3 Ways to Find Meaning for Life After Retirement

While we’re in the daily grind of working for a living, we often visualize life after retirement as happy, stress-free relaxation.

Getting a little R&R is certainly important, but there is a limit to the amount of napping, puttering around the house and daytime television a person can take. Without a plan for life after retirement, many retirees find themselves feeling vaguely unfulfilled and restless, craving something more but not knowing what that something might be. Focusing on the financial aspects of retirement is important, but the personal side of your retirement plan is just as important, and could ultimately guide how you use your retirement assets.

life after retirement What kind of meaning do you hope to find for your life after retirement?

While in the workforce, you may have measured success by your professional achievements. Awards, accolades, and recognition for a job well done got you out of bed in the morning. Maybe you found joy interacting with your colleagues in days filled with meetings, business lunches, and professional networking events. Once you leave the workplace, you need to find meaning to fill that void.

What Is Meaning? Why is It Important for Life After Retirement?

The famous psychologist Viktor Frankl knew a lot about looking for meaning in life. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote, “Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.”

Frankl believed that the very pursuit of happiness is what thwarts happiness, but once you have a reason to be happy – i.e. a meaning – happiness comes automatically.

  • Happiness is about looking inward. It’s about satisfying your needs and wants. Happiness without meaning results in a shallow, self-absorbed life. When things go well, when your needs and desires are satisfied, you’re happy. When things get difficult, watch out.
  • Meaning is different. It’s focused outwards, on others. It’s about taking care of others and contributing to your community or society as a whole. When we see our purpose as larger than ourselves, we no longer need to pursue happiness. It comes naturally, even in the face of temporary setbacks and discomforts.

The problem is that many people spend more time planning a vacation than they do planning their retirement. Chances are your career provided a lot of your life’s meaning over the last 40+ years. So how do you find a replacement for that fulfillment once you’re no longer punching the proverbial time clock?

Here are three ways to help you find meaning for your life after retirement:

1. Hit the Books to Find Meaning for Life After Retirement

When you were choosing a college major or career, did you ever turn towards books to help you zero in on your passions?

Maybe it’s time to reread those guides. When you listen to podcasts or read interviews from visionaries and millionaires, one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear is to read a book. That advice works as well for pursuing a passion in a career as it does for finding your meaning for life after retirement. The bookstores and libraries are full of great titles. Here are a few to get you started.

  • A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. The spiritual teacher and author describes ancient truths and applies them to life in the 21st century; encouraging readers live in the present moment. First published in 2005, the book sold five million copies in North America by 2009.
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Although set as a novel following the journey of shepherd traveling to discover the meaning of a recurring dream, the New York Times called this book “more self-help than literature.” The journey teaches the reader about listening to our hearts, recognizing opportunity, and following our dreams. Originally published in Portuguese in 1988, it has been translated into more than 67 languages and is an international bestseller.
  • The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau. American entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau set out to visit every country on planet Earth by the time he turned 35. Everywhere he went, he found people pursuing extraordinary goals. These conversations compelled Guillebeau to study the link between questing and long-term happiness.
  • You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt. The former First Lady penned this simple guide to living a fuller life at the age of seventy-six. The book offers her own philosophy on living with compassion, confidence, maturity, and civic stewardship. The book may be more than 50 years old, but her advice is as applicable today as it was in 1960.

2. Meet With a Life Coach

You may work with a financial advisor to help guide your investing and saving choices, but did you realize that there are life coaches that specialize in helping you transition to life after retirement? Just as a financial advisor can help you navigate the complex and sometimes emotional choices in your financial life, a retirement coach can do the same with personal choices faced by people at or near retirement.

A retirement coach can help you view retirement not as an ending, but as a transition into a new, exciting phase of life. You may have planned your retirement financially and even planned where you wanted to retire, but what else are you going to do for the next 20, 30, or 40 years?

  • Be prepared for some tough questions about life and death, regrets or forgotten dreams.
  • They might help lead you to part-time work, humanitarian efforts, entrepreneurial adventures, or even artistic pursuits that you hadn’t considered before.
  • A retirement coach can also help navigate intangibles such as building a new social network and finding value in how you spend your time.

3. Take Care of Your Finances

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that the most fundamental human needs are physiological (air, water, food, clothing and shelter) and safety (personal and financial security, health and well-being). These basic needs must be met before an individual can focus on secondary and higher level needs such as love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

It makes sense. If you are spending your days worrying about whether you’ll have enough money to cover food and shelter during retirement, your time and energy will be focused on meeting those needs before you consider cultivating a social circle, engaging in a hobby or realizing your full potential.

Having our fundamental needs threatened can happen pretty easily in our retirement years if we don’t have sufficient income or savings to satisfy our basic needs for food, shelter, transportation, healthcare, etc. So start getting your finances in order as soon as possible. Consider how you’ll satisfy those basic needs in retirement while still having something left over to devote to higher-level needs. Once those needs are addressed, your mind will be free to think about higher level issues such as cultivating friendships outside of your professional networks, realizing your own personal potential, and helping others to achieve self-actualization.

A retirement calculator can be an excellent way to help you figure out if you are financially prepared for life after retirement.

NewRetirement’s calculator is designed for anyone who is worried about their retirement — especially people nearing the end of their careers who are in their 50s and 60s. This tool makes it easy to get a detailed assessment and helps you find ways to strengthen your plan. This retirement calculator was recently named a best retirement calculator by the American Association of Individual Investor’s (AAII).

Coaching rates may range from $50 to $250 per hour, but many coaches offer a free initial session to ensure the relationship is a good fit. Check out the International Coach Federation Member Directory to find a credentialed coach in your area.


Whatever path you choose to find your meaning for life after retirement, have an open mind. This may be the first time in your life you’ve been able to work with a blank slate. Take a look at your calendar and really consider what you want to do with the 168 hours you have each week. Get creative and strategic and retirement may just be your greatest adventure yet.

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