Today will be the last post in our series about the book What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement by John E. Nelson and Richard N. Bolles. We’ll be discussing chapter nine: A New Chapter in Psychology and chapter ten: Happiness Is Only Real When Shared. These chapters deal with how to find happiness in your retirement.

Moving beyond simple enjoyment

Everyone has things they enjoy doing. Maybe it’s a hobby or maybe it’s finding some time to relax and read a book. Whatever you enjoy doing, can you really see yourself spending 20-30 years doing those enjoyable things every day, all day? Depending on your situation, that may actually sound great to you. But that’s a long time to fill.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t enjoy your retirement! Obviously you should, but as Nelson and Bolles recommend, you need to find something that will engage you. Even your favorite hobby may become boring if you have little engagement in the activity.

According to Nelson and Bolles, “Engagement is the missing ingredient in lasting retirement happiness. And the key to engagement is identifying our strengths—those talents and abilities that we receive great satisfaction in using” (190).

To explain the idea of engagement, Nelson and Bolles discuss the three approaches to happiness:

  • Pleasure – This is the enjoyment approach. It usually involves an activity or situation that will bring you positive feelings. However, this pleasure is usually short lived. While finding enjoyment should be an important part of everyone’s life, you have to keep going back to the activity that brings the enjoyment to find happiness, it’s not lasting.
  • Engagement – Also called involvement, engagement goes beyond pleasure. We’re sure you’ve been involved in an activity that you lose yourself in. Something that you start working on with the intention of spending the morning on, only to find out when you’ve stopped that hours have gone by and you’ve missed lunch without noticing. That’s what it is to be engaged. Nelson and Bolles recognize that you may not have even realized that you were happy until thinking back on it later. “Engagement involves a challenge, and it demands something from you, so it’s not as simple as pleasure. […] Over time, it can build up into a lasting satisfaction with life” (192).
  • Meaning – Also called purpose, Nelson and Bolles recommend that find something beyond yourself to find meaning in retirement. Most people find this by believing in something and then helping service that belief. It could be through your church, a charity, a political party, your community, etc. Meaning doesn’t have to derive from something grand either; it could be as simple as picking up litter in your community as you are on a walk.

Hopefully you will be able to find happiness using all three approaches in your retirement. However, keep in mind, engagement is the key!

Building Relationships

Prior to retirement, you more than likely were exposed to the “Automatic Relationship Generator.” In your younger life, you were in school. There were plenty of others around for you to be friends with. In your working life, you had your co-workers. Maybe you would consider some of them friends, but you had to have some sort of relationship with them to work with them every day. School and work “automatically” built your relationships for you.

You won’t have that in retirement. There is no “Automatic Relationship Generator” in retirement. You probably won’t be seeing the same people almost every day of the week. If you aren’t careful, your retirement may become lonely.

Nelson and Bolles make some great recommendations about how to ensure you don’t lack meaningful relationships in retirement:

  • Concentrate on your marriage – If you are married, retirement may put pressure on that marriage. If both spouses are at home together when previously time spent together was much more limited, this sudden overabundance of time may cause friction between the spouses. Don’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Try to be open with your spouse and work through whatever issues retirement may cause in your marriage. Also, try to find activities that you can both engaged in and share.
  • Reconnect with family and old friends – You may have let relationships with family and old friends suffer some while you were working and had less time to devote to them. Once you retire, work on building these relationships back up, especially if you have siblings.
  • Work on building relationships while still working – You can do this two ways. One would be to extend your work related relationships beyond the work day. If you have work friends that you could see being friends outside of work, invite them to spend some time together after work or on the weekends. The other option is, as you approach retirement, concentrate on building relationships outside of work. Maybe through your church, or other cl

Putting it all together

The last chapter in the book, chapter eleven: The New Retirement—an Undivided Life, helps you put everything together. We’re not going to talk about it here, but we hope that you’ve found something useful to your life during this series, and we hope we’ve encouraged you to pick up the book for yourself. (Just a note—we like the first edition better than the second!)


  • Disclaimer: The information on this blog is not meant for specific financial advice. The ideas/opinions stated are not suited for everyone, and readers should use their own judgment in applying them in their financial lives.