Happiness & Flow in Retirement


Did you know that the happiest people in the world aren’t just happy? Study after study suggests that happiness isn’t just an innate quality; it’s a matter of a person’s environment, their relationships, and what they do each and every day. What we do every day — whether it’s work, raising kids, or volunteering — gives us a sense of pride and satisfaction, which all lead to happiness. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why one of the biggest things people worry about when it comes to retirement is that they won’t be fulfilled anymore. After all, won’t you be bored if you don’t have anything to do all day?

Thankfully, we at Guiding Wealth have found this to be exactly the opposite. Our retired clients are some of the most active, happy people we know. Why? Because they’ve found a rhythm to their days that works for them. They’ve also hacked the system: they know happiness in retirement isn’t just about simply “choosing to be happy” or having zero problems — it’s about finding those things that add up to happiness: creating an environment that makes them feel good, cultivating relationships, and finding flow.

What’s flow, you ask?

What is Flow?

Scientific research has found that “flow,” a state you enter when performing an activity while fully immersed and feeling totally energized. Essentially, “flow” is that feeling where you are fully engaged and enjoying what you’re doing; you’re not thinking about much besides the task at hand. Think about the last time you felt flow — whether it was painting a room, working with a nonprofit, or even at your day job. Most of us enter a state of flow at work, while cooking, or while engaging in hobbies like painting or golfing. But because work is where most of us encounter that sense of flow, it can be hard to feel that level of satisfaction and fulfillment once you leave the workplace.

Because flow is one of the major factors for a happy life, according to science, it’s important to find it once you’ve retired. But how? By finding ways to find flow in your new day-to-day routine.

The Four Elements of Flow

Most soon-to-be retirees worry that they’ll be bored all day, or that they won’t find something that really sparks joy in them. A lot of retirees make a huge list of things to get done around the house (like that bathroom renovation you’ve been waiting 15 years to finish) or book trips all over the world. But the problem with having a list of these types of activities and life experiences to check off is that, once they’re done, they’re done. That’s why finding flow is so important — because it’s ongoing and can be found in multiple activities and spaces in your life.

Thankfully, science has “hacked” the art of flow. Basically, flow boils down to four things:

  • Routine: Things that are regularly scheduled, but not necessarily daily or weekly. This could something as simple as a weekly pickleball session or a monthly bridge night. It could also be a workout class, a volunteer schedule, or time with the grandkids.

  • Socializing: This includes interaction with a wide range of other people on a consistent basis. Attending community events, inviting new people to bridge night, and getting out to meet new people can all help you find that state of flow (remember the last time you lost track of time chatting with someone?)?

  • Challenge: Learning something new and meeting new goals are important, whether they’re for yourself, for a volunteer effort, or with your family and friends. Think about how easy it is to lose yourself in a new puzzle, in a mystery book, or in a new topic you’ve become interested in.

  • Measurement: Find some way to measure your progress, achievement, or success for any goal or activity you decide to pursue. When we’re in flow, it’s easy to finish cleaning the whole house, write a whole chapter of that book, or get to the summit of your latest hiking trail.

How to Find Your New Retirement Flow

So how do you incorporate flow and its four components in your retired life? If you’re newly retired or are about to retire, start outlining what you want to do. Think about when you feel the most flow outside of work. Is it when you’re working in your yard, cooking dinner, or maybe going on a bike ride? Maybe you’re a social person who feels more in flow when you’re around others.

Choose 2 or 3 times that you feel that sense of absolute absorption and enjoyment, then practice it. This could mean signing up for a volunteer program where you work with others or enrolling in a cooking class to improve your skills. Whatever you decide to “practice,” make sure it has the four elements of routine, socializing, challenge, and measurement. Of course, you should also be pursuing new activities or new goals so that you are continually tapping into the sensation of flow; it’s not a one-and-done experience!

After thinking about it, are there activities that check all of the four flow boxes? If you’re not sure, there’s a great Activity Flow Chart you can download from Financial Transitionist Institute. This simple worksheet offers some great insight into which activities can promote and sustain flow in retirement, which will make you happier (and healthier) over the long run.

Of course, if you have questions about the financial and personal side of your retirement, you can always contact Guiding Wealth. We’re here to make sure that you can retire comfortably and enjoy this next phase of your life.