Wednesday, July 28, 2021

How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free

Most of the books I’ve read about retirement have focused on saving, investing, and decumulation strategies.  However, the whole point of being able to retire is to enjoy life.  Not everyone deals well without the structure of work, but Ernie J. Zelinski is here to help with his book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.  If even a small fraction of this book resonates with someone who finds retirement unsatisfying, it can help.

For younger people who dream of having less time pressure in their lives, the idea that too much leisure could be unsatisfying may seem ridiculous.  However, many people end up having no good answer to the question “What will you do with your time if you have never learned to enjoy your leisure?”  Zelinski offers hundreds of ideas in categories of lifelong learning, friends, travel, relocation, and more.

Whether we choose to stop working or have it forced on us by an employer, retirement is in most people’s futures.  Finances are an important part of retirement, but so is personal fulfillment.  “It’s wise to start thinking about the personal side a long time before you actually retire, particularly if you are a workaholic with few interests outside work.”  “Individuals who have had someone else plan a major portion of their waking hours are at a loss when there is no one else there to do it for them.”

Zelinski offers some exercises for finding a path in retirement that begins with “To get a better idea of your true identity, first ask yourself what sort of person you would want to be if work was totally abolished in this world.”

It’s important to find new structure and routines for your leisure to avoid the problem that “after they have left their careers for good, some retirees are so lost that they have been known to start missing jobs they hated and colleagues who used to drive them berserk.”  The retirement “transition can seriously affect one in five individuals, leaving them in a state of mild to severe depression.”

Sadly, a common mistake among people with successful careers is to live unhealthy lifestyles.  “In the event that you are less healthy than you should be, you should put a lot more time and energy into improving your health than increasing the size of your retirement portfolio.”

Although I’ve never had any trouble finding enjoyable and productive ways to spend my free time, one part of this book resonated strongly with me.  This is best summed up by the section’s title: “Your Wealth is Where Your Friends Are: Above All, Friends Make Life Complete.”

Choosing to move to a new country or even within your own country for financial or other reasons is a big step.  Zelinski offers a comprehensive list of what to look for in a new location before making the plunge.  “If you think you’ve found where you want to spend your retirement, the best way to check it out thoroughly is to take a vacation there first.  Go more than once or twice.  Try to visit the city or country in all seasons so you can get a sense for whether you’ll be happy living there full time.”

There are a few areas where this book deserves some criticism.  One is that much of the material is about two decades old, despite the copyright of 2016.  While much of the advice is timeless, one section discusses the dangers of eating too much fat, but we now know that the greater enemy is the unseen sugar added to so many of our foods.  Another criticism is some of the claims of causation from research studies such as “people with negative views about aging shorten their lives by 7.6 years.”  No doubt the correlation exists, but having a negative attitude is often caused by having poor health.  It’s still a good idea to be upbeat, but don’t put too much pressure on someone experiencing constant pain to be positive about life.

The book contains many interesting quotes.  Here are a few:

“A career is a job that has gone on too long. — Jeff MacNelly”

“It is always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are. — Jean Baudrillard”

“The best time to make friends is before you need them. — Ethel Barrymore”

“Reality is a temporary illusion brought about by the absence of beer.”

In conclusion, this book will most help unhappy retirees who find themselves bored and unsure of what to do with their time.  But even readers who already have plans for a satisfying retirement may find a few ideas for making life better.


  1. Quite a coincidence as I just finished this book as well. It took a few chapters for me to start enjoying the book, but I was very happy with the ideas as I move ahead towards retirement. I even started to make my own Get-a-Life mind map.

    1. Hi Bruce,

      My wife and I tend to follow familiar patterns of behaviour, and anything that gets us to think seriously about big changes is a good thing. In the end we tend to only make small changes, but getting into a mindset of "anything is possible" seems to be what we need to even make small changes.

  2. I would add developing a meditation practice to the list of possible retirement activities, if Ernie didn't already do so. I think of it as an Evolution hack, especially for people like me who tend to grumpiness despite all the good luck that has come my way.

    1. Hi Larry,

      Retirement is certainly a time to try some new things, including meditation, yoga, and many others. You never know what's going to help you until you try.