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Nun Sense

Mike Drak

WHEN I WAS WORKING fulltime, my goal was to have enough retirement savings to replace 100% of my income. I knew I could live comfortably on that amount, while still having enough left over to do the things I didn’t have time for when I had a fulltime job. I figured that was the key to a happy retirement.

But after retiring, my thinking changed, as I began focusing on how I could live longer and better. Having enough money means you can retire, but it doesn’t ensure a happy retirement. Money is just one piece of the happiness puzzle. There are other factors that are just as important.

Indeed, optimal wellbeing and aging well have nothing to do with being “retired.” Arguably, just the opposite is true: If you want to be happy and age well, you need to stay active and engaged, even after you quit the workforce. It’s about living your best, happiest life for as long as you possibly can. It’s about being free to do whatever you want on that particular day. It’s about having a good reason to get out of bed in the morning—something you look forward to and which puts a smile on your face.

That brings me to the famous “nun study.” The study found that nuns were happier with their lives than the general population and, because of their higher happiness level, they typically lived longer. A related finding: Happy nuns lived longer than unhappy nuns.

The research makes perfect sense to me. Happiness and longevity go hand in hand. All other things being equal, if we want to live longer than the average retiree, we need to be happier. The key is to stay busy, doing things that make us happy for as long as we can.

Want to live longer and be happier? If we were to summarize the recipe for success in an equation, it would have these elements: relationships + health + financial security + spirituality + positive attitude + purpose. In other words, happy people have strong loving relationships, lead healthy lives, are financially secure, and have a source of spirituality, a positive attitude and a sense of purpose.

By adhering to this formula and turning the desirable behaviors into daily habits, we increase our chances of living a longer, happier life. Unhappy retirees try to hang on and survive. Happy retirees bloom and thrive. I believe it’s as simple as that.

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Philip Karp
Philip Karp
1 month ago

This article provides a wonderful and idealist description for the “good” life.
Quote: “ If we were to summarize the recipe for success in an equation, it would have these elements: relationships + health + financial security + spirituality + positive attitude + purpose. In other words, happy people have strong loving relationships, lead healthy lives, are financially secure, and have a source of spirituality, a positive attitude and a sense of purpose”.

But real uncontrollable experiences frequently get in the way. So can half measures or less than that do for these listed elements of the good life?
What about family members dying a random death or being assaulted or going astray into drugs? What about setbacks of a job loss, financial loss, relationship losses, a serious health loss that can’t be fully recoverable or turns out to be permanent with more losses to come?

Stoicism offers answers. One perspective is to “Strive to be your better self” irrespective of whatever happens.

I recommend the book: Stoicism by Jason Hemlock.

DrLefty
DrLefty
27 days ago
Reply to  Philip Karp

I had a similar reaction. Not that I disagree that any of the elements of that “formula” are important; it’s just that life happens to all of us, especially as we age.

We’re in a somewhat unique situation of being in our early 60s and observing our moms, who are in their early 80s. My mother-in-law has advanced dementia. My own mom has physical ailments that affect her quality of life. We realize that we’re not all that far behind them in age.

We just went through an anxious few months during which my husband had various diagnostic procedures to rule out scary medical possibilities. We finally got the good news last week—he has a couple of minor but manageable issues but nothing scary. (The best four words you can hear in a phone call from the specialist: “See you next year.”) We know we’re lucky. We have several friends our age or slightly older who’ve been widowed or are fighting cancer.

It all makes you realize that stuff is going to happen, sooner or later, and some mental and emotional resilience and ability to handle stress, worry, and grief is required.

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 month ago

I’m thinking living longer and happiness also have a lot to do with stress and anxiety as well. A nun can’t very well be compared to a working mother with a few children trying to keep life in balance.

I doubt the unhappy retiree is much different from the same person before retirement- unhappy on the job, complaining about life and it’s problems.

Like you Mike I retired with 100% income replacement. That lack of financial stress is a big part of all the elements you mentioned. On the other hand, I know some retired folks living near poverty where attitude and purpose trump money and they claim to be happy.

I don’t think staying busy is the main key, but staying involved may be. I have gone through stages with a few bouts of bored during the last twelve years. Mine and my wife’s health and accident issues along with the downsizing process were stress high points.

Returning to art, just walking in the woods, travel , mostly family and grandchildren’s activities and golf now make a fulfilling retirement for me. Also, adequate income allows us to help our children and grandchildren.

Good health, financial resources and attitude may be the big three.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
1 month ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I agree with your comment about some people not having benefit of a lot of money but yet they appear happier than many that do. I’m working on making my life simpler and focusing my time and efforts on the things that really make me happy. I find that helping others who are struggling plays a big role in that.

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