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Do You Have a Happy or a Fulfilled Retirement?

By Stephanie Cunningham November 06, 2022 Lifestyle

As you retire and start a new phase of your life, the metric for a successful retirement appears to be happiness. This may be a good measure of the first few years of retirement when people need time to get used to freedom and do activities difficult to achieve while working.

Although happiness is always welcomed, fulfillment is a more long-term and satisfying emotion. It will contribute to maintaining your physical and mental abilities over your 20- to 30-year retirement.


Happiness is generally fleeting and often the result of a moment in time or nothing at all. I have woken up on occasion and felt happy, and probably you have too.

For no clear reason, I am much happier than the day before even though nothing has changed. My brain-generated happy drugs, like serotonin and oxytocin, are flooding my brain (and/or body), making me feel contentment for a few minutes or a few hours, or the whole day.

It is a fleeting feeling, whether caused by some wonderful occurrence or just because. It is difficult to make this happy state happen. Telling yourself that you are now happy may not be successful.

Happiness in retirement is more a pink-fairy, fluffy emotion that is largely in tune with former versions of retirement, which usually consisted of a short period of rest before dying.

The increased lifespan of the Baby Boom generation means 20–30 years of retirement. This is why 20 years of day-to-day retirement takes more thought and planning than if you are expecting only a few years of rest and leisure.


Fulfillment, unlike happiness, is under your control. It requires planning, hard work, purpose, and passion. To achieve fulfillment, you have to:

  • set goals,
  • develop and put in place your plan to meet those goals,
  • remain persistent through setbacks, and
  • believe that you are on the right path.

Keeping Your Brain Younger

Happiness doesn’t involve much brain work, but fulfillment does, because working towards your goals is also good for your brain.

Fulfillment in retirement requires a plan. Many women who have left (or are planning to leave) the work force choose plans with several similar elements that stimulate the brain and improve mental health.


Better memory and decision-making skills correlate with having a purpose in life. This is true at an age.

Social Interaction

Social interaction takes planning and organisation. Maintaining or making new friends without the structure of work can be difficult, but it’s not unachievable. Studies have found that loneliness negatively affects mental health, so choosing to maintain and expand your social network is crucial.


Contributing to others instead of focussing on yourself is also good for your brain. Altruism research shows that acting for others over time changes the way that we act and how we interact with others. It is possible that acting altruistically may help your mental health as well.


Finding your passion – the activity that you always wanted to do – is also good for health. Doing something new and rewiring the old pathways in your brain keeps you interested and vital.

The old pathways helped you perform your previous activities – pathways for work – and may no longer be of service to you. Finding new activities forces the brain to build new pathways to ignite your passion and keep you mentally young.

Fulfillment gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Fulfillment doesn’t equal happiness, but it does require activities that keep a brain running well. All of these have positive effect on your mind and, therefore, on your body. These activities help you feel younger as you keep your mind and body active.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

When was the last time that you woke up feeling happy without reasonable explanation? How do you feel when you do something for someone something with no expectation of receiving anything back? Is there an activity you have always wanted to do or explore but haven’t had the opportunity? If so, what is stopping you from planning to do it in your retirement, or if retired, exploring it now? Please share your thoughts and comments with our wonderful community.

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This article was a super help to me as I never thought about “plannng” my retirement. I recently moved to Mexico from Canada as I am also disabled and the winters are too harsh. However I don’t have friends (am with my daughter and family) but I’ve felt quite “useless” but I’m trying to find different programs to get into. Thank you so much!

The Author

After taking early retirement as a policy officer, Stephanie Cunningham moved to Australia and earned general and specialized certifications to teach senior yoga. She taught classes for 10 years, then started a podcast about changing the perception of yoga.

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