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Happiness after 50

Part of the Life Well Spent Report 2023

They’re called our ‘golden years’ for a reason, but how much happier are we in later life? Each year we ask more than 2,000 over 50s from across the UK to tell us.

Happiness rises with age

When asked to rate “how satisfied are you with your life as a whole nowadays” out of 10, a decisive 69% answered 6 or above (-1% from 2022). In fact, 38% rated their life satisfaction an 8, 9 or 10 (the same as in 2022).

Reported happiness appears to rise both with age and upon retirement, with 51% of over 70s (+1% from 2022) and 49% of retirees (-1% from 2022) scoring 8 or higher for overall life satisfaction.

Similar results can be seen when asked “how happy did you feel yesterday?”, with 55% of over 70s reporting high happiness (+1% from 2022).

Looking forward, 35% of over 50s feel very positive about their future (the same as 2022), and only 19% rated their outlook between 1 and 4 out of 10 (-1% from 2022). Again, the over 70s showed the most optimism, with almost 2 in 5 feeling very happy about the future.

The happiest region is Yorkshire and Humberside, where 43% report feeling very happy in their lives overall. The least happy region is London, where only 28% feel the same.

What brings you the most happiness?

When asked openly what three things make them happiest in life, almost 9 in 10 credited family and friends to their positive outlooks. 18% of people list good health as one of their top three, and almost 1 in 6 mentioned their favourite hobby or sport.

Money was also a popular choice – given as an answer by 17% of respondents. But it isn’t having a lot of money that makes people happy – most answered that just having enough to get by and be free from money worries brought them the most joy.

Sunshine (mentioned by 14% of respondents), animals (14%) and nature (10%) are also stand-out mood boosters for people over 50. Many reported time spent in their gardens or with pets as bringing them most happiness.

Good food and drink were also popular choices (11%) with beer, chocolate, curry and even Jelly Babies getting specific mentions.

Finally, watching a favourite sports team is a key happiness driver for 1 in 20 people over 50. Football (and more specifically Manchester United) is the most common, but rugby is also a popular choice.

How does retirement affect happiness?

Over half (54%) of respondents who have retired did so before reaching the state pension age, although around 1 in 10 delayed their retirement to continue working full time.

Overall, retiring improves people’s happiness in both the long-term (66%) and short-term (67%). Only around 1 in 10 feel they are less happy now they are retired.

8 in 10 feel confident they retired at the right age, rising to almost 9 in 10 of the happiest people over 50. However, 14% feel they retired too early, rising to a third of 50–59-year-olds. One explanation for this could be the unexpected rise in the cost of living and interest rates, which are having an impact on retirement funds.

Those who have retired report enjoying freedom to do what they want, travel and spending more time and energy on their hobbies. However, others report missing socialising at work, and struggling with the feeling that they have less purpose.

Many respondents mentioned the cost of living or being financially worse off as reasons for being less happy since retiring.

Of those yet to retire, 24% (-2% since 2022) plan to retire before reaching the state pension age and 37% (+2%) plan to retire upon reaching the state pension age. But the majority (39%) plan to delay retirement and continue working. 20% plan to continue working part time, and 19% plan to continue working full time.

Surprisingly, even if money was no object, 39% would still choose to continue working for as long as they are able, although more would prefer part-time work. 24% would choose to continue working part-time, and 15% would continue working full time. 61% would opt for an early retirement to pursue their hobbies.

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