Your Key to Happiness In Retirement: Giving Back

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Are you getting ready to retire? What will be the source of your happiness in retirement? Having more time for your self, more time to spend with your friends, children, and grandchildren?

“You are quite fortunate—it is quite a wonderful opportunity, the possession of leisure,” says one of E.M. Forster’s characters in A Room with a View.

Most of us think of retirement in this way: But what will you do with this new-found leisure time?

Couples dream of retirement like a second honeymoon—exotic travel, sleeping in, lingering over the news and coffee each morning, maybe digging around in the garden for a few hours and walking into town for lunch at a local café. In short, having removed the mutual thorn in your sides—work—you assume you’ll find more happiness by focusing on yourselves.

But the opposite appears to be true—it’s in giving back that you may find the most happiness in retirement, studies show.

Retirement: The Best Time To Give Back

Age Wave, in partnership with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, recently conducted a study surveying 3,694 adults age 25 and over across all national representations of age, gender, ethnicity, income, and geography. The study uncovered how retirement transforms giving, and why retirees are able to give more and with greater impact, than younger age groups. It also covers how giving gives back, and why giving can be a key ingredient in making retirement happier, healthier, and more purposeful.

With more time, savings, and skills to contribute, two-thirds (65%) of retirees say retirement is the best time in life to give back their time, their talent and their money. People often up their giving as they move to and through their retirement years and donations by older adults far exceed the contributions of any other age group in both money and goods.

Happiness Indicators

Retirees were three times more likely to say helping people in need was more important than spending money on themselves, the study found and, as compared to those who don’t volunteer and donate, when they gave their time or money they experienced:

  • A stronger sense of purpose (59% vs. 43%)
  • Higher self-esteem (57% vs. 51%)
  • A stronger sense of happiness (66% vs. 52%)
  • A stronger sense of feeling healthier (50% vs. 43%)

The study also indicated a strong correlation between retirees’ definition of success and the value of giving back. Instead of focusing on money and questions such as, Will I have enough money to do all I want to do in retirement? the study demonstrated that retirees of all income levels were nearly six times more likely to define personal success in retirement by their generosity and ability to give rather than their wealth or status. (1)

So, if giving back is the secret ingredient to a happier retirement, here are four hands-on, impactful ways for you to give back beyond simply writing a check.

Develop A New Skill

Many retirement communities are located in close proximity to colleges and universities and plenty of courses and degrees are also easily accessible online. Why not go back to school and obtain a degree in something you’re interested in? One of the residents at Kendal on Hudson went back to school at age 50 to obtain a degree in art therapy and now volunteers her time with inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. She has developed her artistic skills and has become an in-demand portrait artist as well, where clients pay to receive personal portraits or portraits of their beloved pets. She then gives 100% of the proceeds to support a volunteer fire department and television station in Vermont. How’s that for out-of-the-box giving? What new skill can you learn that could be used to enrich the lives of others?

Continue Doing What You Do

Your former career skills may be useful to any number of people, even if you no longer work or no longer work full-time. Former accountants and CPAs may find fulfillment helping other retired individuals do their taxes, especially those who may be unable to afford tax preparation services. Former authors, journalists, and actors can provide writing and acting workshops during retirement; former HR and talent acquisition can provide resume, interviewing and job-finding support; former attorneys can still provide pro-bono legal assistance, and former construction managers can still provide on-site advisement to young, up-and-comers in the building trades industry. Former teachers can be involved with literacy volunteer organizations, teaching English As A Second Language (ESL) or tutoring young people in the community. Non-profit organizations like churches and synagogues are always looking for an extra hand administratively or in other practical ways, or you may find fulfillment volunteering with organizations like Meals On Wheels, delivering needed food supplies to shut-ins in your community.

Share Your Expertise With Young People

It can be fulfilling to engage with young people, exchanging ideas and answering questions about your career and work experiences.

Most colleges and universities encourage the free exchange of ideas and welcome the input and interactions of retired individuals willing to share their experiences and expertise through formal lectures or informal meet-and-greets around campus. You possess real-world experiences—as a former nurse, a former CEO, a former construction manager, banker, professor, or civil servant— that may be lacking in a purely educational community. Many young students are unsure about their future career plans and sharing your perspective may help them to get off the fence.

Share Your Expertise With Others Your Age

It’s a proven fact that those who stay active and engaged during their later years are likely to add years to the lives. At some continuing care retirement communities, like Kendal on Hudson, all activities are resident-directed so you can have direct input into the kinds of events and programs you get to enjoy. At Kendal, resident-directed book clubs and lectures provide a way to give back in a way that encourages and entertains others. For example, a resident at Kendal on Hudson who has traveled the world lectures to other residents on her favorite travel experiences, which include exotic Middle Eastern destinations like Syria and Iran and Morocco in northern Africa. She’s currently matriculated at Fordham University where she’s enrolled in a Medieval Jerusalem course and plans to start a book club for her fellow residents covering women in the Middle East. Another resident, a former art curator, helps make decisions about the artwork adorning the walls throughout the Kendal campus (much of it created by the residents) while individuals with a green thumb chip in by growing different plant and flower species, which are then placed in strategic spots throughout the campus.


  1. Dychtwald, Maddy, Where People Find the Most Happiness in Retirement, The Wall Street Journal. March 22, 2016 (Accessed April 20, 2016).