How to Be Happy (Not Bored!) in Retirement – Starting Today

Here are 12 ways to prepare now for retirement so that you’ll be happy, active, fulfilled and never, ever bored.

by: Jacob Schroeder, Manager of Investor EducationOctober 21, 2020

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7,300 days.

175,200 hours.

10,512,000 minutes.

That is the amount of time you can expect to have in retirement, considering the average length of retirement is approximately 20 years, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

How will you spend all of that newfound free time?

Without a sense of purpose, the risk of dissatisfaction increases, and what should be a meaningful time becomes an anxious or uninspiring one. The average retiree in Britain grew bored after just one year, according to a U.K. survey. And one-third of retirees eventually give up on retirement and return to the workforce, according to a 2016 Federal Reserve study.

The notion of retirement as a time of leisure is outdated. Most older adults want a similar level of engagement and meaning as in their working years. This is as it should be. From traveling the world to helping people in need, there are a variety of activities that can give you meaning and joy in retirement.

To get a leg up on a happy retirement, start in the years before leaving your job by exploring the interests you want to pursue later in life. You can even use those interests to create a more personalized financial plan. Then you’ll be fully prepared to hit the ground running (literally, if that’s your thing!).

Need some inspiration? Here are 12 ideas.

1. Learn a new language

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If you plan to visit foreign countries or retire abroad, take time now to learn the lingo. Becoming fluent will help you get around and immerse yourself in different cultures. All while boosting brain power.

Don’t fall for the myth that it is harder to learn a language as you age. Plenty of linguists say that’s not necessarily true. And several studies show that learning a new language can help improve cognitive skills and memory, regardless of when you start.

Get started: Purchasing educational software such as Rosetta Stone can help you learn a language on your own time. A cheaper option, though, is to simply check it out from your local library. There are also free online services. Duolingo and Open Culture, for example, are offer dozens of languages and downloadable courses, ranging for beginner to expert.

2. Join a sports league

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Physical activity with other people is a way to kill two birds with one stone: It helps you stay healthy and socialize. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. Staying socially active can help you maintain good emotional health and cognitive function.

So, if you plan to have a physically active retirement, join a sports league now to get into the game.

Get started: Choose a physical activity you may like to do into old age. One idea is to pick up pickleball, which is one of the fastest growing sports in America. Search online for groups or leagues in your area based on your age or skill level. Or simply ask your friends to join a community center or gym together. Don’t be afraid to try new sports. As you age, your physical abilities will change, so should your interests.

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1. Learn a new language

Speech bubbles reading Hello, Bonjour and Hola

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If you plan to visit foreign countries or retire abroad, take time now to learn the lingo. Becoming fluent will help you get around and immerse yourself in different cultures. All while boosting brain power.

Don’t fall for the myth that it is harder to learn a language as you age. Plenty of linguists say that’s not necessarily true. And several studies show that learning a new language can help improve cognitive skills and memory, regardless of when you start.

Get started: Purchasing educational software such as Rosetta Stone can help you learn a language on your own time. A cheaper option, though, is to simply check it out from your local library. There are also free online services. Duolingo and Open Culture, for example, are offer dozens of languages and downloadable courses, ranging for beginner to expert.

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2. Join a sports league

Four people playing pickleball

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Physical activity with other people is a way to kill two birds with one stone: It helps you stay healthy and socialize. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. Staying socially active can help you maintain good emotional health and cognitive function.

So, if you plan to have a physically active retirement, join a sports league now to get into the game.

Get started: Choose a physical activity you may like to do into old age. One idea is to pick up pickleball, which is one of the fastest growing sports in America. Search online for groups or leagues in your area based on your age or skill level. Or simply ask your friends to join a community center or gym together. Don’t be afraid to try new sports. As you age, your physical abilities will change, so should your interests.

3. Nurture a hobby

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In the bustle of a full-time job, family and other life commitments, it is hard to dedicate time to a hobby. Think things like cooking, woodworking, reading or fixing up old cars.

As you near retirement, consider reversing that trend as time allows. The benefits of hobbies go far beyond simple enjoyment. Leisure activities are associated with a variety of physical and psychological benefits, including lower blood pressure, better fitness and reduced stress. One study suggests the outdoor exposure and physicality of gardening increases longevity.

Get started: For most of us, the challenge is finding time. So, consider trying a time-tracking app or planner to find dedicated time solely for your hobby.  If you don’t have a hobby yet, here some questions to help you find one suited for you: What have you always wanted to try? What did you love doing in childhood? How do you like to spend your downtime?  Once you have a hobby in  mind, you may be able to find local classes and groups near you or online to help grow your interest.

4. ‘Make good art’

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For some, retirement is for indulging those creative endeavors you’ve always wished you had more time for when working. Maybe you wanted to try making ceramics or writing the next great American novel. Exploring your artistic side is more than an activity, it is a form of therapy. The benefits of creating art include lower stress, improved memory and better overall mental health.

As author Neil Gaiman said during his inspiring commencement speech: “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art.”

Art encompasses everything from painting and photography to music, ballet and more. It need not be a solitary activity. You can paint with others in a studio or jam in a community band.

Get started: To learn or perfect your art,you have the option between in-person and virtual instruction. Check out a local library, community center, college or studio for classes or workshops. Online, you can connect with teachers around the world from the comfort of home. Organized virtual programs like Skillshare and Udemy, for example, offer courses in a variety of art styles for both beginning and advanced artists.

