Happily ever after in retirement

Every March, as daffodils begin blooming in Wordsworth's beloved Lake District, two dozen enthusiastic readers - most of them English and three-quarters of them retired - gather in a country hotel for a brief holiday centered on books. Year after year they - we - return, eager to discuss a dozen titles, but also eager to reconnect with friends.

It is a spirited group. Those whose careers have ended wear their retirement well. They read. They volunteer and reach out to others. They walk for pleasure. Some travel. Whatever their activities, they stay connected to the larger world. They're ideal candidates to offer perspectives on an intriguing question: What makes a happy retirement?

It's a timely subject, coming in a week when happiness is making headlines in British papers with the publication of a book called "Happiness," by Richard Layard, a British economist. In conversations over meals, between book discussions, and during afternoon walks in the snow-capped hills, members of the group offer varied answers.

"Money," begins a civil servant from London who retired a decade ago. "And interests and health." He pauses, then reorders his list. "No, good health comes first. That's most important."

For a woman who has been retired nearly two years, happiness involves a modest business selling used children's books at book fairs a couple of weekends a month. "I can't imagine life without my books," she says. Although her pension is less than half of her former paycheck, she is content to live simply.

A pharmacist who left her career reluctantly offers another suggestion for happiness, saying, "It's important to have interests lined up before you retire."

People need two kinds of interests, another woman adds - those that take them out of the house and link them with others, and those that can be done at home, alone. That's wise preparation, she says, for a time when the comforts of home might hold more appeal than the pleasures of going out.

For a physiotherapist, satisfaction includes physical activity. After she retired at 62, she and her husband continued climbing all of Scotland's 284 Monroes - mountains over 3,000 feet.

"You need a good circle of friends," adds a twice-widowed member of the group. Determined to keep her longtime friends, she resisted her family's urgings to move to a retirement home in another area. Still, she is no stranger to adventure. At 65, she trekked in Nepal. Now in her 70s, she made a solo trip to India last year.

Whatever the specifics of a particular list, one participant offers general advice. "Even though you miss the glamour of work, miss your colleagues and the social chats, you must be able to adjust and accept that you're retired," she says. "You also need the sort of mind that doesn't bemoan that you don't have a lot of money. Money is very useful in retirement. But there's an awful lot you can do without a lot of money."

It's a sentiment Mr. Layard, the economist, would probably echo. Everyone wants more money, he observes. But although average incomes have more than doubled in the past 50 years, on average people have grown no happier.

Retirement, like every stage of life, is a work in progress. Everyone's definition of what makes it happy may differ - and may change from year to year. Although Layard makes only a single reference to the post-work decades, he offers comforting reassurance. "Retirement," he states simply, "is not bad for happiness."

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