If you had to choose a single photo that represented what retirement means to you, what would your image be?
These days, it’s difficult to narrow an entire retirement down into one picture, isn’t it?
Whereas it used to be almost entirely about how much money you could save, with its complex financial and social landscapes, along with the high expectations of Baby Boomers, achieving nirvana during retirement is a creative endeavor.
In short, it’s a blank canvas waiting for you to paint your masterpiece.
Since our inception, we’ve been primarily focused on the financial aspects of retirement. Things like how much you needed to save and invest to achieve your goals.
And while those concerns are still the bedrock of what we do, wider-ranging “lifestyle concerns,” and how the accumulation of money can be used as a tool to give you the freedom to pursue your dreams is something we get asked about more now than at any time before.
Because when you consider that your retirement could last 30 years, or longer, you begin to see that making your money last, while vital, isn’t your only concern.
So, what are the essentials of great retirements?
In tandem with the University of California, Davis, we’ve commissioned a nationwide study to help determine what the happiest, most successful retirees are doing to stay that way.
Here are the 4 things we’ve learned.
1) Happy people prioritize Health and Wellness
Equal parts physical, mental and emotional, our research has found that Health and Wellness is the #1 factor in a happy retirement. (Yes, even more than money.) We also found that physical and emotional well-being are closely linked.
So, what can you do right now to achieve greater well-being?
- Walk 20 minutes a day. It will improve your mood, and strengthen your bones, muscles and heart. In short, it will help you live longer.
- Practice “functional fitness.” Get yourself one of those large, inflatable rubber balls and sit on it to improve balance and strength, and then roll around on it on your back and stomach for a few minutes each day (It’s fun!). Strengthening and stretching your core muscles helps you perform everyday tasks—like getting groceries out of the backseat of your car—without getting injured.
- Eat well: A full one-third of all cancers are caused by poor diet. Avoid fast food in favor of fresh, organic meals with lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Keep learning. Taking up a musical instrument after age 50 is thought to delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. 
2) Happy people have achieved a state of prosperity
Prosperity means different things to different people, but for our purposes, it’s not about wealth as much as it’s about achieving financial confidence. Simply, some people feel great about their retirement when they have $400,000 saved, while others are not confident their $4 million is going to last.
Prosperity is being confident that you can reasonably live within your means, and it’s about having all your financial ducks in a row. This means you:
- Have enough money to retire on your terms
- Your wills, trusts and retirement account beneficiaries are up to date
- You carry no debt
- Your savings and investments are diversified and earning income
3) Happy people have a sense of purpose
As retirement has changed, and people not only live longer, but are coming to expect more from the experience, it’s no surprise that we continue to search for meaning in our lives.
The need for meaning is something that makes us uniquely human.
The happiest retirees report that they are satisfied with the amount of responsibilities and commitments in their lives. Our research suggests that, rather than slow down, you should try and schedule the same number of activities you devoted yourself to before you retired. 
Additionally, if you engage in purposeful commitments during retirement, you actually improve your odds of staying healthy longer. 
To find purpose, you should:
- Volunteer with outside agencies, mentoring organizations and local schools
- Go back to college and earn a degree in a subject that fascinates you
- Get out of the house each day and stay involved in the world
- And if you work, and you don’t “need” the money, then only agree to do work that you really enjoy
4) They prioritize relationships with healthy, like-minded people
One of the most underrated aspects of work is interacting with people who are on a similar path to your own. But when you leave the workforce, the loss of stimulation and friendships can be jarring.
That’s because work is much more than just a paycheck.
You must stay connected when you retire.
People who report fruitful social connections, and those who regularly seek out and embrace new experiences, actually live an average of 3.5 years longer than those individuals who lack consistent, strong social bonds. 
To help stay healthy and happy during retirement, you should:
- Avoid long periods of isolation
- Create a schedule and make weekly plans to see friends and family
- Endeavor to immerse yourself in new social experiences with friends
- Limit your exposure to television and social media
Retirement isn’t merely about money. For previous generations, when people were less inclined to discuss depression, and when lifespans were shorter, we assumed that if someone retired with money, they were reasonably happy and we didn’t worry too much about them.
But our deeper understanding about the roots of depression, and a societal shift in what it means to be happy and successful, has in many ways evolved for the better. It takes planning and intention to do modern retirement well.
If you’d like more information about what constitutes a successful retirement in the modern era, check out our Life in Retirement tutorial.