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Happy retirees build new lives, says Harvard’s Teresa Amabile

In Amabile’s study, professionals from three different companies across the country, including the Midwest and Silicon Valley, sat down for in-depth interviews. The subjects ranged from work life to retirement to life planning. Some were over 55 and hadn’t considered retiring anytime soon, some were set to retire within the year, and some had just made the transition. Over a period of five years, Amabile’s team tracked the retirement transitions of 12 workers in particular, some of whom said retirement wasn’t what they expected.

“People will feel like they’re on vacation,” Amabile told Business Insider. “And then it starts to sink in, that yeah, ‘this doesn’t make me feel like I’m truly living my life.'”

Amabile described a honeymoon-like phase that kicks off many retirements. “Most people feel euphoric in the first days, weeks, and even months after retirement,” she said. “But then reality sets in. They use metaphors like ‘I’ve jumped off the cliff. I’ve leapt into the void.'”

Delaying that leap into the “void” can save lives. According to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, delaying retirement reduced the five-year mortality risk by 32% for men in their early 60s. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, retirement has been linked to earlier cognitive decline and depression.

But not all retirements are created equal — her research showed that there’s a pattern to people who retire happily, and it goes beyond money.

The most important thing people don’t do, according to Amabile, is create a daily schedule after their days at the office are over.

“Think about how you’re going to spend your days, your weeks, and your months,” Amabile said.

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