When you first launched into your working life, you may have dreamed of the day you could hang up your employee ID badge and turn off your alarm clock and cellphone.
But for many workers, when it actually happens, the transition to retirement can feel daunting. That dream you had at age 25 of sipping pina coladas on the beach may feel more like "What now?" at 65.
Like any major life transition, retirement is a time of shifting priorities. And how you spend all that newfound free time can make a big difference in your health and quality of life. Here's how to make the most of your post-working years.
Picture the life you want
Close your eyes and imagine your happiest and most fulfilling version of retirement. What do you hope to be doing on a random Tuesday? Do you picture yourself spending time with grandchildren? Trying new recipes and hosting dinners? Volunteering at a hospital or mentoring co-workers at your old job? Playing golf with your friends?
Taking the time to think about what brings you meaning and purpose gives you a clearer vision of where you will find a good quality of life — and some helpful road markers to know if you are getting closer or further away.
Find a routine
Sure, freedom and flexibility sound great. But for many people, too much flexibility can start to be more stressful than pleasant. Most people have healthier lives with routines and patterns.
That doesn't have to mean packing your schedule. Simply slot in a few regular activities that fit with how you want to spend your time. It could be weekly walks with a neighbor, or picking up your grandchild from school every Tuesday.
And that dream about a life without an alarm clock? Go for it, but keep some boundaries on your sleep habits. Sleep is the foundation for a resilient life, and getting up at the same time each day (within an hour) is a healthy routine to keep — even without a job to report to every day.
Stay socially connected
Loneliness can be a part of aging. But it doesn't have to be. If work has been your primary social outlet, moving away from that world can feel like a shock. Think about what social connections you want to maintain, and what new ones you want to build on — ideally before you retire.
Sign up to volunteer in your community, invite your neighbor over for a BBQ and reinvest in your relationship with your spouse or other close friends. Faith based communities can also be a source of social connection.
Keep on learning
Research shows that challenging the brain in new ways can help to keep you mentally sharp. While you're working, that often comes with the territory: meeting new people, mastering new skills. But when you retire, you may have to be more proactive.
You can — and should — keep discovering new things in your retired life, too. But you may have to seek them out. There are plenty of ways to do it, and crossword puzzles and sudoku are only the beginning.
Travel, whether it's to a nearby city for a day or a far-flung destination for a month. Walk in nature. Take an adult education course at a community college. Whatever you choose, be sure to also get offline: More screen time has been linked with worse mental health in retirement, while more physical activity has the opposite effect.
So with some planning and challenging ourselves, retirement can be an enjoyable phase in our lives.