As many of you know, I have a keen interest in what makes for a happy retirement – whether you retire early, at the typical retirement age, or a bit later. That’s why, when I read a recent trending article on the topic of happiness, I was intrigued.
This article on how to be happy came out on CNBC. In this piece, the author, Alex Palmer, claims that, based on findings from multiple studies on life satisfaction and true happiness, you shouldn’t make certain life choices. These decisions include such things as buying a home, becoming a lawyer, or even retiring early!
Of course, I especially take issue with the last point, as I believe an early retirement can make for many years of happiness. And, I also have some thoughts on the other points presented in the article.
Let’s run through them.
1. Stop apologizing.
In this section, the Palmer says we Americans are riddled with anxiety over immediately responding to emails. He says, “According to a study from Loughborough University, which analyzed email interruptions within the workplace, people respond to emails within an average of six seconds. In almost all cases, the sender doesn’t actually expect an immediate response.”
His point is that we feel the need to apologize if an email has been sitting in our inbox for a few days – or even a single day. For example, when we respond, we may begin with an apology for our “delayed response.”
My advice and response to this point are that we should practice being comfortable with our authentic selves. And, don’t apologize for who you are. This point includes things as simple as taking longer to respond to emails than what may be considered “the norm.” Recently, I interviewed Dan Lok. This super-successful entrepreneur makes no apologies for who he is. And, he just so happens to be a Marvel comic superfan with an extensive collection of memorabilia, including full-size Iron Man suits.
2. Rent (instead of buy) a home
“For those looking to enhance their happiness, however, the answer might be to stick with a rental,” says Palmer. To back up this statement, he cites a 2017 study from The Telegraph, which found that renters of single-family homes were more likely than homeowners to say they had good work-life balances. These folks also reported enjoying relaxing at home more than homeowners. Homeowners tended, instead, to put traveling as one of their primary keys to happiness.
My take is this: Homeownership rates in America are at around 65%. That’s because owning a home is part of the American Dream, and, in my book, is a better alternative to renting. I’ve done both many times in my life, and have found renting to be much more stressful than owning my home. You’re worried about damaging the home and then paying for the damage. Plus, are you ever 100% comfortable in someone else’s house?
When it comes time to retire, owning a home can lead to increased happiness. This notion is particularly true if your home is paid off or if you’re within five years of making your last mortgage payment.
3. Embrace getting older
Here’s a piece of advice from the article with which I wholeheartedly agree. I’m a true believer that we only get better with age. So, we should all embrace getting older.
According to Palmer, a longitudinal study from the University of Alberta in Canada looked at participants’ happiness levels as they aged from 14 to 43, with the participants self-reporting their well-being on a scale from “not happy” to “very happy.” Over those 25 years, the subjects generally grew happier as they aged. The increase in happiness remained even when controlling for variables such as gender, marital status, unemployment, and physical health.
4. Don’t be a lawyer
This one had me scratching my head. I know plenty of lawyers who are quite happy in their profession. Sure, your job likely means you’re on the clock 24/7, plus you have the added pressure high stakes outcomes, but some people thrive in this environment.
Palmer sites to an older study here, from 1990, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University. According to this report (which is nearly two decades old!), lawyers were 3.6 times more likely than non-lawyers to suffer from depression. This just hasn’t been my experience with the vast majority of lawyers I know. They love the fast-paced nature of their jobs, and they thrive in it.
5. Complain with purpose
Palmer’s take is that “researchers looking into how happy people tend to complain surveyed 400 college students about their pet peeves with current or former romantic partners. They found that those who complain in a more “deliberate” way — that is, with a purpose toward helping fix whatever is causing irritation — tend to be happier.”
So, his advice is to complain with a purpose; I say why complain at all? If you have something to complain about, try doing something about the situation than just venting about it.
And, I saved the best for last…
6. Don’t retire early
Wait, what? You’ve got to be kidding me on this one. Maybe I’m biased because I love to help people reach early retirement. But I don’t think so. I’ve seen folks go on to absolutely love their retired years – as early as 60, 55 or 45!
Here’s what Palmer has to say about the issue:
“Consider that early retirement might not be so healthy for your mind or happiness. Cross-sectional studies have found that workers who retire early tend to be less happy than those who stay in the workforce through the age of 65.”
For my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, I surveyed thousands of retirees and found out what makes them tick. I used this information to write about what makes for a happy retirement.
To me, the most significant contributors to retirement happiness are core pursuits (or the hobbies you love and engage in) and staying actively plugged into a community of friends, family, and neighbors. Sure, if you retire early and don’t make time for the people and activities you love, you’re bound to be unhappy. But guess what. The early retirees I know that do the things I have outlined in my book are, you guessed it, happy.