A Baby Boomer’s Four Keys to Happiness

As baby boomers, what are our keys to happiness? Scott Hanson of El Dorado Hills, California, an author and regular contributor to CNBC, has written about this in his book “Personal Decision Points: 7 Steps to Your Ideal Retirement Transition,” and now writes for BoomerCafé about the formula for that happiness.

If you’re a member of the Baby Boomer Generation, study after study reveals that your expectations for well-being in retirement are different from those of any generation that’s come before.

Scott Hanson of El Dorado Hills, CA. A financial advisor and author.

Scott Hanson of El Dorado Hills, CA. A financial advisor and author.

Which raises the question, how can Boomers live well and retire happily?

While this may be a deeply personal inquiry, according to the most in-depth study of its kind, (Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study), when you consider what it means to be happy, there are a few common threads by which Baby Boomers are bound.

When it comes to the psychology of happiness, the estimable psychiatrist George E. Vaillant — the Director of the Study of Adult Development at Harvard’s Health Services Center — certainly knows as much as anyone. He has spent much of his career analyzing the happiness of Baby Boomers.

As part of his mission to identify what makes mature people happy, and to better understand the depression that plagued his father, Vaillant has spent 50 years studying aging Americans, including numerous studies focused on the health and well-being of Baby Boomers.

This is what he found: the 4 common traits of happy Baby Boomers:

  • Empathy (relating to other people)
  • Engagement (continuing to remain curious about life)
  • Hope (optimism for the future)
  • Gratitude (appreciation for gifts and simple pleasures

Vaillant discovered that the above four qualities (empathy, engagement, hope, and gratitude) aren’t merely the result of fortunate genes, or a lucky birthright. He actually found that people over the age of 50 — that’s today’s Baby Boomer Generation — can play a vital role in the enhancement or improvement of their own happiness through positive reinforcement.

This is unique from previous generations — a different time and place in America — where longevity was less common, and emotional needs often took a backseat to those needs associated with basic survival.

In his groundbreaking book, “Triumphs of Experience,” Vaillant wrote that “The big finding is that you actually can teach mature people new tricks. That we can keep changing and improving and becoming happier throughout life.”

For Boomers, “The bad doesn’t have to doom you, but the good can make you.”

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Vaillant’s research showed that what’s also important for the happiness of Baby Boomers is to surround themselves with positive people. In light of this, Vaillant found that it’s not necessarily the bad things that stay with us and cause us emotional harm (although they can), but that, if prioritized, a big predictor of happiness is a person’s ability to “keep positive people in our lives.”

In short, according to Vaillant, the power and lasting impact of even a single loving relative, mentor, or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that have happened to us over the course of our lives.

Additionally, as sure as we benefit from our association with people who love and support us, the reverse is also true. Vaillant showed that Boomers can experience increased happiness when they take on the role of mentor or friend, and dedicate themselves to caring for the well-being of others.

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With an astonishing 10,000 people turning 65 each day, millions more Baby Boomers will be transitioning into retirement this year. Though important, the keys to a happy retirement aren’t limited to our emotional needs. There are not only logistical and health factors to consider, but there’s a big financial component as well.

It’s been my experience that those Boomers who have done the best job of transitioning into retirement— those who tell me that they’ve never been happier — are the ones who wake up each day with a purpose (often revolving around serving others), have a strong financial plan, and lastly, are able to tap into a support system of close friends and family to lend an ear, or a hand, when times get tough.

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3 Comments

  1. Excellent article and my first introduction to Vaillant’s interesting research on happiness. I also promote happiness as a conscious effort or goal for boomer’s. I like the incorporation of helping others to improve our own happiness, and have definitely found (with my involvement with an animal rescue) that this makes a definite difference. It helps takes our focus away from ourselves and strengthens our engagement with the world around us.

    The boomers around me who are busy, wake up each day with a purpose and look forward to that day. The, are definitely happier and are enjoying, or should I say cherishing, their retirement. As I am!

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