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How to Retire Happy

One topic I like to write about, because it's so critical, is retirement. For example, I've offered some shocking statistics and explained how women are at a disadvantage in retirement. Thinking about your own retirement can be depressing -- but it doesn't have to be. If you're reading this article, you have the resources you need to plan for a comfortable retirement -- such as links to further information and guidance. Take advantage of these resources -- don't just assume that your shares of Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) or Lucent (NYSE: LU  ) will make you comfortable in the future. Wishful thinking and lots of Enron shares didn't take that company's shareholders very far.

Beyond all that, though, don't we also want more than just a comfortable retirement? I think most of us probably hope for a happy retirement above all. That's why I recently headed to our ever-helpful Retirement Investing discussion board and asked its denizens to offer their advice on securing a happy retirement. By the way, did you know that you can try out our entire vast discussion board community for free, for 30 days? Give it a whirl.

Here are some snippets from their lively conversation, focusing first on the money aspect, and then on the happiness. (If you find yourself yearning for further clear and sensible retirement planning advice as you read this, you can get lots of it in our Rule Your Retirement newsletter, which you can try for free.)

First, the money
TwoCybers suggested: "Selena, this is so simple as to be silly. But as far as I can tell, it is the only thing I really have done that is different from most other people. We all know we are supposed to save, but we don't. So the simple idea is this. Every time you get a pay raise or increase, take 50% of the increase in take home and save that amount. You still get some additional spending money, but slowly the savings increase."

Familyceo stressed the importance of sticking to your plan: "Pay yourself first. (My dear husband) and I always set aside (money) for us (457, IRAs) and then paid the bills. With what was left we made investments and splurged a little here and there."

RookieJoe has a simple and probably effective approach: "Hopefully, planning early will do it for me. But it will be a while before I can tell you if it worked (I'm 25)."

Reallyalldone offered: "We started saving very early and never considered that money to be available for other things. We didn't plan to live better in retirement, but we didn't plan to live worse, either. I wish I could tell you how many people made some comment about staying busy or wondering what I do all day. I pretty much do whatever I want, and it's been wonderful." She pointed to another post, where she offered more detail on how she's enjoying her retirement.

Next, the happiness
Stssgabs100 offered a simple but insightful suggestion that will (at least eventually) apply to most of us: "Live near your grandchildren."

TheBadger reminded us: "I think everyone knows about the financial issues: save, save some more, take care of health insurance, wills, living trusts, etc, etc. I would like to focus on the non-financial side of (early) retirement for just a moment; best phrased: What am I going to do with 50-60 extra hours per week? I would suggest to your readership that there are 100, maybe 1,000, good answers. Conversely, I can only think of one wrong answer: 'I dunno.'"

He added, "In my particular case; and therefore my answers are particular to me only: I upped my vacations from one (occasionally) per year to 3-4 per year, I sold my business but stayed in the business in a different and much more narrow field of practice and only work when the weather is bad, I got my ski days up from 5 to 25 per year, I got my annual hours of motorcycle riding up from maybe 100 to approximately 600 per year, and the list goes on and on to the point where I'm busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest -- therefore I could not possibly go to work as I don't have enough time."

Yakers offered a great take: "If you want to be happy in retirement, then I would suggest being happy before retiring. I am a happy person, maybe genetically. My teenage son rolls his eyes and says, 'Dad is having another happy attack' whenever I start to sing or say what a beautiful day it is. Happiness has NOTHING to do with money itself. It is an inside job. How to have enough money in retirement is another question and a good one. Just don't confuse the two."

ResNullius boldly went where no other Fool went, in answering my query. He recommended that would-be happy retirees "live long and prosper."

Matt1344 noted, "I am not fully retired, so I'm only half qualified to comment. Some years ago, at age 55, when I had decided to quit working, thoughts would run through my head. ... One line of thought was to recognize that a job was something I had, something I did. It was not who I was. For many folks a large part of their identity is their job. What's the first question most people ask you? 'What kind of work do you do?'"

He went on to describe himself as a dancer, woodworker, motorcycle rider, poet, hiker, walker, and more, explaining that as he let go of the career side of his identity, he embraced the other sides of himself, some of which may not have received enough attention in the past. He added an important insight: "One of the things I think people don't realize is the impact that losing the daily connection with co-workers can have. Maybe not for all, but for some of us, because we live alone it may mean more. I worked with some of these folks for close to 20 years. Even if they were 'only' work friends, I miss them." Fortunately, he has new friends in our discussion board community: "I'm sure glad that this group of folks are here because it is adding richness to my life."

He said he ended up working five to six hours a week through a temp agency that became "an eight-year winding-down period as I now head into full-time retirement. I think a lot of folks would find this a nice approach, kind of a weaning process." And finally, he summed up that in retirement, we "learn to know the difference between wants and needs. To live simply with a bit of grace. Hopefully, you will have discovered that toys and other such things may bring temporary pleasure but not lasting happiness." What really matters, he said, are relationships with other people.

Jesserivera67 shared a story about the differences between two grandfathers. Read about why one was able to live a happier life.

Aktravler85 offered a similar take on the differences between a pair of parents and in-laws. One couple always talked of doing various things "one day," while the other couple traveled extensively, racking up great stories to tell.

TerryMcK said, "Some very good and touching responses thus far. It made me remember the 'Desiderata,' which I hadn't looked at in some years. I pulled up a copy and hope you enjoy this."

NHDad920 posted: "Being 31 and just starting a family, I certainly can't say yet what my key to retirement happiness is. But the one key thing we're doing now. is we're thinking ahead 30 years to what we want to do with our retirement time. Some people may want to live in a small home, garden, and spend time with nearby grandchildren -- that sounds like a very enjoyable and relatively inexpensive retirement. My wife and I, on the other hand, want to spend summers in Italy and the rest of the year in a cute little home near the mountains of New Hampshire or Vermont, winters filled with skiing. We realize we need to save a lot and invest wisely in the next 30 years to make that dream a reality. Bottom line is we thoroughly enjoy our lives now and don't want to have to give up the things that make us happy because we won't be able to afford them in retirement. We have goals and are planning our retirement keeping those goals constantly in mind.

In sum
So give some thought to your own retirement plans -- make sure that you're working not only on having enough money, but also on setting yourself up to be happy. (Let us help you, with our Rule Your Retirement newsletter.)

If you have any ideas or suggestions for others on how to achieve a happy retirement, I invite you to share them on our Retirement Investing discussion board. Or just pop in and see what others are saying.

For related Foolishness, see:

Selena Maranjian's favorite discussion boards includeBook Club,Eclectic Library, andCard & Board Games. She owns shares of no companies mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.

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Selena Maranjian

Selena Maranjian has been writing for the Fool since 1996 and covers basic investing and personal finance topics. She also prepares the Fool's syndicated newspaper column and has written or co-written a number of Fool books. For more financial and non-financial fare (as well as silly things), follow her on Twitter...

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