The Secret to a Healthy, Happy, Stress-Free Retirement

Did you know retirement ranks 10th on the list of life’s 43 most stressful events?

I have to say, I was a little surprised.

If you’re not familiar with the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, it was invented in 1967 as a way for doctors to predict whether certain stressors in a patient’s life could increase their risk of serious illness.

Two researchers by the name of Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe came up with the scale after combing through 5,000 medical records. What they found was a strong correlation between life’s most stressful events and illness. Surprise.

Since then the scale has been retested for reliability and it still holds true today.

Like I said, retirement ranks 10th on the list!

Here are Holmes and Rahe’s 10 most stressful life events (you can see the full list here):

  1. Death of a spouse (or child): 100
  2. Divorce: 73
  3. Marital separation: 65
  4. Imprisonment: 63
  5. Death of a close family member: 63
  6. Personal injury or illness: 53
  7. Marriage: 50
  8. Dismissal from work: 47
  9. Marital reconciliation: 45
  10. Retirement: 45

The numbers next to each life event are called “Life Change Unit” scores — and when added up over the span of a year, the total predicts your likelihood of illness.

Here’s how the scoring works:

  • 80% likelihood of illness for scores over 300
  • 50% likelihood of illness for scores between 150-299
  • 30% likelihood of illness for scores less than 150

Is Retirement Good or Bad for Your Health?

Researchers have been trying to answer this question for awhile now. More recently, the Harvard School of Public Health ran a study that looked at rates of heart attack and stroke among men and women in the ongoing U.S. Health and Retirement Study.

Out of 5,422 participants in the study, those who had retired were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working. The increase was highest during the first year after retirement, and leveled off after that.

Other studies have reported the opposite effect. Some people actually showing improvements in their overall health once into retirement.

But the most interesting study, in my opinion, on retirement as it relates to health and happiness was conducted out of Taiwan University and published in Applied Research in Quality of Life.

The study looked at how time management affects retirees levels of happiness and overall quality of life. Specifically, how you manage your free time.

According to the study, free time refers to those periods when people are under no obligation and can decide for themselves what to do.

What the study found was effective management of free time has a far greater impact on a retiree’s quality of life than the amount of time the person actually has available for leisure activities.

“Individuals who manage their free time well enjoy a higher quality of life, whereas those who gain free time but do not use it properly gain little benefit,” the authors wrote.

The Secret to a Happy Retirement — Goals!

If you think you need to block out every minute of your day to enjoy your golden years, it’s not that drastic. The study found that retirees gained the most benefit by simply setting a few daily or weekly goals and priorities for their free time.

A goal could be simply “I want to maintain relationships with my friends by joining in at least two recreational groups and programs.”

The study’s author concluded the paper by saying that governments, community centers and service organizations should consider programs that teach people how to manage and schedule their free time better to make the most out of retirement.

I must admit, it’s not a bad idea. If you consider your life before retirement, you likely had a predictable routine. Work took priority, and you scheduled everything else around it.

Your daily and weekly goals might have been taking the kids to baseball practice or getting your car oil changed. But you had events and activities you were working towards that kept you sharp.

I think keeping a routine is a necessary part of retirement. It might seem like you have nothing but time in retirement — and you do — but without some structure, you’ll quickly find the days, months, and years start slipping away.

Building a routine you enjoy and setting a few weekly goals is a simple recipe to follow for a happy and stress-free retirement.

The last thing I’ll say about building a routine is it comes with one other added benefit.

By knowing what you’ll do and when, you can project more accurately your expenses. If you plan on going out for brunch every weekend, you can budget for that kind of expense.

The same goes for any recreational memberships or leagues you join. With more free time on your hands, you might end up starting an expensive hobby.

Getting your routine dialed in will help you predict how your free time will impact your retirement spending.

And, if you’re not yet retired but close, practicing your retirement routine is another good way of figuring out what you like and if your budget can sustain it.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

Nilus Mattive

The Daily Reckoning