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The Key to a Happy Retirement May Be Staying Active

Most people transitioning to retirement experience major lifestyle changes. A recent study looked at how adults fared pre- and post-retirement when it came to work, health, finances, relationships with children and partners, and their connection to the well-being of others.

The study sought to determine how their patterns of engagement – meaning their pursuit of various goals and activities – in these areas changed before and after retirement, and how those changes affected their psychological adjustment to this new phase of life. The authors said their study is among the first to examine patterns of engagement during the retirement transition.

The study appeared in Psychology and Aging. Co-authors included Professor Jacob Shane (Brooklyn College, The Graduate Center). Findings were based on data from the National Midlife in the United States National Longitudinal Study of Health and Well-Being, which assessed adults in 1995, 2004, and 2013. This study focused on 1,301 individuals in two groups across a nine-year span: those who were not retired in 1995 but had retired by 2004, plus those who were not retired in 2004, but had retired by 2013.

Three-fourths of those whose profiles were analyzed did not substantially change their overall levels of engagement with various activities pre- versus post-retirement. The largest cohort, 58% of the sample, remained highly engaged in all the domains researchers looked at — including work. The researchers noted that “work remained an important component of many peoples’ lives even after retirement,” though the type of work often shifted from paid labor or demanding careers to “part-time work, volunteering, housework, educational pursuits, and time spent writing.” That highly engaged group also maintained high levels of well-being and feeling in control.

Another cohort that reported high levels of well-being “substantially reduced their engagement with work but maintained high levels of engagement with children, spouses, health, finances, and others’ welfare.”

In conclusion, the authors said, their findings “point to the benefits of remaining highly engaged in multiple domains after retirement. Retirement can be viewed as involving significant losses … but it also reflects a period in the life course when there may be opportunity for significant gains,” such as investing in relationships with family members.