Many lifestyle counsellors will try to encourage their followers to stop believing that life is an exam. You cannot get an A* or a 1st Class Honours degree in life.
But how do you measure a successful life? Wealth, career progression, or even power? You could have all three but not be happy. Should happiness be the only measure of the success of one’s life? What about the number of other people whose life you improve?
I often look at young parents. What makes them good parents? What makes them bad parents? Every new-born child brings unforeseen challenges. Despite many gurus having countless theories of the right and wrong way to bring up young children, at the end of the day it is how the parents react to the new problems they face. Those problems often come along without warning and without any time to refer to the manual. There are no right answers.
The same could be said of retirement. What is a successful retirement? What do I have to do to achieve that successful retirement? How often do you wish someone who is retiring “a long, healthy, and happy retirement”? Are they the three measures of successful retirement?
After all, we have no control over any of them.
Okay you can exercise regularly, eat healthily, and watch your weight but not guarantee a longer retirement. They could also contribute to a healthy retirement but again there is no guarantee. Do they guarantee happiness? Not if you can’t achieve the goals you set yourself?
Happiness depends upon the individual. Some people need constant social interaction. Others need their own space. Travelling and the excitement of new experiences may be essential for some but for others they need to have a routine within which they feel comfortable.
Money cannot buy happiness. It is a much too complicated commodity to be that simple. However, struggling through life with insufficient income is depressing. Many in debt suffer from poor mental health.
The significant news here is that 70% of those who have retired own their own house – could they use some of that wealth to ease any financial strain they are under?
Those who have retired with adequate retirement savings will be able to manage. However, one barrier to their happiness will be the difference between their income and the amount required to meet their retirement aspirations.
Their retirement aspirations could be what they want to do for themselves. Others will want to pass onto their children and grandchildren as much of their wealth as possible.
Again, releasing equity from their home may increase their happiness. They could do the things they desire instead of just wishing for them. They could help their children and grandchildren while they are alive and witness the effect they are having on their lives without them having to wait for an inheritance.
The same applies to those who have sufficient income in retirement to live comfortably. They may consider that releasing equity is not for them, but they also may benefit by using some of the equity to help children and grandchildren. For them there may also be the bonus of reducing inheritance tax liabilities.
Exercising, eating healthily and watching your weight cannot guarantee the longer duration of retirement or a longer duration of a healthy life. Similarly releasing equity from the home cannot guarantee happiness. However, it may go some way to improving happiness in retirement.
If a person has a defined contribution pension, and they are over 50, they can use the Government’s free PensionWise service to give them guidance on the use of their options. However, this service does not cover Defined Benefit pensions or the use of the wealth in their homes and it really needs to if a clear picture of what is truly available and achievable is to be provided. The service should be extended to also cover these main elements of wealth and it could then be renamed RetirementWise.
Plus, it should really sign-post all individuals to a retirement adviser – such a move would, in my view, lead to more successful happy retirements for many more individuals.
Bob Champion is chairman of the Air Later Life Academy