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How to have a happy retirement

Last updated 12th December 2023 by the SunLife Content Team
6 min read

Retirement is a big adjustment for anyone, and it's natural to feel a bit lost or unsure of what to do with your new free time. Of course, there's no right or wrong way to spend retirement, but there are ways to make sure you're getting the most from your golden years.

If you're worried about financing your retirement, you might be interested in managing your money more carefully in later life, or how to make money in retirement.

Think retirement is boring? Maybe you're doing it wrong

Whether you're retiring early or have worked longer than you expected, retirement can be what you want it to be.

For some, that's winding down and relaxing. For others it's being busier and doing more than ever.

Make it an enjoyable adventure spent doing the things you love, exploring the places you always dreamed of, and keeping your calendar topped up.


What's the secret to happiness in retirement?

Retirement can be daunting.

It's a time when you'll need to be good with your money and spending. And not going to work every day can make you feel like you've lost a sense of purpose.

But, in reality, retirement is a new, exciting chapter in our lives.

For a lot of us, retirement is the first time (in a long time) where we can do what we want, no questions asked.

We're healthier and living longer than ever, so it's the perfect opportunity get stuck into new things, take that dream holiday, or make some home improvements.

Here are our top 5 tips for making the most of your retirement:

1. Plan your retirement paydays

Planning your paydays will help you worry less about running out of money in retirement.

By estimating your likely retirement income( opens in a new tab), and making a budget for your regular expenses, you can judge how much you can afford to spend on things like hobbies, activities or trips.

If you're not sure what kind of new hobbies you might want to take up, knowing your budget can be a great place to start, to help narrow down the options.

2. Discover new hobbies

Hobbies not only fill up your time but can also keep you physically and mentally healthy.

The more hobbies you have, the wider your social circle will become.

You might want a hobby that keeps you active, like a sport or walking group. Or perhaps something that exercises your mind, like learning a new skill or language, or even taking a course in a topic that interests you. Maybe you just want to relax and meet people with something like a cinema club or Knit and Natter group.

Maybe there's something you've always wanted to try but never had the chance. From BMX racing to scuba diving, we've met many retirees whose hobbies may surprise you.

Take a look at our articles on the benefits of over 50s football, cycling, or dancing for inspiration.

3. Set goals for yourself

Having goals in place will help you focus your mind and give you something to aim towards.

Do you want to learn a new skill, travel, or get back into an old hobby?

Think about what you want to achieve, write it down, and make plans for the next year and beyond.

4. Keep your diary busy

Having things to look forward to is always important in life.

Keep your diary booked up with days out and quality time with friends and family. You can even schedule days for yourself, setting aside time to see a show or visit somewhere new, or even just relax in the garden.

A happy retirement is a busy one!

5. Embrace adventure

Retirement's the time to finally tick off those bucket list items you couldn't do before, because of work or family commitments.

If you don't do them now, when will you? Create new memories and follow wherever adventure takes you.

What to do in retirement

This new period in your life is about enjoyment and exploration.

Make time to visit family, discover new places, and find new hobbies, and you'll be well on your way to a happy retirement.

Bucket list ideas

During our working years, it's hard to find time for adventure.

Now you're retired, though, there are no excuses. No 'ifs', no 'buts'.

Here are a few examples if you're in search of some bucket list inspiration:

Take a leap of faith

Why not give a bungee jump a go in your retirement?

Get your heart racing with an exhilarating fall and show the grandkids your daredevil side.

Head below the surface

Visit a recognised scuba site and explore life under the sea.

If you don't fancy going through the training of scuba diving, snorkelling can be just as rewarding.

Meet Maureen, a 59 year old diving and extreme sports enthusiast.


Visit a faraway land

The world is an extraordinary place, so spend your retirement exploring its far-flung wonders.

You can't say you don't have the time!

Get a degree

It’s never too late to enrol in university or college and earn a formal qualification. In fact, many universities have a thriving population of mature students, so you’re bound to find other like-minded course mates.

There is lots of flexibility to be found too. Some courses can be taken part-time over a longer period, and others can be done entirely remotely.

Great jobs to do during retirement

The idea that you need to stop working after retirement is wrong.

