Wes Moss Featured in the AJC: How to set up your retirement to be happier

The only thing worse than having no money is having all the money in the world and no idea what to do with it. This point is especially true in retirement. No matter how much money we socked away during our working lives, if we have nothing to do — no hobbies, no social engagements, no travel — it’s likely we won’t be happy retirees.

Enter core pursuits — the things that energize you and make your life wonderful.

Core pursuits are activities or endeavors that you absolutely love. These are precisely what makes retirement so enjoyable, so happy, so life-affirming. As you plan for your post-career life, it’s important to think about the money and what you want to do with that money.

It’s about planning to have the time and financial freedom to engage in your core pursuits.

But having the financial freedom to go after your core pursuits only works if you actually have core pursuits.

This concept is so important to me that I wrote about it extensively in my book, “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think.” In fact, my Number One retirement money secret is: Determine what you want and need your retirement money for. It truly is that important.

Let me share a story with you.

I recently spoke at the Garden Center Group’s conference in Salt Lake City. In attendance were people who own garden centers all across the country. It’s not easy work — they grow trees, shrubs, flowers and plants to sell in their retail businesses. These days, it’s difficult to keep up with the big-name outdoor and home improvement stores, but these folks are doing it.

The organizers of the conference asked me to talk not just about money and investing, but also the importance of developing core pursuits to solidify a happy retirement. Why? Because these hard-working entrepreneurs have a tendency to get consumed by their work. They don’t make time during their working lives to develop other hobbies and passions.

They are not alone. But happiness, core pursuits, and money are intrinsically linked. If you have all the money in the world, but no core pursuits, you’re likely to be unhappy during retirement. Likewise, if you have a slew of core pursuits and no money with which to pursue them, you’ll likely be unhappy. You need both to achieve real, lasting happiness in your post-career life.

It can take years to identify and develop your passions — so you want to start sooner rather than later. It’s the same concept you apply to your financial well-being: Start early, stay in it for the long haul, make adjustments as necessary along the way. Golf is a great example. It’s a favorite core pursuit of mine. But it’s a lot easier to learn the game when you’re in your 30s as opposed to your 60s.

So, start now. Explore something that’s always captured your imagination and see how it feels. Curious about the violin? Take classes. Interested in acting? Step onto the stage. Want to get involved in local politics? Cast yourself into the community.

Maybe you’ll love it; maybe not. But either way, you’ll know. And you’ll have more information about what you like and don’t like to guide you on your path to finding other core pursuits.

Based on the research for my book, I have found that the happiest retirees have at least 3.5 core pursuits. Actually, happy retirees have many more core pursuits than do their unhappy counterparts – about 90 percent more! The happy camp averages about 3.6 core pursuits, while the unhappy camp averages only 1.9.

What you love to do with your time will be as unique as you are, but I have found that the best core pursuits are generally social ones, like travel. The happiest retirees reported taking an average of 2.4 vacations per year, while the unhappiest took only 1.4. You may be thinking to yourself, “Sheesh. It’s just a difference of one vacation!” But from my research, that one vacation made the difference between being happy and being miserable.

Volunteering, sports, attending church and other group activities also ranked high in bringing people joy during retirement. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of attending a place of worship. Of course, it is nourishing spiritually, but it seems to also carry with it connected social benefits as well.

Other, more solitary activities like reading, writing, and hunting ranked much lower on the list of happiness-inducing.

So, the key here is to be around others. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing tennis, gardening at a community garden or working a part-time job that taps your expertise and interest. What matters is that you’re socially engaging.

And other research has indicated that being socially active may have benefits beyond emotional health — it is likely good for our physical health, too. In his book “The Blue Zones,” author Dan Buettner identified an interesting phenomenon — people in certain parts of the world tend to live longer, happier lives than other humans. Researchers have analyzed the life, health and environmental components of these “Blue Zones” to try to determine what makes the oldest residents keep ticking. Among their findings: People who live in Blue Zones are engaged in many rich, meaningful social relationships. As if you needed more evidence on the power of core pursuits and engaging, there you have it.

I want to send you off excited and ready to find your way to a happy retirement. Make time in your busy life to discover what makes you happy and pursue it. Those passions will bring you joy in the moment, and in your post-career years.

After all, they don’t call them “The Golden Years” for nothing. Your retirement deserves to be golden, and in ways that go well beyond the bank.

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