7 Steps to Staying Happy and Healthy in Retirement

The year leading up to my retirement was a bittersweet one. I felt ready to retire. I was excited about the prospect of leaving work behind me for the rest of my life. At the same time, I was nervous. I’d never been faced with that amount of free time.

The last thing I wanted to do was end up like those people who have meals at exactly the same time every single day, who are bitter toward young people and who forget what it was like to have a busy life, keeping them trapped in a rambling conversation so I won’t be lonely and bored, while they desperately try to get away. That works for some people. I didn’t want it to work for me. Still don’t.

Peter and I decided to retire a year apart from each other. He’d already partially retired before it was my turn, but we talked about it and decided that staggering it was a good idea. I wanted to retire first. I felt like I needed to find my way in my new lifestyle and I needed to do it somewhat on my own. If Peter had retired at the same time as me, I knew I’d avoid finding my new, retired self. I’d get old, and I’d resent him for it even if it wasn’t his fault.

Over that year, I went through a lot of ups and downs, and I feel like I did find this new version of myself. When Peter retired, I was ready. Now, we’re living a happy and healthy retirement together, both individually and together.

Here are the 7 things I learned during my first year of retirement that helped me to make sure the rest of our lives would be healthy and enjoyable:

1. I decided to do things – Just because I’m retired, it doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything. I’m not going to work, but I’m still living my life. Before my retirement, I started making a list of the things I wanted to do. Not a bucket list, but the things I wanted to be central to my new lifestyle. Swimming, entertaining, joining a book club, yoga, a certain amount of travel; that sort of thing. It’s not a list of goals, but the things that make me feel fulfilled every day.

2. I talked to Peter about our goals – Then, we took those goals and looked at our financial situation. We spoke with a financial planner. This helped me to know what we needed to do with our money to make sure we could do the things that were important to us.

3. I retired when I said I would – Once I retired, I didn’t consider going back part time. I allowed myself to accept this as my new life. That way, the pressure is off. I can focus on what’s ahead.

4. I chose to be healthy – I had never been a tremendously physically active person. I’ve never been on a softball team, and I never used to go to the gym. Now, I have time for me. The healthier I am, the better my quality of life. I swim, I do yoga, I lost the excess weight I’d carried and I sleep at night. It’s important, and I make it a priority.

5. I volunteer – I considered getting a part-time job, but since I didn’t necessarily need it, I decided it’d be better if I left that position open for someone who does. Instead, I started volunteering. I love it. It gives me meaning and purpose because I know I make a difference.

6. I’m learning new things – I’ve made the conscious decision not to be afraid of things I’ve never tried. Instead, I dive in head-first (within reason!). If a friend invites me out on a boat, I go. If there is a silent auction on the other side of Miami for a cause I believe in, I’ll attend. I’ve taken classes to help me learn more about the things I’m passionate about (or find out I’m not as passionate about them as I thought!). This is my chance to experience my world. I’m not going to hide from that.

7. I keep a schedule – I know I said that I don’t want to be one of those people who has to eat meals at exactly the same time every day, but there is something to be said about keeping to a certain schedule. I try to live freely, but I still have my volunteer days, my yoga class days, my swimming days and the days I wash towels or vacuum the carpet. I give myself a reason to get out of bed every day, and that reason is to live my full life.

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