Yale University’s most popular class ever is called “The Science of Well-Being”. The good news is you can take it for FREE on Coursera. And, just out of curiosity, I did. I could see how it might make sense to incorporate this program (or something like it) as part of an individual’s planning and preparation for retirement. Here are a couple of reasons why:
Happiness is about judgment and decision-making. The professor for this course, Laurie Santos PhD, started the course sharing the G.I. Joe fallacy, which is that the age-old mantra of “knowing is half the battle” really doesn’t help when it comes to making real-world decisions. So, if we want to be happy and satisfied during our retirement, then we need to *retire* the idea that just giving people information is enough. (No pun intended.)
Happiness means knowing what will make us happy. Santos also talks about the concept of “miswanting”. This is the idea that individuals think they want something a lot more than they do or that they believe they will like something a lot more than they actually will. An example might be the person who thinks they’re ready to quit working and travel the world, then once they officially retire, there’s a bit of remorse.
I’m bringing this up because, in our retirement life, we will often have to deal with trade-offs. For example, we can travel often but our accommodations might be economy. Versus traveling less but more luxuriously. Or we can retire earlier but it means downsizing and paying off a mortgage. Or we can work longer, but it means becoming a freelancer or contractor without healthcare insurance. For us to make good decisions, we need to truly understand what makes us happy. In addition, we need to have a greater understanding of how to make the decision, not just have the information but have enough self-awareness to know the conditions that are right for us.
The last thing anyone wants is to make wrong decisions where their retirement is concerned. I remember years ago meeting someone who was approaching their retirement based on what they read in a book. The book said they needed to retire at XX age. So, they did. And they were unhappy. The book told them they should do XX. So, they did. And they were unhappy. Of course, their unhappiness spread to their spouse. It wasn’t until they said, “I’m just going to retire my way.” that they found their retirement happiness.
Santos suggested a catchy acronym that individuals could use in evaluating decisions and taking action. It’s called WOOP:
W = wish for what you want
O = outcomes are defined
O = obstacles are identified
P = plan your strategy
For me the real success in the WOOP method is in the W. Wishing for what you want means understanding what makes you happy. I don’t know about you, but no one ever talked about this in school or college or at work. I’ve learned what makes me happy over lots of years and many mistakes. “The Science of Well-Being” could be one of those courses that helps individuals focus on happiness. And hopefully not use trial and error as the way to reach it.
There’s an increasing conversation about money not buying happiness and how happiness impacts personal well-being. But it only works if you know what your happiness is. Maybe it’s time to start finding out. That way you can create a successful retirement plan.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while happily exploring Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, HI