Don't neglect the things that make you happy before retiring. Source: BIGSTOCK.

Quick, tell me the first thing that comes to mind when I say the words "retirement" and "anxiety." Take a second and jot it down.


Done? Good.

Based on years of writing on the topic, and multiple surveys that have been carried out by professionals far more knowledgeable than myself, I'd be willing to bet that most responses have something to do with money or how you'll be able to make ends meet in retirement.

That's what a survey  by Merrill Lynch and AgeWave found. A full 38% of pre-retirees said that "what they would miss the most" in retirement was a "reliable income." That was more than twice the second-place response.

However, when those same surveys were given to those already in retirement, something different popped up as the No. 1 thing they missed: their social connections.

Source: Merrill Lynch, AgeWave.

If you step back and think about it, this should come as no surprise. We humans are social creatures, and it is through social connections that we find meaning in our life. Between them, social connections and "having purpose" account for what over half of retirees say they miss most.

At the end of the day, even if we can make ends meet, it won't make us feel much better if we don't have purpose in our lives. So its important that today's pre-retirees start taking the right steps now to ensure that they'll actually be able to afford and enjoy their retirement once the time arrives.

How to prepare
Wes Moss, chief investment strategist for Capital Investment Advisors and host of the Money Matters radio show, has devoted his career to finding the answer to such questions. In his book You Can Retire Earlier Than You Think, he offers some guidance.

In short, Moss highlights the importance of having what he calls "core pursuits" -- that is, activities that actively engage you, are intrinsically rewarding (we're not talking about money here), and help give meaning to your life. You need not be a retiree to have core pursuits. In fact, our teenage years are largely defined by the core pursuits we choose.

What Moss has found is that those who are happiest in retirement have an average of 3.6 core pursuits when they enter retirement. On average, those who are unhappy have less than two.

And that last part -- "when they enter retirement" -- is key. It is a reminder that if we spend our 20s through our 60s with our heads buried in our work, and we neglect all that is around us -- our relationships, our health, our spirituality, our interests', etc. -- we are setting ourselves up to spend the last few decades of our lives unhappy.

Just as someone who starts saving for retirement at age 60 is highly unlikely to reach their goals, if you wait until retirement to start exploring your core pursuits, you'll have a much harder time finding what you're looking for.

And for those still worried about finances
It's worth noting that Moss has also done research on how much money the typical "happy" retired household has saved up compared to the "unhappy" ones.

Source: Wes Moss.

While it's possible to retire happily on very little income, there's a clear takeaway here: Those who have a nest egg of about $450,000 or more tend to be the happiest. That's not an enormous sum, especially considering that many personal-finance experts say you need to amass at least $1 million to retire in comfort. However, it seems that for many retirees, it's enough to grant some financial security and pursue the activities they love.