Creating a ‘Happiness Portfolio’ for Retirement Success

A rock-solid financial portfolio isn’t the biggest must-have for retirees; a retirement lifestyle plan is.

By Marianne Oehser
Marianne Oehser
Marianne Oehser

As an advisor, you work hard to be sure your clients can afford to retire successfully. It is such a tragedy when they are unhappy in spite of having enough money.

The problem is your clients need more than a solid financial portfolio in retirement; they also need what I call a Happiness Portfolio®. Essentially, this is a retirement lifestyle plan for how they are going to invest their other precious asset: time.

Here are several real-life examples:

Failure to plan

Rich is one of those people who had plenty of money to retire comfortably but was miserable. His career had been exciting and challenging and he loved what he did. He had never even thought about what life after his career would be like and when he was suddenly living it, he sunk into a deep depression. When we were introduced, a successful day for Rich was reading the newspaper before dinner time.

As we began to work on his Happiness Portfolio®, we talked about his interests, the things that motivated him, and what was meaningful to him. He had never had time for hobbies, but he remembered that he used to enjoy writing. So, he enrolled in a creative writing program, which ignited a whole new passion. It led him to write and publish two books. That led him to polishing his speaking skills so he could promote his books. And that led him to getting involved in the community in ways he had never thought about.

Today he is living a fulfilling and rewarding life that is full of things he loves to do.

Retirement resistance

Sometimes people are afraid to retire because they can’t imagine how they will fill up their days. Bert was one of those people. His financial advisor suggested he meet with me because he was resisting retirement but was beginning to wonder if he was missing something important.

Bert was the founder and managing director of a highly successful commercial real estate firm. During our first meeting, he told me that he didn’t really know why he was there. He had already tried to retire eight times and didn’t know how this would be any different. In the past, he had repeatedly set his retirement date mostly because his wife wanted him to. As each date approached, he found an excuse not to retire.

The truth was, he loved the thrill of making deals come together. It was almost like an addiction. He just didn’t want to give up that rush. But this time was different.

We explored his thoughts and fears about both retirement and continuing to work. We brainstormed about how he could restructure his role in his company so he could experiment with spending more time doing some of the things he was missing. We designed his Happiness Portfolio® which is his vision and action plan for eight key non-financial areas of life. Once he could see what this new chapter might look like, he was ready to experiment.

Six years later, Bert is fully retired and says he is living the best part of his life. He was able to give up the adrenaline rush of making the deal because he found that he could get high on life by doing other things that were important to him. He found that everyday things like teaching his grandchildren to fish and spending quality time with his family and friends, doing things he enjoyed, gave him meaningful fulfillment.

Couples’ conundrum

Financial advisors often face the same fears and challenges as their clients do.

Mel was a long-time financial advisor. He loved what he did but his wife, Annette, was recovering from a serious illness and he wanted to spend more time with her. He thought he had an idea about what his new life would be like, but he wanted to be sure he did it the right way. He had watched many of his clients fail at retirement and he did not want that to happen to them.

“One of the biggest mistakes couples make is not talking about their assumptions about how their relationship will work when they are spending so much more time together.”

We worked with Mel and Annette to build their Happiness Portfolios®. It is important for a couple to do it together, so they have a shared vision and plan for their next chapter. One of the biggest mistakes couples make is not talking about their assumptions about how their relationship will work when they are spending so much more time together.

An important assumption is how much time they will spend doing things together and how much time they will invest in their individual interests. Most couples are looking forward to being able to do more things together. It can strengthen their connection, foster mutual understanding and create a sense of camaraderie – to say nothing about having lots of fun.

However, having separate interests is also a key to having a strong relationship. Each partner needs to continue growing as a person. By pursuing individual interests, each partner brings new experiences, ideas and perspectives into the relationship, making it more dynamic and enriching. Mel and Annette were able to design their new lifestyle, so they had a balance of “Me Time” and “We Time” that worked well for them.

Even small assumptions like how the household chores will be shared are important to discuss. Small annoyances have a way of developing into bigger issues when they are left unaddressed.

When we finished their plan, Annette said, “This was a very good investment in our time, money and the effort we put into it. It helped us clarify how we could implement our dreams and desires.”

8 components of a lifestyle plan

In each of these three examples, the key for clients being able to move forward into a happy and fulfilling new life was creating a vision of what was possible and an action plan that was realistic for them. Some of the plans were more specific than others because some people are more detail oriented. But all of them addressed eight non-financial areas:

  • Professional. Are you going to include some kind of work for pay in this chapter? If so, what will it be like and how much time do you want to commit to doing it?
  • Primary Relationship. What are you going to do to keep it strong and vibrant?
  • Family and Friends. How are you going to build and nurture the ones that are important to you?
  • Giving Back. How are you going to invest your time, talent or resources to help others?
  • Health and Aging. What are you going to do to successfully maintain your health and age?
  • Self-Development. How are you going to continue to grow as a person?
  • Leisure. It is a very important part of this time; it is just not the only thing that is important to you?
  • Emotional and Spiritual Well Being. What are you going to do to enhance your overall well-being?

No, you don’t have to be a lifestyle coach

The reason that Rich, Bert, Mel and Annette all succeeded is because each of them was able to envision their new life and it felt attainable.

This does not mean that you as a financial advisor have to be a lifestyle coach. You do not have to help your clients create their lifestyle plan. Your job is to help them understand the importance of having one and pointing them to the resources they need to create their own plan.

There are three paths to creating a Happiness Portfolio®:

  1. Do it yourself. There are lots of helpful books you can recommend. My book, “Your Happiness Portfolio® for Retirement: It’s Not About the Money,” is designed as a DIY guide. I don’t mean that the money isn’t important – it’s very important. It’s just that my book is not about the money part. That’s your job.
  2. Workshops. Some adult learning centers offer courses to help people design their new life.
  3. Working with an expert. That is what the people whose stories you just read did.

Be an ‘accountability partner’

The two things could sabotage your client’s lifestyle plan: not creating it in the first place or failing to put it into action. You can be a big help with both of these.

As their advisor, you can be their accountability partner. Having a trusted ally who checks in on how they are doing with actually writing their plan will encourage your client to get it done. Then asking how they are progressing toward making it a reality will remind them of things they intended to do but have not done yet.

Like all important plans, a Happiness Portfolio® — or whatever you or your clients call their retirement lifestyle plan — should be updated periodically. My husband and I revisit our plan every New Year’s Day. You could include a few questions about your clients’ lifestyle plans during your annual review.

Encouraging your clients to create their Happiness Portfolio® will help them live a happy and fulfilling life in retirement and it will deepen your relationship with them.

For more than a decade, Marianne Oehser has been helping people live happy and fulfilling lives after their careers. She is co-founder and partner in Next Chapter Lifestyle Advisors. If you would like more information, contact Marianne Oehser at

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