5. Work on a business plan

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Running a business is notoriously challenging, with nearly half of new businesses failing within five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You, though, may be one of the many older adults who are up for the challenge. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that people 55 to 64 made up 26% of new entrepreneurs in 2017.

Your own business can provide a sense of purpose, the thrill of a challenge and, perhaps, some additional retirement income. If you’ve always wanted to be your own boss, you can do much of the preliminary preparations — such as conducting market research, writing a business plan and choosing a location — before you retire from your current career.

Get started: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a lot of resources on its website, including online courses and information about possible funding options. Another helpful resource is SCORE,  a non-profit that partners with the SBA to provide free business mentoring and education programs.

6. Search for a fun part-time job

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Similarly, a part-time job in retirement can give you a place to socialize and earn a little extra income. But, with the right job, it can also be fun and rewarding. One idea is to work seasonal jobs in interesting locations in the U.S and abroad. Examples of these jobs include hosting at a campground, cleaning up parkland, working as a ranch hand and helping with hospitality chores.

Get started: Find what work opportunities exist across the country and the world on seasonal employment job sites like Coolworks.com and BackDoorJobs.com.

7. Dip your toes into volunteering

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One way to make retirement more fulfilling is to make it less about you. Older adults have reported volunteer work as a source of happiness and meaning.

Of the 239 older adult volunteers surveyed by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis: 79% said they feel better about themselves by volunteering; 95% said they have improved their lives; and 96% said they have been involved in meaningful activities.

If you plan to make volunteering an important part of retirement, you can start now by determining where and how.

Get started: Contact local charitable organizations to find volunteer opportunities that suit your skills. Unsure what you would like to do, or want to help in a way that’s not available locally? Check out a volunteer search site. For example, VolunteerMatch.org lists volunteer opportunities that are searchable by city and category, such as animals, arts and culture, health and literacy.

8. Get an education

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Going back to school is a smart idea for those who want to learn a subject of interest or work in an entirely new field in retirement. It’s also a smart idea for everyone else. Education can provide major health benefits for older adults. The challenge of learning a new skill can enhance memory, strengthen the connections between parts of the brain and lower the risk of dementia. 

School doesn’t have to mean a traditional classroom setting. There are many courses offered online that let you learn on your own schedule and at your own pace.

Get started: For those who don’t have the time or money for a traditional university program, free or relatively inexpensive courses are offered online through sites like CourseraEdXLinkedIn Learning and MasterClass. However, many colleges offer discounted or even free tuition to adults older than a certain age, depending on your state.

9. Learn to operate a motorcycle, RV or sailboat

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With the luxury of time that retirement affords, you may want to take it slow and truly let the journey become the destination. Three popular alternative modes of transportation among older adults are motorcycles, RVs and sailboats. The average age of motorcycle and RV owners is nearly 50 years old, while the average new sailboat buyer is 57.

Each requires a certain level of skill. That includes driving as well as maintenance for when things break down. Therefore, you should learn or take a refresher course on how to operate them before embarking on a long trip.

Get started: Local motorcycle shops typically offer training classes. For new riders, especially, these classes will help get you ready for the test to earn a motorcycle license. You don’t need a special license to drive an RV, but you may feel safer taking some lessons, considering the investment it takes to buy one. A local driving school may offer RV courses, but you can find certified instructors in many states through. RVschool.com. Sailing lessons are often available through local organizations, colleges and yacht clubs.

10. Head outdoors

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When no longer confined to the walls of an office, chances are you’ll want to spend more time outdoors – for good reason. If you feel rejuvenated whenever you’re in nature, it’s because you are. Spending time outdoors provides a wide range of mental and physical health benefits, including reduced stress, depression and anxiety levels, and lower risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, research shows.

You can start now to make nature a larger part of your life through a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing, biking, climbing and bird watching.

Get started: Check out what recreational activities you can do at local and state parks near you. These parks may even host groups or events tailored to your desired activity. As you get more involved, start planning expeditions to national parks. A national park lifetime senior pass is available to people age 62 or older for only $80. This grants entry for you and your passengers to national parks across the country and can provide discounts on some amenity fees.

11. Consider a run for local office

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Serving as a local official is another way to help your community. By helping to craft policy solutions, you can make a difference in health services, education and criminal justice within your city or state.

Get started: The first step is to think about the office you want to fun for, such as city representative, treasurer or school board member. Then check out your state election office or local election offices for campaign rules and regulations. If you belong to a political party, consider contacting the state’s office for campaign guidance and financial support. There are also political organizations like the League of Women Voters, for example, that provide resources to women involved in the election process.

12. Plan not to ‘retire,’ but to scale back at work

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Retirement doesn’t have to mean reinvention or reimagining or re-anything. Nearly a third of workers hope to do some level of work in retirement, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. And one in five workers plan to keep working in the same or similar position for as long as possible.

Perhaps, at most, you would like to reduce your work hours, opening up more time to pursue the other things you enjoy. The reality is that changes in the workplace and your health can disrupt your plan. It helps then to have an open mind of other things you can do so that you can easily adapt. 

Get started: If you only want to work fewer days a week, ask your employer about their openness in setting up a flexible schedule so you can take a retirement “test run.” During that time, keep track of your daily activities, making note of the things you enjoy and any times you started to feel bored. Then figure out if you want to make any changes to your schedule. If you find that you need or want to add more activities to your life, well, you can start by rereading this article. The possibilities really are just about endless.