I’VE LONG THOUGHT that my life has gotten better as I’ve grown older. At age 72, I can honestly say the past few years have been the best time of my life. I’ve never been this happy.
But I’m beginning to believe that my best years may soon be behind me. Maybe from here on things will trend in the other direction—because what makes me happy might be hard to hold on to as I age. Here are the top four things that make me happy:
1. My wife. When Rachel is away, taking care of her mother, I feel more vulnerable lying in bed alone. My buddy, Chuck, says life is easier when you have someone “in the barrel” with you, and he’s right. If you have a special person to share the good times with and to help you get through the worst, it can enhance the quality of your life. Experiences are better and less threatening with Rachel by my side.
I’m not saying you have to get married, but having a life partner can make traveling and everyday activities more enjoyable. You tend to be more active and have more friends when you have a companion.
Although I felt my life was fulfilling before I met Rachel, I now realize how much I was missing. We humans are social creatures. We need that personal bond to have a truly satisfying life. Sharing your days with someone is one of the world’s greatest gifts.
But I also know my relationship with Rachel is more fragile at our age. Eventually, one of us will be left behind. If it’s me, I know my happiness-meter will be trending in the wrong direction.
2. Good health. When I go to the doctor’s office, my doctor will sometimes ask, “How are you feeling?” Lately, I’ve been saying, “I never felt better.” At my age, I realize how lucky I am to still be able to do the things I want to do. Failing health can make everything more difficult. It can wear you down and make your days less enjoyable. I saw it firsthand, watching my mother age.
I’ve been lucky to have good health most of my life. I never had any serious chronic health conditions. Although I feel great, I do take medication and see two specialists for preventive care. I know maintaining good health will be more challenging as I age.
The questions I ask myself: When and how much will my health impact my quality of life going forward? Will I be as happy if I’m less mobile or more forgetful? Only time will tell.
3. Financial independence. Money is one of life’s biggest stressors. It’s a wonderful feeling not to worry about having enough money. It’s even better if you have the financial independence to do what you want to do when you want to do it.
Just imagine how great your life could be if you have financial independence, good health and a constant companion. That’s a powerful threesome that gives you the ability to live life to its fullest. That’s where I’m currently at in my life.
Unfortunately, when I first retired, I was like many folks, focusing on money and failing to grasp what would really make me happy in retirement. Money is important, but by itself it won’t make you happy.
After Rachel and I married, I found sharing my wealth with her gave me greater satisfaction than spending solely on myself. There’s something about sharing and donating money that brings joy. I know our good health won’t last and I know one day Rachel or I will be left alone, but at least I feel confident we won’t run out of money.
4. Good friends. I was 19 years old in 1971, when my best friend Jeremy told me he was moving to San Francisco. We’d been friends since the seventh grade. We grew closer in high school, when we participated on the cross-country and track teams. After Jeremy moved, my mother asked me, “Are you going to be okay?” At first, I didn’t know what she was talking about. She knew how close we were and was afraid I would be lonely with him gone.
My mother was right then, and she’s right now. I missed Jeremy when he moved away that year, and I’m missing him now, after he passed away in 2022. I miss the phone calls, lunches and all the fun things that friends do together.
I still have many friends, but so did my parents when they retired. I remember them having monthly get-togethers. Their house would be chock-full. But as they grew older, they slowly lost touch with their friends.
In my mother’s later years, she wanted to locate some of her long-lost friends. I didn’t tell her she’d probably outlived them. I took her to the last known address of a few friends. We talked to the current owner, neighbors and even an apartment manager, trying to locate them. The closest we came was when a neighbor thought one of my mother’s friends was in a rehabilitation facility. I know my mother would have been happier if she’d had more friends in her final years.
I realize, as I get older, it’ll be a struggle to maintain a strong social network. You tend to become less mobile, and that leads to fewer opportunities to make new friends.
I’m not saying I won’t be happy in my later years. I just don’t think I’ll be as happy as I am today. I believe these are truly my best years. I’m planning to savor every moment.
Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.