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The essence of happiness

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When you dream of retirement, what do you envisage? Watching grandchildren play in the park? Spending lazy afternoons in the garden reading your favourite novel? Or maybe even something a little more adventurous, like cruising along Britain’s canals in your new narrow boat? Whatever your aspirations, after decades of early mornings and long commutes, many of us are ready to welcome retirement with open arms.

It seems our optimism is not unfounded, and the pretty picture we paint isn’t a wild fantasy. If you spend your day in the office fantasising about that last, triumphant stroll through reception (lobby sounds a bit American), Aviva’s recent Voice of New Retirement report brings some great news. According to the report, we may actually be underestimating how happy we will be in our later years. Not only does the report highlight the fact that the majority of today’s retirees are significantly happier than those who are not yet retired – 62% of those who are now retired also mention that, in their experience, retirement has been better than they imagined. Alistair McQueen, Retirement and Savings Manager at Aviva, echoes the findings in stating that, “among those who have already retired, the reality appears to have surpassed expectations in many cases.”

But this is not to say that, in anticipation of retirement, we’ll should simply sit and wait for the new – seemingly happier – chapter of our life to start. Alistair warns that “those of us who are yet to reach retirement should not take our expected happiness for granted, and should put careful thought into what we want to achieve to maximise our fulfilment in later life.”

Unsurprisingly – as with most aspects of life – when it comes to retiring, planning ahead is vital. This is reflected in the fact that 69% of retirees who planned the later part of their life in advance are happier and experience a better retirement than those who didn’t.

So, can younger generations expect the same comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by those who are already retired? Well, Aviva’s findings underlined several key pillars of a happy retirement. We looked into each of the areas to find out whether a formula to the perfect retirement really does exist, or if the next generations are destined to hope for the best, but expect the worst.


It’s only natural that, as we grow older, our health can decline. Having said this, retired people are far more content with their health than the unretired. Although this seems a paradox, the answer may simply be the luxury of having more time and the relief from the pressures of working life. Predictably, the largest differences in contentment between retired and unretired relate to sleep and diet. 66% of retired people are happy with their diet and 53% with their sleep, compared to 48% and 39% respectively amongst the unretired.

Alistair suggests that, “by exercising more regularly and maintaining our health before and during retirement, we can make a considerable impact on our overall wellbeing and keep ourselves on track for a positive retirement.”

Being happy with health in retirement = Eating healthily + being fit enough for everyday activities 


When it comes to deciding where to live during retirement, understandably, 65% of unretired people state that they would stay in the same home. This attitude is echoed by a large proportion, 63%, of retired people who haven’t moved and are happy where they are. As you might expect, the likelihood of people relocating as their retirement goes on increases. So, where and why do people move? 39% of retirees maintain that, rather than move abroad – an option chosen by only 5% - they have chosen to move elsewhere in the UK. Moving to a smaller property (56%), being closer to family (29%) and living in the countryside were the most common reasons given by retirees as to why they decided to move.

Being happy with housing in retirement = Smaller property + countryside + close to family

Family & Friends

It comes as no surprise at all that - having spent the majority of their life together – 72% of retirees propose a partner or spouse as the most important factor to their happiness in retirement. The same number suggests their children and grandchildren, while 57% lifelong friends.

Although loneliness does unfortunately affect some retirees, 77% are actually happy with the amount of time they spend alone. In fact, not only are retirees happier with the amount of time they spend by themselves, but also with that spent with family (75%) and with friends (73%). Alistair, regarding relationships in retirement, mentions that “as a new chapter opens with retirement, relationships with friends and family take on a different shape as lifestyle changes come into play.”

Being happy with friends and family in retirement = Spouse/partner + children/grandchildren + lifelong friends


For many that are yet to retire, finding time to do the things they love can be tricky to say the least. So, when retirement finally does come and free time is abundant, it’s time to play catch up. Although only 38% of those in their 30s are happy with the amount of time they spend doing the things they love, this rises significantly to 75% amongst those who are 75 or older. The close link between hobbies pursued pre and post retirement verifies the statement above. Both the retired and unretired put forward reading and writing as the most common pastime, closely followed by domestic activities such as gardening.

Holidays are another activity retirement allows plenty of time for. The fact that the unretired only manage to take 2.7 weeks of holiday a year, but once they retire they are plan to get away for an average of 6.3 weeks, highlights the key role holidays play in how content we feel.

Being happy with leisure time in retirement = Reading + gardening + walking + 4.3 weeks of holiday a year


Of those who are retired, a large majority (73%) are happy with their new found freedom and have no intention of doing any sort of work. Completely understandable, however, those who do work in retirement find this work far more rewarding than that which they did during their main working life. 78% of retirees state that they are content at work and the same percentage indicate a feeling of fulfilment from working, whereas only 44% and 47% respectively of those not yet retired said the same.

But the reasons proposed by the unretired as to why they think they will work in retirement vary considerably from reality. The main motives that the unretired predict will drive them to work are money (65%), job satisfaction (54%) and having a daily routine (37%). In reality, retirees rate a new challenge (41%) and having a sense of importance (34%) as two of the main motives for returning to work.

Alistair suggests that “developing our innate strengths and focussing on what we love to do are habits which are often apparent among those who work in retirement, and can lead to greater contentment among those who choose to pursue part time work during these years.”

Being happy with work in retirement = working out of choice, not necessity ­+ working part-time

So, what’s the formula for a happy retirement?

As we mentioned earlier, planning is crucial. In order to be able to appreciate the same levels of happiness in retirement, we need take pointers from today’s seniors. 71% of those who are now retired started planning their later life well in advance of retirement. By putting foundations in place during our working lives, we too can bask in the fruits of our labour.

Rodney Prezeau, Managing Director, Consumer Platform, Aviva UK Life, comments: “Growing older brings many challenges which mean happiness is far from a universal experience, but planning ahead can greatly improve your chances of finding fulfilment. It sounds obvious, but just by saving smarter you could be working towards a happier retirement.”

But, aside from highlighting the importance of planning, today’s retirees also give us an insight into how to achieve happiness in retirement.

Happiness in retirement = (H + H2 + F + L + W) x 2

H = Being happy with health

H2 = Being happy with housing

F = Being happy with family & friends

L = Being happy with leisure

W = Being happy with work

x 2 = Because your partners happiness will ultimately also affect your own

By no means should the above be taken to mean that there’s a ‘one size fits all’ standard for happiness in retirement. But, in order to achieve true happiness in retirement we too, similarly to today’s retirees, must find our own individual winning combination.

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