Dave's retirement journey

Seven habits of happily retired people

By Dave Dineen, BrighterLife.ca

If you want your retirement to be the best stage of your life, focus your energies on who you are or would like to become, not on who you were.

The other day, I noticed a personalized licence plate: EX CGA. I’m guessing that the driver used to be a certified general accountant. That’s certainly a good career and something to be proud of.

But who is he today?Seven habits of happily retired people

I don’t personally know this former CGA. But I hope he is so happy and fulfilled that a licence plate can’t begin to describe how great his retirement or new career is. I hope that’s why his licence plate focuses on who he was, not on who he is or aspires to be.

For those who want retirement (however you define it) to be the best stage of their lives, I’m sharing my observations, as a former retirement researcher and current retiree, of seven habits that happily retired people seem to have in common. They:

1. Try new things

Retiring is one of the biggest transitions you’ll go through in your life. When you disembark from your career, you need to be open to embarking on new activities in your new life stage. Whether those new activities include starting a new hobby, becoming an expert at something you’ve only dabbled at, or starting an entirely new career — if you aren’t starting new things, you risk getting old.

2. Value time

Happy retirees value their time, seeing it as precious, not a burden. As a result, they:

  • Keep a calendar. Not just to keep track of obligations such as doctors’ appointments, but so they can keep track of the good things going on in their lives and the lives of those around them. If the days ahead are looking kinda quiet, happy retirees are proactive and will schedule a get-together or other activity to spice things up.
  • Keep a daily schedule. Maybe not with every hour accounted for, but with enough detail to provide structure for a meaningful daily routine.
  • Prioritize. Time is short and they want to make sure they get to the good stuff.

3. Look after themselves

  • Exercise their bodies. Whatever activities fit with their interests and level of health, well-adjusted retirees know the worst place to maintain a healthy body is on the couch.
  • Exercise their minds. Earlier generations couldn’t have imagined the wealth of mental stimulus available to today’s retirees (part-time or consulting work, online and real-world courses, special-interest social media, accessible travel, etc.). My friend Kathy is a retired teacher who continues to challenge herself by tutoring Chinese students, helping them improve their English writing skills.
  • Manage their health. They use the Internet, social media and community resources to inform themselves about nutritional and health issues. They use that information to improve their eating and exercise habits. They ask relevant questions and actively participate in health care decisions.

4. Care for others

At every stage of life, happy people are engaged in the lives of others. I’ve observed that retirees who volunteer, fund-raise or care for friends and family find themselves enriched and that their own lives are more meaningful.

5. Socialize

My friends Bob and Janice participate in a “gourmet club,” in which four couples take turns each month, preparing a fancy meal. The food is great, but the companionship is even better. They know that time spent with friends is not time wasted. Fortunately, milder winters, social media, low long-distance phone rates, digital photography and Skype are all helping retirees stay regularly connected with friends and family.

6. Work at something

Most people today wouldn’t think twice if you told them you’re retired, but also doing some work. The part-time construction work my wife’s 75-year-old uncle does pays for a big trip to his childhood home in Europe each year. Even retirees who rely on some employment income enjoy having control over their schedule.

7. Stay engaged

Humans are social creatures. To be actively involved in life around you is one of retirement’s great rewards.

Have I missed anything important? What habits do you feel help retirees who strive to be happy? I invite you to share your comments below.

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irena pesula on

Did it ever okured to you people,that you are the most selfish generation of older people in the history .All you think of is how to enjoy life,spend on frivolious things,travel atd.and live to ripe old age,colecting pensions without giving anything back.It is the young people who will pay for it all.it is your dooings that the housing market is unafordable for young,i wonder who is going to buy the houses that you are counting on.And dont give me that i worked all my life line.by the way i am 69 myself.

prempell@gmail.com on

Reasonable points on retirement success. These would also apply for general life skills, so my take is that if your life did not encompass them before retirement, then you are far less likely to change behaviour after. For myself, the biggest factor to retirement success is my financial preparation for it over the past decades. People ask me what I do in retirement and I finally have come up with an overarching answer…Its not what I do on a daily basis, it’s how I feel when I wake up; the same feeling I had on the first day of summer vacation. Endless possibilities.

Lori Lemieux on

Recently, my partner who turned 60 last year retired because of a disability he is keeping active but with me working for at least another six years I find our lives have changed and we are drifting apart. There should have been a plan and I most certainly would never retire with a mortgage or debt. The article is great but is there anything about planning before you decide to retire as a couple.

