For most Australians, retirement and happiness go hand-in-hand.
The general belief is that reaching retirement age is a contented time; that people have worked hard to get to this point and can now reap the rewards.
With endless leisure time stretching out over the horizon, for most people upon retiring, there’s nothing left to do but put your feet up, spend time with the grandkids, and generally bask in the glow of the sunset years.
However the adjustment to life after work might not always be a completely smooth one, presenting some unique challenges for those not properly prepared.
For John and Ruth Baird, the adjustment to retirement was relatively easy, but John cautions about being properly prepared for the changes to come, and to stay active, both physically and mentally.
After a 40-year career as a chartered accountant, John woke up one morning and decided he was ready to stop working. Six months later he kicked off his retirement with a trip of a lifetime to New Zealand and also enjoyed holidays in Hawaii and Bali with Ruth.
Now enjoying a fulfilling lifestyle at Victoria Grange, an Australian Unity retirement village in Vermont, John and Ruth are savouring the extra time they can spend with their family, including four grandchildren who help keep them fit and active.
In their spare time, Ruth pursues a passion for arts and crafts, with quilt-making her speciality, while John relishes his time as treasurer of the village’s social club and his regular games of lawn bowls. They also enjoy taking the occasional holiday.
“You have to be mentally prepared for it,” John, 80, says. “It is just another stage of life. Just keep looking forward, don't look back. Of course, how you set yourself up is important but the most important thing is making sure you are mentally prepared for it and keep busy.
“I was really ready to retire so I didn't find it difficult. I was mentally attuned to the fact that I had had enough of working. Firstly, I filled my days playing a bit of golf but since incurring a back injury I have switched to lawn bowls, playing cards and doing jigsaw puzzles and keeping active. When you get to our age, you can have health problems and so it is good to have a more relaxed lifestyle.
“Definitely make sure you are mentally prepared for the change in lifestyle. Also, get your superannuation in order, make sure it is built up so that you can hopefully have enough sufficient cash to do what you want to do.”
For Ruth, 75, maintaining her health and wellbeing is something she attributes to keeping as active a lifestyle as possible. This includes helping organise events at Victoria Grange, like barbecues, and booking trips to the theatre in Melbourne. She also helps out with a craft stall to help raise funds for a local church and school.
“We haven’t had any (health) issues and I attribute this to keeping active mentally and physically, doing my craft work, crosswords, reading, Tai Chi, exercise and keeping up with grandchildren. I also belong to a couple of craft/patchwork groups,” Ruth says. “I’m very fortunate to have good health and a more relaxed lifestyle helps too.”
Wellbeing in retirement
The latest Australian Unity Wellbeing Index survey, conducted by Deakin University, found retirees reported their wellbeing at an average of more than 80 points – higher than non-retirees at 76 points.
This was consistent across all survey categories except for ‘health’, which was lower and ‘personal safety’, which was ranked similarly to non-retirees.
Overall, these results suggest that Australian retirees are generally feeling content and satisfied with their lives.
The report’s author, Associate Professor Delyse Hutchinson from Deakin University’s School of Psychology, says that while the survey doesn’t examine the reasons for the responses, personal wellbeing appears to increase with age, with some of the happiest Australians aged 65 and over.
“It would seem that retirees’ wellbeing is closely connected to their relationships and interactions with others,” Associate Professor Hutchinson says. “This positive connection with others would tend to offset their lower satisfaction with ‘health’, which declines as age-related ailments set in.
“For those transitioning into retirement, promoting wellbeing through ‘achieving in life’, ‘personal relationships’ and ‘personal safety’ is likely to promote higher wellbeing in retirement. As individuals remain in retirement and continue to age, promoting wellbeing through ‘health’, ‘personal safety’ and ‘community connectedness’ becomes more critical.”
Australian Unity executive general manager, Beverly Smith, says the survey results confirm much of the feedback from many older Australians living in the company’s retirement communities.
“We know that older Australians want to experience their retirement to the fullest and they want a great lifestyle,” Beverly says. “They don’t necessarily want to leave behind the relationships they have cultivated through years of working or miss out on the array of social opportunities, events and activities available to them.
“The survey results show wellbeing continues to increase after retirement age as long as physical health is maintained. With this in mind, it’s likely that older Australians will need a system based on holistic services that optimise the years of activity and minimise the years of care – a system based on re-ablement or prevention in the earlier years.”