Much of our happiness in retirement discussion has been around putting into practice solid financial principles. From nest egg sizes and withdrawal rates to tips on booting the adult kids off your retirement payroll, cash has obvious implications on happiness levels.
But so do lots of other things. My far-reaching money and happiness survey of over 2,000 retirees in the U.S. has surfaced some non-cash happiness essentials. So, if you’re asking yourself, “How in the hell can I be happy in retirement?,” I say, try a little heaven.
We asked thousands of retirees about their religious service attendance and self-identified happiness levels. Attendance could include church, synagogue or a similar place of worship. And simply put, if you want to be happy, we found that a little religion is good, but more is better — up to a point.
Our survey data overall shows that more church equals more happiness in retirement, but only up to a point. We found that the happiest retirees attend church on average once a week. In fact, weekly service attendance puts you 1.5 times more likely to be happy than those non-attenders. If you’re the Christmas- or Easter-only type, you’re actually 50 percent more likely to be unhappy relative to your churchgoing friends. Once respondents jumped to the “multiple times a week” category, happiness levels actually tailed off a bit. I’m not sure how to read into this, except for too much of a good thing might actually be … too much. Just don’t tell my pastor.
I’m partial to this advice since my family just recently joined a new church closer to my neighborhood. It’s where my children attended preschool. It was an easy decision to join this church since we’d already built such great relationships there. I run into some issues with getting to church every week since I spend the vast majority of my Sunday mornings at the WSB radio studio recording “Money Matters With Wes Moss” from 9 to 11 a.m. But once I retire someday in the distant future, I plan to enjoy church regularly and increase my happiness!
Digging deeper for the retirement application, it’s helpful to understand what these attendance levels actually mean. Walking through those church doors probably won’t deliver a happiness silver bullet. It’s actually what accompanies religious service participation that matters.
Earlier, we published findings showing that happy retirees enjoyed over 3.5 core pursuits in retirement. You can think of these pursuits as hobbies-on-steroids. Interestingly, the most common core pursuit for the happiest group: volunteering. Volunteering gives retirees the feeling of meaningful accomplishment; a self-satisfaction that is hard to replicate outside of acts of service and giving. Church (or other religious participation) is filled with outlets for this. Sunday school volunteering, global missions trips or dropping a $20 in the offering basket — you’d be hard-pressed to find as many easy means for a service-led happiness boost in one place. And the more you go, the more likely you’re participating in one or more of these.
Beyond opportunities for service, the sense of community and belonging in faith groups brings new richness to the retirement season. Consider the lifestyle experienced by residents in Loma Linda, Calif. This community, made up primarily of Seventh-day Adventists, is the only recognized “Blue Zone” in the United States.
These zones, defined in the New York Times best-selling book by the same name, represent the nine happiest and healthiest people groups in the world. As the only one in America, this community offers compelling proof on concentrated religion’s impact on happiness. This town — where as many as 1/3 of residents are Seventh-day Adventist — outlives the rest of America by nearly a decade. They report outsized levels of vitality, in part because their faith encourages finding sanctuary from the bustle and stress of life. They take 24-hour sabbaths for rest and prioritize spending time with like-minded friends.
According to “Blue Zone” research, they find well-being in sharing each other’s values and providing support and accountability around healthy habits. All this strengthens social networks (the real, human kind!) and gives consistent relational connection.
The most actively religious among us are statistically happier. They’re finding purposefulness and a sense of shared, profound meaning. So while you’re fine-tuning your financial plan for retirement, double-check that you plan for some good ole’ gospel time. Can I get an amen?!