Our latest Life Well Spent report found that even if money was no object, 39% of respondents would choose to delay retirement and continue working full or part time. Of those who have retired, some report missing the structure and social aspect that their job provided to their week.

It doesn't have to be the job you had before retirement age, but it can be healthy to keep working in some capacity.

It could be volunteering or putting a long-held business plan into action. Use your skills and experience to make some extra cash.


The experiences you've had throughout your life can be used to offer support to charities or communities.

It's a great way to meet new people and can be incredibly rewarding.

Take a look at our guide to finding volunteer opportunities to see what’s out there.

Coaching or mentoring

Everything you learnt in your career is invaluable.

Using your professional knowledge, you could help others develop their own careers and businesses.

You could ask an old employer whether they would benefit from a mentorship programme. Or search Google for mentorship programmes in your field of expertise.

If you use LinkedIn, sharing an update with your network that you are open to mentorship requests could also be a good place to start.

Starting a business

You might have always wanted to start your own business, and it's never too late to realise that dream.

Being that little bit older, wiser, and more experienced gives you an advantage too.

Meet Jo, a toy-shop owner who pursued her dream of opening a shop at 54 years old.



Expensive childcare costs make your help as a grandparent priceless.

Spending quality time with your grandchildren will be sure to keep you on your feet.

Did you know you could earn money looking after your grandchildren too?

Grandparents who provide regular childcare and support could be entitled to childcare credit( opens in a new tab).

Best places to visit in retirement

Nowhere in the world is off limits.

Some retirees spend their new freedom and time exploring the world, while others choose to live at home over summer and venture abroad somewhere warmer during winter.

Take a look at our guide to the best holiday destinations and ideas if you’re looking for some inspiration.

The best places to retire to in the UK

The UK offers something different at every turn.

Why not make a change and move somewhere different in your retirement?'s best places to retire( opens in a new tab) offers some great insight into some of the most popular areas and hidden gems.

If peace of mind is a priority, our recent study named Chorley in Lancaster as the safest place in the UK to retire.

Or if exploring the local area is more your thing, Leeds, York or Whitby might be more up your street. They’re home to the UK’s most picturesque bus route – the Coastliner 840.

The best places to retire in Europe

If you're in search of something abroad, there are a few things to consider.

When retiring in Europe, think about cost, life expectancy, weather, and crime rate.

Portugal is considered the best country to spend your golden years, with its hot climate and low cost of living.

Switzerland isn't far behind, with one of the lowest crime rates in Europe and the highest life expectancy.

Retirement hobbies to take up

In retirement, you can begin to enjoy the things you never had much time for when you were younger.

It's also a great time to take up some new hobbies and find talents you never knew you had.

Here's some hobby ideas that'll help you stay active and keep your mind sharp.

Active hobbies

  1. Yoga or Pilates
  2. Golf
  3. Salsa or ballet
  4. Hiking
  5. Cycling
  6. Fishing
  7. Running
  8. Horse riding
  9. Open-water swimming
  10. Tennis
  11. Squash
  12. Rowing
  13. Join a gym
  14. Gardening
  15. Surfing or paddle boarding
  16. Camping trips
  17. DIY

Healthy mind hobbies

  1. Learn a new language
  2. Brain teasers
  3. Jigsaw puzzles
  4. Draw or paint
  5. Pub quiz
  6. Knitting
  7. Write a book
  8. Learn to play an instrument
  9. Meditation
  10. Reading
  11. Boardgames
  12. Baking
  13. Colouring
  14. Pottery
  15. Card games

Our final retirement tips

Here's our final tips for a long and happy retirement:

  • Do what you want
  • Do things for others
  • Have a positive mindset
  • Challenge yourself
  • Do something new
  • Relax and unwind
  • Always have something to look forward to
  • Set yourself goals

Where to get retirement advice

Retirement isn't always easy to adjust to.

There are plenty of things to think about, but also a lot to look forward to.

Before making the decision to retire, it's worth speaking to your family and seeking advice.

To get advice you can:

As you get older, there are loads of ways you can save money, from discounts to freebies.

Read our guide to the best freebies and discounts for over 50s and get started today.

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.