I recently read the excellent book "If You're So Smart Why Aren't You Happy?" by positive psychology professor Raj Raghunathan from the University of Texas. Although its intended audience is MBA students and young professionals, it provides valuable insight for retirees.
In the book, he suggests there are three primary ingredients for a happy and fulfilling life: Mastery, Belonging, and Autonomy. All three components are essential - if any one area is lacking it can leave you feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.
An interesting phenomenon I have noticed working at a retirement planning firm is that there is an initial stage of excitement when people retire, but this excitement is often followed by a "lull." Retirees often express feelings of boredom and "emptiness" during this period.
The “MBA” framework provides insight into why that might be.
While people often have more limited autonomy during their working years, a job often provides a strong sense of mastery. There's also a social element to working. You get to know and befriend your coworkers and become a part of a group - providing a sense of belonging.
When you retire, you experience a huge gain in autonomy as you can pretty much do whatever you want whenever you want within reason. Unfortunately, you often experience concurrent losses in feelings of mastery and belonging, which can rob you of your happiness during your golden years.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
In fact, the gain in autonomy creates the potential to make your retirement years the happiest, most fulfilling time in your life. If you're deliberate, you can use this increase in autonomy to improve the other two dimensions.
Retirement enables you to spend your time mastering hobbies and activities you find the most meaningful and engaging without having to worry about whether it provides you with income. Retirees also have more time and ability to visit friends and family - especially the people who live out of town.
If you're approaching retirement or are already retired, I suggest you take some time to think about how you can apply the "MBA" principles to your own life when you retire. Specifically, make a plan for how you will maintain a sense of mastery and belonging as a retiree.
Doing so can help you avoid the post-retirement lull and help you turn your retirement into the happiest and most fulfilling years of your life.