Many articles, books and videos about retirement neglect the value of a positive retirement mindset. Yet, I believe that your attitude about this important phase of your life can be as crucial as the issues of health and finances. We all know retired people who have money, good health, and plenty of friends and family around, yet spend much of their time acting miserable. I used to play tennis with a retired guy who seemingly had all the necessary assets, yet he was so gloomy his nickname was ‘Cranky Bob’. Who wants to go through life with the moniker ‘Cranky’? I can think of a hundred other words I’d rather have describe me than cranky.
By contrast, there are others with limited resources and health problems, who are still cheerful and optimistic. You think: if I were that person, I would hate life. Yet they are positive beacons who spread joy. So, in this sense, it is obviously not the circumstances that determine one’s disposition, but rather the mindset. This is good news, because you may not have that much control over factors such as your health, finances and family. Sure, you can exercise and eat right, but if you have a genetic disposition to illness, robust health and happiness may not be in your future. This is the opposite of the right retirement mindset.
Once you reach retirement age, there are plenty of options for work or starting a business, but you may not have the ability (or desire) to put in the hours and energy needed to totally turn your financial ship around. Likewise, with your community. You may have few or no close friends, and few family members nearby.
Regardless of whether you give yourself a “10” in each of the other four criteria (health, finances, purpose, and community), your mindset can vastly improve your overall happiness and sense of well-being. Fortunately, if you get the mindset part right, the other good stuff tends to fall into place. Your health improves, people want to be around you, and you can more easily find and express your purpose. Even your finances may start to improve. Life just gets better.
Focus on the Gain
A smart guy and seasoned citizen named Dan Sullivan talks about the importance of teaching yourself to focus on the “gain” instead of the “gap”. To put it another way, if you practice the art of gratitude for what you already have, instead of bemoaning what you don’t have, you are more likely to get more of the good stuff (the gain) instead of the bad stuff (the gap). Mr. Sullivan explains the concept in this YouTube video. The video is worth watching several times until you get the concept – it is a potential life changer.
One of the big caveats to a positive mindset is to not expect that just because you feel a certain way, life is always going to cooperate. This demand that your expectations will be fulfilled can do a lot of harm. The truth is that you can be both a realist and an optimist. In other words, you expect good things to happen but accept the reality of whatever actually happens. We all have sunny days and rainy days – days when it seems everything is going our way, and others when the opposite is true. Either way, you are just one more person doing life.
Jenkin Lloyd Jones expressed this concept exactly right: “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old-time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”
To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you really can’t always get what you want. Sometimes you do and often you don’t. Wanting what you get is more important to happiness than getting what you want. The trick is to have the right retirement mindset, accept what you get and, like Jenkin Lloyd Jones says, enjoy the ride.
Note: this article was originally published February 22, 2020 at Baby Boomer Retirement.