    Brian on

    What I do not understand is people with a mortgage @ retirement !!!
    When my wife and i were a young family we vowed to pay off our mortgage ASAP prior to retirement,
    We moved a round Canada 8 times with my company and each time we got a larger mortgage owing to
    the higher costs of housing BUT
    While many friends took great holidays we just went camping and made an extra mortgage payment
    The result was we paid off our mortgage at age 50 this gave us a substantial cash infusion which went directly into our retirement plan I retired at 55 am now 77 and enjoy life to the extreme and we go south every winter
    So not taking those expensive holidays years ago allow`s us to travel now .
    CONCLUSION—GET RID OF MORTGAGE down size home or do whatever JUST DO IT

Larry Brown on

A long time ago I made a personal commitment. Every day, learn something new and make someone laugh. With only a few exceptions I have fulfilled that commitment. I am 70, very healthy, very fit and extremely busy. I have a group of like-minded friends. Life is good

Bobbie on

Stay in touch……the literal sense of touch. If you share life and living space with a loved one, make sure to keep the act of touching as part of daily activity…..anything from a shoulder squeeze to the deepest physical intimacy….touch conveys emotions and sentiments that words often miss. If one lives life alone, there are still many ways to work touch into the daily routine…… friends, relatives, pets….even plants. I inherited two withered forlorn looking jade plants when I bought my current home. Part of my care routine with them was to actually touch and speak to them as I turned to the web to figure out what to do with jade plants. Who knows?…….but they are two of the healthiest looking jade plants now that I’ve ever seen! Often, as we age we withdraw into ourselves….keeping “in touch” is one way to stay engaged in life. davedineen expresses it well in “something almost spiritual” with wood…..a big part of his joy will be in actually touching the wood. Stones on a beach, a fallen bird feather, driftwood, the food we prepare (modern machines have robbed us of the joy in touching food as we prepare it)….everything and everyone has stories in their form, and touch helps us understand the stories around us.


Good article. It’s important to try and stay active. I’ve always said to “learn something new every day”. I am now 84. I (and my wife) designed and built our own house at age 60 – 64. But sold it recently and now live in an apartment – love it! We travel when we can, have gone on cruises, I have done oil painting (and sold many). Now I write short stories (don’t know how to go about publishing them).. I do 5 BX (basic exercises), Do all my own financial planning (I’ve done well so far and built quite a nest-egg) and will try to enjoy life as long as I can. Stay happy and try to stay healthy. But happy is the most important.

Stephen Whiteley on

Great list and thanks. While you touched on this in a couple of places, I would be more specific about this one aspect. Keep on growing your self as a person. Learn new things, connect with new people, find new ways of helping, go to new places, and keep on creating and giving. Personal growth and giving are two extremely fundamentals of staying happily engaged.

Ray colliver on

I fully concur with rkberger,
I think exercise, both for the brain & body is an important part of a Happy fulfilling retirement. At 81 I am regularly competing in Triathlons & Road Racing. Currently World Triathlon Champion in my age group. I will continue to remain very active until “Lights Out”.

rkberger@shaw.ca on

I have a wood workshop and make a lot of projects to pass the time away.

    davedineenDa on

    Hi, rkberger. Congratulations on your woodworking hobby! There’s something almost spiritual about working with natural materials like wood. My friend Bob, who I mentioned in the article above, was showing me some of his woodworking projects just yesterday. He’s self-taught, has a woodworking shop to die for (it used to be his garage) and he’s never happier than when he’s there. I have no woodworking experience, but hope to make something from some twice-reclaimed elm from a barn on the family farm. The elm timbers and boards have already been used in two barns, so I hope my third-generation project (a bench, I’m thinking) will do justice to this venerable (vs. veneer) material.

colleen Coghlan on

I think it is helpful to have a fun hobby. I took up bird watching and love the opportunity to get out for the day and hike, looking for interesting birds or other interesting things in nature.

Eric C on

Not sure that using the Internet to find medical advice is a good idea. There lies a quagmire of false information, conspiracy theries and non-evidence-based medicine. Next thing you know, you’ll be thinking vaccines cause autism, vitamin D is the cure for everything and waving your hands over someone can heal them… or, as in Steve Jobs’ case, eating vegetables can cure pancreatic cancer. Talk to your Doctor instead.

Kanji Nakatsu on

Perhaps you should mention that it is important to look after one’s financial health.

Tommy mcleod. on

Hi i am now 76 yrs old ,a couple of yrs ago i took a job as a lollypop man.it has turned out to be the best thing i have ever done. up in the morning On the job for an hour .back at lunchtime for an hour .back in the afternoon. Another hour and i love it.most importantly i never realized how important and responsible the job is .
also getting to meet so many kids and their parents is a real pleasure . I guess i am lucky to be fit enough to
Do this important job and as soon as i am unable to fulfill its requirements i will certainly hand it over to another
Person i thank all of the parents who keep thanking me and are so grateful to me for doing what i love doing.
Tommy mcleod.

Aug 5: Best from the blogosphere | Save with SPP on

[…] of where you decide to hang your hat for the next chapter, see seven habits of happily retired people shared by Brighter Life blogger Dave Dineen. He advocates trying new things, looking after […]

Gwen Telling on

You forgot to mention the joy of watching things grow and the importance of plants and gardens in maintaining a healthy outlook and also with the ability to have fresh produce or flowers to share with others.

    davedineen on

    Gwen – thanks for the suggestion. My wife agrees with you completely.

Leah on

Just wanted to say again how much I enjoy your articles, Dave!

    davedineen on

    Leah – thanks for your kind comment!

Happy retirement | MoneySense on

[…] the last time you volunteered your time to help someone else? Caring for others of one of  the seven habits of happily retired people, according […]

healthfulsave on

Thank you for this series of posts. I am a ways from retirement, but I am eager to learn about the journey ahead.

    davedineen on

    Hiya, healthfulsave. Thanks for the comment. Love your blog!

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