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Section 3: Wellbeing During Retirement

A grandfather playing with a car with his grandchild.

When planning for retirement, consider directing the same attention to your psychological and emotional wellbeing as you do on your financial wellbeing.

While financial health planning is an important part of retiring, it is also important that you consider retirement from a wellbeing perspective as well. Although it is often met with anticipation, retirement is a major life transition and represents a significant change in one’s routines, relationships and identity. Although many people find themselves happier once they retire, as retirement approaches, many experience uncertainty, stress and anxiety. We’ve prepared a few questions, exercises, suggestions and resources to guide your reflection.

Identity through the retirement transition

Shifting identity is a major theme for individuals considering retirement. Studies indicate that many people postpone retirement to maintain their identity and its associated benefits. This is particularly true for people who identify strongly with their position, career and organization. Retirement untethers us from a critical aspect of how we think about ourselves and what provides direction and meaning in our lives. 

As a result it is not at all unusual to feel anxious and ambivalent about retirement. This is not necessarily a reason to postpone retirement though. Contemplating and considering the changes that will occur as a result of ending your career as you know it and moving to either partial or full retirement will help plan for and transition. The transition period to a new, stable and positive retirement life may take time. Some are able to consider this while working, most spend the first few months and possibly even years to find one’s evolved identity. 

Consider taking some time to reflect on what your concerns/fears are about retiring from your position.

  • What aspects of your work do you most enjoy?
  • What will you most miss about your work and work routine?
  • Is there anything you might continue doing as you transition to retirement?
  • Are there aspects of my work that you could do in a different context?
  • If part-time work or a phased retirement plan is available,is this something that you would like to explore? 
  • Are there other interests that you have postponed or abandoned that you might explore before or after you retire?
  • What are you looking forward to letting go of?

Changing relationships

When retired individuals are asked if they miss work, the response is often “I don’t miss work but I do miss the people.” Think for a moment about how much time over the last few years has been spent with colleagues at work. Is it any surprise that leaving work and the workplace has a significant impact on your relationships? Promises are often made about staying in touch, but people often only maintain a few work relationships once they leave the workplace. As colleagues continue working, the basis of many of the connections is lost.

In addition to our work relationships, those who are in marriages or long term relationships find themselves suddenly spending significantly more time with their spouses or partners.  

If you haven't done so already, consider spending dedicated time with the important people in your life, talking about retirement and the changes that will occur as a result of you spending more time together and the associated fears, concerns, excitement. Consideration of changes/expectations to the home routine, shifts in home responsibilities, caring for grandchildren may help alleviate conflicts/surprises in the future. 

Questions that may assist in your reflections about relationships

  • Are there relationships with colleagues that you value and want to nurture and continue once you retire?  
  • Are there friendships, relationships outside of work that you would like to develop as you consider retirement?
  • Are there activities that you enjoy that you might pursue with someone else as you transition to retirement? 
  • Are there others who are considering retirement that you could meet with to talk about similar concerns or share ideas, hopes, fears with?
  • What assumptions, expectations, hopes do your partner, spouse, children, parents have of how your role may change once you retire and do you share them? How are they different?

Daily life 

Many people choose to continue working in some capacity after they retire from their full time positions. This provides some structure to one’s week, continued engagement in a workplace and meaning and purpose. However, others leave work behind and choose to shift their attention and time to life without work. Regardless of choice, finding meaning and purpose in one’s daily routine is a critical component to enjoyment and fulfillment in one’s life. 

For some, caring for a grandchild may provide meaning and purpose, for others it may include volunteer work while for others it might be achieved by reading or participating in a hobby or staying fit. And it may change over time. 

Here ae some questions that may assist in your contemplation of what provides you with meaning, enjoyment and fulfillment and how you may introduce and maintain this in your retirement.

  • As I reflect on my life, what has brought me meaning and purpose?
  • What brings me pleasure, enjoyment, sense of satisfaction? 
  • How might I increase time spent on the things that bring joy into my life?
  • Do I need/have a plan immediately following retirement?
  • Do I enjoy spending time alone or with others?
  • How might I build in more time alone or with others?
  • Do I function better with a daily/weekly schedule? Is there any activity that I could/would like to build into a routine?
  • What new mix of activities, commitments and ways of being/doing do I want to create in retirement?