If you spent your days watching ads about superannuation funds, you’d believe the key to a happy retirement is all about how much money you’ve got sitting in your bank account.

But actually speaking to retirees, it’s clear there’s a lot more to happiness than that.

Brisbane woman Sue is in her 70s and has been retired for several years. While she was forced to stop working due to her health, she knows she’s never been happier. “Sometimes I think about how I ever had time to go to work,” she exclaimed, explaining she has finally found time to indulge her love of music. “I normally go to clubs and meet up with friends. I have a friend who plays country music and I listen to that. My days are always taken up with something.”

She’s just one of thousands of Australian retirees who know the key to happiness in retirement is realising it’s your time – you just have to actively choose what will make you happy.

Why time more than money can make a great retirement

Australia has more than 3.9 million retirees. For many of them, it’s the first time in their adult lives they’ve had freedom from huge responsibility, whether they have been working, raising a family, or trying to juggle both at the same time. Suddenly these people have many free hours per week – time they need to use well if they want a sense of fulfillment after they leave the workforce.

According to the ABS, Australians can look forward to more retirement years than ever before, with an average retirement age of just over 55, and average life expectancy of 82 years.

With so many years to fill, retirees who invest their time in friendships and strong family connections often feel a sense of gratification far beyond any financial goals. One study even found that by spending extra time with people you love will actually improve your brain health.

Sue, who lives in Azure Blue Redcliffe retirement village, said having the time to invest in both old and new friendships has hugely increased her day-to-day happiness far beyond any ‘things’ she has ever bought. “I go out a lot – I still have my independence,” she said, adding the ease of public transport at her door means she’s able to visit people she has known for years.

Of equal importance, she said, was developing friendships with her new neighbours.

“In the afternoon I’ll meet with a group of ladies here and we’ll have a coffee. I look forward to that. I’m meeting a lot of new friends.”

What are you retiring to?

In his book End of the Retirement Age: Embracing the Pursuit of Meaning, Purpose and Prosperity, David Kennedy answers a central question: “So, how can you ensure a happy, fulfilling retirement? By ensuring you have something to retire to, rather than something to retire from.”

It’s a question Sue believes more people nearing retirement should think about, and make active decisions about how they want to live. For her, that has meant living in a space she doesn’t have to spend time maintaining.

“I don’t have the responsibility any more – just the opportunities.”

Sue said she uses those opportunities to maintain an active retirement. She structures her day, consistently getting out and about, and often travels, without the worry of looking after her home.

“It’s the best decision I ever made. There’s no maintenance, there’s a great social life. You can come and go as you like. You don’t have to worry about watering your garden.”

Retirement coach Larry Jacobson echoes Sue’s sentiment, and believes it’s crucial each retiree finds a way of life that suits them.

He said that means looking to your retirement years as a new start. “Keep moving forward to new goals.”

He suggested that while some people volunteer or start studying something new, there’s no one solution that fits everyone.

Look at what makes you happy

Sue, who spent her working life as a cook, including two decades in a local hospital, said she was forced into early retirement because of arthritis in her hands. This has been key to her thinking about how she’ll achieve her own goals in retirement. She knew she could no longer maintain a large home, so had initially bought into a retirement village near Toowoomba.

But after moving in, she realised she wasn’t fully happy – mainly because she was too far removed from the places and people she loved. It’s for this reason she took the active step in finding the right home for her, at Azure Blue Redcliffe, which not only connected her with a new community of like-minded people, it gave her the chance to stay connected with old friends.

“I’ve lived here for 11 months, and feel like I’ve won Lotto.”

If you’re ready to make the move, Azure Blue in Brisbane’s Redcliffe offers a resort lifestyle, and a community of like-minded people. Find out more about our village.

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