Planning for Retirement: Meaning and Happiness Goals

When I was 14, I asked my granddad if he had any regrets. He had two. First, he regretted having a tattoo. Second, he regretted not planning for his retirement. The first one made sense, and I’ve never had a tattoo. However, at 14, the second one made no sense to me at all. I thought retirement was when you just have a hard-earned rest and spend a lot of time ‘with your feet up’. After a few months of retirement, my granddad went back to work, part-time. The other time he spent reading, which is probably where I got my love of books. And now, as a coach, I see many clients wanting to deal with retirement planning. This blog aims to set the scene and provide the background for retirement planning. It deals with the attitudes with which we approach life changes and the value of setting happiness and meaningfulness goals.

Attitudes – Psychological Hardiness

Some people cope better in times of uncertainty and social psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi identified three central attitudes that determine how we ‘come out the other end’. Or, as they call it, psychological hardinessThese attitudes – the three Cs – are commitment, control, and challenge. In the context of retirement, commitment is about connecting with others and having a curiosity about the world. Control is about taking stock and emphasizing what you can control, however small.  Often in coaching, we often start by looking at the ‘taken-for-granted’, small stuff. It’s a bit like ‘panning for gold’. Challenge is about approaching problems as projects and setting goals that stretch us.

Happiness and Meaningfulness

In coaching, it’s essential to match the clients’ goals to their values.  A tenet in my coaching practice is that everything should be meaningful to the client. So there are no grand symbolic gestures required, just practical steps in line with clients’ goals. And, values – the things they stand for in life – are important drivers. They give meaning. In recent years, Positive Psychology has contributed a great deal to our understanding of how to create positive emotions, such as happiness and optimism. Psychologists Julie Round and Jolanta Burke in a small longitudinal study explored the wellbeing of recent retirees using expressive writing and goal-setting. They focused on hedonia (happiness) and eudaemonia (meaning and purpose in life). The classic book, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘Chick-sent-me-hi’) deals with how to achieve happiness through goal-setting. The idea is that we set goals that put us into the state of ‘flow’ – the times when we become totally absorbed with something and lose a sense of time and of ourselves. So, the more we can set goals to put is into a state of flow, the happier we are. All this creates a platform to explore desired retirement outcomes using Round and Burke’s expressive writing exercises.

Future Desired Outcomes

Imagination plays a key role in coaching. It feels different to ask ‘What will you do?’ than asking ‘What kind of things do you imagine might work for you?’ Expressive writing and journaling are a great way to ideas and options for ways forward. For their study, Round and Burke suggest writing over four separate days. Here are their exercises, simplified slightly:

  1. Describe your best-retired self, imagining all your dreams have come to pass.
  2. Explore the key building blocks of your life at their future best (home, family, community, leisure etc.)
  3. Imagine that everything has gone to plan. How will things look in five years’ time?
  4. Imagine everything has turned out as you would like. Write about your 80th birthday party. Think about how it looks, smells, feels and sounds. Who’s there with you?

These exercises can help you to take stock of what’s already in place for your best-retired self and highlight areas that need attention and some groundwork. These insights form the basis of your goal setting – things that will add happiness and meaning to retirement. Start with where you’d ideally like to be, then count back the steps to where you are now. Pick one theme and set a small goal for the first logical step. Setting small goals and taking action on them little and often is more effective than an ad hoc ‘blowing-hot-and-cold’ approach. as the Tanzanian proverb says ‘Little by little, a little becomes a lot’.

Coaching for Retirement Planning

If you’d like to discuss coaching for retirement planning, please get in touch (via the form below) for a free, no-strings telephone (or Skype) consultation chat. It usually takes about 20 minutes and even if you decide not to proceed with coaching it can be useful for signposting next steps.

BooK: Don't Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet ItReferences and Further Reading

Here are the sources referred to in this blog post and a few recommended books. Most of the material here around goal-setting in covered in my two books. See below:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness. London: Rider. See Amazon UK orAmazon US

Maddi, S. R., & Kobasa, S. C. (1984). The Hardy Executive: Health Under Stress. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin. (Currently out of print). For a summary see blog post: Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching

Round, J. & Burke, J. (2018). A dream of retirement: The longitudinal experiences and perceived retirement wellbeing of recent retirees following a tailored intervention linking best possible expressive writing with goal-setting. International Coaching Psychology Review, 30 (2), pp. 27-45.

Seligman, M. (2017).  Authentic Happiness. Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. See Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

Wood, G. (2008). Don’t Wait for Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It. Tools and Techniques for Positive Lasting Change. Chichester: Capstone. See Amazon UK or Amazon USA

Wood.G. (2013). Unlock Your Confidence. Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through the Confidence-Karma Method. London: Watkins Books. See Amazon UK or Amazon US

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