6 factors that define a happy retirement


Happiness…it’s an idea written right into our Declaration of Independence. You know, that part about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

But how many of us are truly happy right now? Or expect to be truly happy when we retire?

While we can’t really assist you with the former, we can help you with the latter. It’s all about the choices you make…

Read more: Millionaire secrets: 5 things more important than having $1 million

6 traits of happy retirees

Last year, our contributor Wes Moss wrote a book about what makes a happy retiree and what makes somebody unhappy in retirement.

Wes also has a ‘Money & Happiness Quiz‘ available on his website, which is free for you to take.

I’ve taken the quiz and want to share some of the questions and the insights I learned from this tool.

The 11-question quiz asks some basics you would expect — about your purpose in life, your activities and interests, how much time you spend planning for retirement, how much you have saved and how much you’re planning to spend in retirement.

But there are a few oddball questions that actually can yield some deep insights into the lifestyles of happy retirees…

Home value

Do happy retirees live in McMansions? Not exactly. The research points to happy retirees having an average home value of $355K. Unhappy retirees, meanwhile, have an average home value of $273K.


Lesson: Don’t buy too much house. But don’t buy too little either! Either way, here’s why should buy a home below your means.

Mortgage pay-off date

You never want to take on a big financial obligation like a mortgage when you’re getting ready to work less or stop working altogether. Research shows that the happiest retirees have no more than a five-year horizon until their mortgage is paid off when they decide to hang it up at work.

Lesson: Pay down your mortgage steadily during your working lifetime and don’t do anything to stretch the debt. Read Clark’s advice on everything to do with mortgages here.

Sources of income

Too many people retire with Social Security as their only form of income. Not a good idea! The happiest retirees have 2.6 different income sources. Unhappy retirees, meanwhile, have only 1.85 different income sources.

Sources of income to consider other than just Social Security include a pension, income from investments, rental properties, part-time work and more.

Lesson: Working past retirement age if you’re able is a great idea. So is picking up a little side work to fatten your wallet!

Your vehicle of choice matters

This may sound strange, but the wheels you drive can have a big impact on your happiness in retirement. Research shows happy retirees favor Asian brands like Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai. By contrast, people who drive BMWs in retirement tend to be the unhappiest of all retirees.

If luxury cars are your style, you might consider a Lexus instead. It’s the favorite luxury brand of happy retirees, according to research!

Lesson: A good basic ride — preferably used — is your best bet as you go into your golden years.

Pick where you shop wisely

Wes Moss notes that the happiest retirees shop at stores like Macy’s, Chico’s, Kohl’s and Nordstrom. Unhappy retirees, meanwhile, shop at super high-end stores like Neiman Marcus.


Whatever you do, just don’t fall into the trap of shopping entirely at thrift stores; that won’t bring happiness (just shabbiness!) according to Wes’ research.

Lesson: The Goldilocks rule seems to apply here. Not too expensive and not too cheap. Just right is what you’re looking for! Clark’s advice on saving money on clothing and fashion can come in handy.

Vacation time: Find the sweet spot

Research shows the happiest retirees take an average of 2.4 vacations each year. So they’re not traveling constantly, but they’re not skimping on travel either. On the other hand, the unhappy bunch typically vacations 1.4 times a year.

Lesson: Travel is doable — and necessary for your happiness — even on a modest retirement budget. Let’s Clark’s travel advice help you find a deal!

Read more: 5 financial lessons from the life of a university librarian worth $4 million

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