The Gallup organization recently conducted a comprehensive global study of more than 150 countries, giving us a lens into the well-being of more than 98 percent of the world’s population. Gallup asked hundreds of questions about health, wealth, relationships, jobs, and communities and then compared these results to how people experience their days and evaluate their lives overall. They found that there are five really critical elements that drive human happiness and well-being. Once the study was complete, best-selling author Tom Rath compiled the results into a book, “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.”
The Most Essential Element of Well-Being
Interestingly, “career well-being” was the most important factor related to overall happiness and well-being. According to the study results, this isn’t necessarily about our actual jobs, it’s more about how we spend our time, measuring respondents’ answers to the question, “Do you like what you do each day?”
It’s not too surprising that this ranked at the top of the priority list; after all, if we don’t like what we’re doing with the majority of our time, it may be difficult to feel happy and fulfilled. In fact, people who scored high in this area were “more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall.” But, only 20 percent of people scored that high. So, what made all the difference? When Gallup randomly tested people throughout the day to see what they were doing and how they felt, those who were really involved with their activities were much happier than those who were just counting down the minutes until the end of the workday.
So, why are we talking about this? Because our professional lives and what we do all day play a key role in our retirement.
What Are We Retiring From?
As a wealth advisor, I’ve observed that many people seem to be working just to meet the end goal of retirement. But, what exactly are we planning to retire from? If career satisfaction is such an important element of happiness and well-being, why are we in such a rush to walk away from our careers?
By age 65, most people have spent at least 40 years working and have developed a particular level of skill in their profession. Typically, their career has become a key element of their identity, and their hard work and professional accomplishments are an important source of personal pride. Further, their work provides them with a sense of relevance and a social network of valuable relationships. So, why are so many people scrambling to walk away and retire?
What Are We Retiring To?
Lately, there is a growing trend, particularly among baby boomers, to continue to work in some capacity following retirement. As evidenced by Gallup’s findings, this may in turn increase their happiness. Rather than fully retiring, these people envision a life where they are able to continue working in some form but on their own terms and at their own pace. This can be a difficult balance.
For most people, the ideal answer would be to continue working in their existing profession, but to simply “slow down.” Some professionals may have developed skills that allow for consulting or board of director opportunities that can be tailored to their desired schedule. Although ideal, not all careers are suitable for this kind of arrangement.
For those who don’t have the option to continue their existing career, the search for meaningful work may be more difficult and require creative thinking and planning. It may require shifting to a new career path, taking on philanthropic or volunteer work, or joining the “gig economy,” one of the fastest-growing sources of employment for this age bracket.
Defining the ongoing role of work in our lives is one of the most significant questions we must answer for ourselves as we approach the age of retirement. For as much as we are concerned with the financial side of retirement, we should also consider how we’ll spend our time and what will leave us happy and fulfilled.