My wife and I have found that playing "high point-low point" at the end of each day is good for laughs. The object is to agree upon the best part about the day and the worst part about the day.
Retirement should be one extended high point. To live a self-indulgent, eccentric personal lifestyle should be the just deserts for a lifetime of hard work and accomplishments.
In fact, recent studies on retirees indicate that happiness can be a struggle for many people. In my own experience, the anecdotal results are mixed. I have listened to people who have been ecstatic in retirement, whereas others have been frustrated.
Although money has been shown to create at least some improvement in the happiness quotient, it doesn't seem to be as important as having something purposeful to do.
One of my recently retired friends had his wake-up call when his wife, at the breakfast table, asked, "Don't you have anyplace to go today?"
The adjustment for once-busy people whose identity and social life largely centered on their work experience can find that the last day at the office amounts to pulling the plug on an energy source.
Spouses of retirees who once had 10 hours a day of peace and quiet are suddenly thrust into a 24/7 retirement life involving someone who heretofore had been a refreshing breakfast and dinner novelty.
Instead, they are confronted with a retirement-life version of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope singing "Me and My Shadow."
There seem to be two major components contributing to retirement bliss. The first is having enough money, and the second is having something purposeful to do.
Of the two, the latter is by far the most important, which may come as a surprise to many people. I can speak from experience in pointing out that it can be important to have enough money late in retirement to live in a nice retirement facility and/or to have family members to count on to make life operate smoothly.
Money at that stage of life can buy a relatively pleasant, hassle-free existence that should not be underrated. However, a study at Princeton shows that people with household incomes of $90,000 a year were only slightly happier than those with household incomes of $50,000 to $89,000.
Daniel Kahneman, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize for inventing the concept of behavioral economics, has determined that making a lot of money does not improve one's mood to any great extent.
It is true that members of the $90,000-plus group were "almost twice as happy" as those whose incomes were less than $20,000 a year. Almost twice as happy? I would have guessed five times happier with $90,000 than with $20,000.
But this is Princeton, home of the SAT and other forms of objective measurement.
More important than money, according to studies of happy retirees, is having something to do. One friend is a retired entrepreneur who left his business to clear the way for his children to assume leadership roles. He told me that, for him, the key to satisfaction was to have something specific to do at least three days of the week.
Until he figured this out, he really struggled with what he said was a sense of anxiety, if not an occasional foul mood.
Today, he sits on some boards, invests in a fish oil start-up and maintains a studio where he constructs life-sized metal dinosaur sculptures in his new career as a sculptor.
What happiness appears to boil down to is a sense of accomplishment and striving. "The journey is the destination" is another way of putting it.
When people feel that everything is finally just perfect in their lives from a financial, health and relationship standpoint, they may be wondering why they don't feel better.
True satisfaction comes from continually striving to accomplish new goals and activities. It can also be improved by focusing on the high points on a daily basis.
Did they run out of bananas in the dining room? (That's a common issue in retirement communities.) We'll let that be today's low point and move on to a busy day of otherwise satisfying high points.