Over the years, the concept of “retirement” has changed significantly. Our grandparents could expect to live a decade or so after reaching retirement age. Now, with life expectancy at age 65 almost double what it was when the Social Security Administration was founded in 1935, life after retirement is changing.

The fact that people have to think about 20+ years of retirement is having a number of impacts. First, we have to reset our expectations about how far our retirement savings will stretch. Second, we need to find new ways to stay social as our social circumstances change. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with 20+ years to live, we must find new meaning in our lives.

Here are 3 questions to ask if you want to build a happy retirement:

Am I Ready for the Financial Realities of Retirement?

We’ve all seen the TV programs and newspaper articles saying that baby boomers are financially unprepared for retirement. The truth is, until you know someone who is struggling to live on a pension, the reality doesn’t sink in.

One of the best things about managing the Sixty and Me community is that I get to learn from all of you. I listen to your ideas and I learn from your successes and failures. Through my conversations with the women in our community, I can promise you that, no matter how much you have saved for retirement, you will need more.

Recently, a woman told me an amazing story of how she prepared for retirement. She said that, 3 years prior to her planned retirement date, she decided to start living on the amount that she expected to earn from her pension and investments. She asked herself, “If I can’t do it now, why do I think I will be able to do it in 3 years?”

Going through this process had several benefits for her. First, and most important, she discovered, in a tangible way, what it was like to take a 30% pay cut. Yes, she was still able to cover her rent, food and other basics. But, many of the luxuries that she had come to rely on – morning coffees at Starbucks, trips to visit her friends in other cities and extra clothing – became distant memories.

Realizing how difficult life after retirement was going to be, she made the difficult decision to delay her retirement for at least a few years and build up her skills in case she needed to work for herself in the future.

The second benefit of this approach was that it gave her the opportunity to save some extra money. Even though her full “retirement trial” only lasted 6 months, she was able to save the amount above what she was spending on her new budget. She told me that this made a big impact as she continued to save more in the coming years.

Are you financially prepared for retirement? What tangible steps could you take to save more?

Am I Ready to Make Friends and Fight Loneliness?

Don’t assume that your existing friendships will last into retirement. That’s the advice that many women have given me about planning your social life after age 65.

For most of our lives, our social lives just kind of “happen to us.” We get up every morning and eat breakfast with our family. We drive to work, where we interact with, sometimes to our dismay, our colleagues and employees. On the weekends, our calendars are full of family, work and other social events.

Then, we hit retirement age. All of a sudden, our value as a business contact decreases, our family gets more distant and, with less disposable cash, our weekend entertainment options diminish.

So, what’s the alternative? How can we give ourselves the best chance of maintaining our social relationships and building a happy retirement?

Many women I know recommend focusing on your passions, rather than trying to “get out there and meet people.” If you don’t know where to start, ask yourself the following questions. Better yet, write down the answers.

  • What have I always wanted to do, but, didn’t have the time?
  • What silly, funny or crazy passions have I always been embarrassed to explore?
  • What activities make me smile?
  • What did I love to do as a kid? Could I pick these things up again?
  • What topics or activities intrigue me the most?
  • What activities do I love to watch on TV? Could I learn some of them?

How Will I Find Purpose in My Life After Retirement?

This is, perhaps, the hardest of the 3 questions to answer. After all, if you don’t know what the meaning of your life is by age 65, why should you think that you will find it in retirement?

The truth is that there are many reasons that retirement is the perfect time to find your life’s purpose. For starters, with your family out of the house and your career ending, or, at least shifting, you don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks.

In addition, with more than 6 decades experience on this planet, you finally know yourself well enough to go inside and ask yourself the tough questions.

As I wrote about before, finding the meaning of your life is actually about 3 questions:

  • What is important to me?
  • What am I truly good at?
  • What is my potential?

If you haven’t read the article yet, I encourage you to check it out. Several people have told me that it had a big impact on how they looked at finding happiness in life after 60.

Finding your purpose in life is a long-term process. So, don’t expect all of the answers to come to you right away. The most important step is realizing that you don’t need to find “the meaning of life,” in a cosmic sense, to find “the meaning of your life.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you approaching retirement? What steps are you taking to build a happy retirement? Have you already retired? What advice would you give to help your younger sisters find happiness in retirement? Please join the conversation.

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