr. Stephen Carter, Registered Psychologist
Dr. Shirley Vandersteen, Registered Psychologist