Happy Retirement is a Fairytale

There’s a pot at the end of the rainbow. There’s a frog that turns into a prince. Patience is a virtue. And persistence pays off. From the fables of our youth to the mantras that frame our professional lives, we are indoctrinated to work and wait for a reward at the end.


The traditional plot for retirement follows this same “happy ending” storyline—work until your 65 and then life could be a dream (sh-boom). The irony is that most of us over-invest our time trying to make money and lose track of (the) why. As more and more millennials explore alternatives by taking sabbaticals or even retiring early, we are also gaining real world education in the meaning and misconceptions of (retirement) happiness.


Traditional retirement treats jobs like a chapter that gets us to “the end”, which surely must be one of the reasons more than half of the U.S. workforce is disengaged. That’s 50+ million Americans who go to the office every day wanting something better. Yet relatively few people invest in themselves to learn skills that can foster a more satisfying sense of purpose. Just keep following the yellow brick road.  

Converting our financial assets to make us richer in life is a skill we rarely cultivate until retirement; many, unfortunately, never do. So what does it take to invest more in achieving happiness today instead of deferring until we’re past our physical and mental prime?


Reaching financial security is a pivotal point beyond which more dollars and the things that can be bought with them stop providing additional satisfaction. The Easterlin Paradox has proven this: once you have enough money to live comfortably, appreciable gains in happiness come from other means. Acknowledging this law of diminishing returns is leading many young professionals to raise the value assigned to our time.

The next step is understanding that the basis of happiness is within you. You won’t find pure bliss in financial formulas, stock trading tips, easy budget hacks or quitting your job. Achieving contentment in life requires risk-taking and exploration of your personal interests. Just ask those who have the fortune of already being financial independent, and most will attest that the happy retirement ending can feel like more of a let down than a bright and glorious Emerald City.

The good news is that sabbaticals can be part of a better retirement plan that accounts for time and mental space to devote to fostering contentment and personal growth that benefits ourselves, our families and those we impact along the way. Investing more in the economics of happiness means mindfully working to live life to the fullest at every age.