8 of the Greatest Sources of Fulfillment for Retirees

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Retirement often involves a dramatic shift in our priorities and where we spend our time. We move from knowing where the largest part of our days will be spent — at work, as it has been for decades — to figuring out something new to do with so many suddenly free hours each day.

A 2021 report from financial services firm Edward Jones, involving a survey of more than 2,000 adults, highlights purpose as one of “The Four Pillars of the New Retirement” — with 92% of respondents saying it’s key to a successful retirement.

The report also observes a silver lining of the pandemic: It helped many people find their sense of purpose. The report says:

“Interestingly, retirees feel they are doing a better job today on the purpose pillar compared to before the start of the pandemic. Many retirees have taken on new roles and responsibilities, such as providing childcare to grandchildren, shopping for higher risk neighbors, and providing emotional comfort to family and friends. In return, these stepped-up roles have given retirees a greater sense of purpose and connection.”

The report also notes that having a sense of purpose can reduce the risks of depression, cognitive decline and cardiovascular disease.

Following are the most popular sources of purpose, meaning and fulfillment according to American retirees.

8. Being financially wealthy

Senior man with money
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Just 16% of retirees and 27% of pre-retirees (defined as people age 50 and older who are planning to retire) say wealth is one of the greatest sources of fulfillment in retirement, according to the report.

Wealth can certainly aid a successful retirement in myriad ways, not least in providing the same or better standard of living you’re accustomed to. However, several other things rank as more important when it comes to purpose, meaning and fulfillment.

7. Fulfilling my life’s goals

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More important than wealth is what you might do with it — 31% of pre-retirees and 21% of retirees say “fulfilling my life’s goals” provides meaning in retirement. Many people are used to setting financial goals, but retirement provides the opportunity to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

6. Living a fun-filled life

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Once you’ve done all the work, it’s time for a fun-filled life, according to 32% of retirees and 41% of pre-retirees.

Not sure what kind of fun to pursue? Check out “7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer.”

5. Living a faith-filled life

A woman sitting in an empty church
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The Edward Jones report found 38% of retirees and 34% of pre-retirees cite living a faith-filled life as a source of purpose in retirement.

Retirees also cite faith and values among the most important contributors to their identity in retirement, the report found. Only one thing — relationships with loved ones — outranked faith and values as contributors to identity.

4. Being generous or giving back

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Being generous ranks highly as a source of purpose and fulfillment, with 40% of retirees and 31% of pre-retirees citing it.

Charitable giving is one way this happens, but many retirees have more time to give than money. Notes the report:

“Over the next 20 years, retirees could contribute a total of 238 billion hours to their communities if they each volunteered an average of only 3.3 hours/week.”

Fortunately, there are many inexpensive ways to give deeply to your community. Depending on your passions, how about helping in an animal shelter, a museum or a hospital?

3. Being true to myself

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More than half of retirees (53%) name “being true to myself” as a source of purpose, meaning and fulfillment, while 45% of pre-retirees do.

That makes sense. As a retiree, you have far fewer people to impress and much more time to pursue the things that bring you joy.

Without a job to shore up your sense of identity, retirement can be a surprising time of self-discovery or reinvention. You may naturally come to realize things that are more important to you as your time frees up.

Some people also write something like an autobiography or memoir. Even if it’s just for family and friends and not a polished work, the process can stir old memories and life motivations.

2. Doing interesting and enjoyable things

Couple standing on the shore.
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The Edward Jones report finds most retirees (55%) find meaning and fulfillment in doing interesting and enjoyable things, while 64% of pre-retirees expect to. That’s not surprising, since we all find different things interesting and enjoyable.

For some people, this might be traveling to places long imagined or forgotten. For others, it might be delving into an old hobby with new fervor, or learning a new one you never quite had the time for. Hobbies can be a great way to supplement retirement income, too, as we detail in “21 Hobbies You Can Turn Into a Business.”

For still others, variety is the spice of life, and retirement is simply a time to sample everything.

1. Spending time with loved ones

Retired Asian couple in casual attire
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The No. 1 way retirees find fulfillment in retirement is by spending time with loved ones, and the coronavirus pandemic may have made those feelings even stronger for some. Says the report:

“Family has been one of the greatest sources of comfort and purpose for many Americans throughout the pandemic. When asked to grade themselves across the four pillars, family has remained the highest graded pillar, with connections growing even stronger during the pandemic …”

A whopping 61% of pre-retirees and a full two-thirds (67%) of retirees name spending time with loved ones as a source of purpose and meaning in retirement.

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