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What Contributes to Satisfaction in Retirement?

Is it money? Is it exploring new activities? Is it spending more time with family and friends? Part of my sabbatical—and this retirement planning project—is taking place in an RV! My guy John and I left Nova Scotia mid-February (-22 on the day we left!) for warmer weather, with plans to eventually head west. While here in an RV resort in South Carolina I’ve met some inspiring retirees that have got me thinking about what contributes to being satisfied with life in retirement.

One of these people is Karen. Karen and her husband sold their home when they retired early and now live full-time in their RV. Karen told me that although they have a very modest income their life is abundant; she and her husband have metal detectors they use on their daily walks on the beach and, through, they both work part-time at different RV resorts in exchange for staying at no cost. Although she was ‘off-duty’ when we spoke she helped me to navigate the laundry room and coffee maker (and took me to a local thrift store!).

And yesterday I joined the Bingo group for the first time (I can attest to the fact that bingo does require concentration) and was struck by how much fun everyone was having with the simplest of activities. In addition to the friendly competition was an underlying comradery. No one talked about their previous work or current financial situation. This group activity and my conversation with Karen were important reminders to me about ‘what’s really important’ in retirement life.

I thought about this as I reviewed a recent American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) article titled ‘The Loneliness Epidemic’. Drawing on research about changes in people’s body (e.g., cells), they state “retirement is a set up for loneliness, and the pain it causes is real.” I wanted to understand this further.

US-based researchers (see citation below) looked at the relationships between retirement expectations, social support and life/social/retirement satisfaction. They gathered data at two different times: three and half months and ten months post-retirement. Overall they found:

  • People’s satisfaction with retirement and life were strongly impacted by their expectations for retirement, both early on and later in retirement.

  • Interestingly, the researchers found that social support only became important to retirement satisfaction over time and was not related to social and life satisfaction in retirement.

The results suggest that while it is important to focus on building social connections in retirement, when planning for retirement more important is to create realistic expectations for your overall life in retirement.

Thinking about the above ideas:

  • Have you thought through what you expect your life to be like in retirement? This includes not only your financial expectations but your expectations in terms of what your everyday life will look like.

  • What social connections or supports do you need in your life? Are you happy spending time with yourself or do you need constant social contacts? Understanding your needs and expectations for social connections and supports will help you plan ways to build these into your retirement life. The AARP article on loneliness suggests you can: help yourself by helping others, connect with others through social media and ‘befriending’ yourself.


Taylor, M. A., Goldberg, C., Shore, L. M., & Lipka, P. (2008). The effects of retirement expectations and social support on post-retirement adjustment:

A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23(4), 458-470.

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