Retirement ought to be a happy time. You can set your own schedule, take long holidays, and start spending all the money you've been saving.

And for many retirees that holds true. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, people tend to start life happy, only to see their sense of well-being decline in adulthood. No surprise there: Working long hours, raising a family, and saving for the future are high-stress pursuits.

Once you reach age 65, though, happiness picks up again, not peaking until age 85. How can you make sure you follow this blissful pattern? Financial security helps. But good health is crucial: In a recent survey by Bank of America, 81 per cent of retirees cited "health" as the most important ingredient for a happy retirement. Some of the other triggers were less obvious.

Here's what you can do to make your retirement a happy one:
1. Create a predictable pay cheque — No doubt about it: More money makes you happier. "Once you amass a comfortable retirement fund, though, the effect weakens," says global retirement lifestyle expert Barry LaValley.

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In his book So do you think you are ready to retire Barry says, "whether you have a great deal of it or believe that you don't have enough, money can be a source of stress. This may arise from the belief that money reflects success or failure in life. In fact, having money is often confused with being happy."

Similar research based on the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study found a drop-off in happiness with extreme wealth; after you amass a decent figure in riches, more money doesn't increase your happiness as much.

Barry LaValley states that "where your income comes from is just as important as how much savings you have". Retirees with a predictable income — say from a rental property — get more enjoyment from spending those dollars than they do using money from a pension.

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2. So you're leaving work? — People who work past 65 are happier than their fully retired peers – with a big asterisk. If you have no choice but to work, the results are the opposite. On a scale of 1 to 10, seniors who voluntarily pick up part-time work rate their happiness a 6.5 on average; that drops to 4.4 for those who are forced to take a part-time job.

Barry believes "The benefit of working isn't just financial. It's a boon to your health — a key driver of retirement happiness. The physical activity and social connections a job provides are good antidote to an unhealthy sedentary and lonely lifestyle."

3. Find four social"" hobbies — Busy retirees tend to be happier. But just how active do you have to be? Barry has put a number on it. He found that the happiest retirees engage in three to four activities regularly; the least happy, only one or two. "The happy retiree group had extraordinarily busy schedules," he says.

For the biggest boost to your happiness, pick a hobby that's social. The top pursuits of the happiest retirees include volunteering, travel, and golf; for the unhappiest, they're reading, hunting, fishing, and writing. "The happiest people don't do things in isolation," says Barry.

4. Downsizing — If your family has grown up and flown the nest and you're moving closer to retiring, it's likely that you've at least thought about downsizing your home.

For some, downsizing can be for practical reasons. For others, it might be a desire to be closer to their children if they've relocated, or it might simply be the desire for a change of scenery as they move into the next chapter of their life.

But there are pros and cons to downsizing, which need to be considered before you make what is always going to be a major personal and financial decision.

5. Relationships & health — In you second life, your friends will provide you with much of your quality of life. A lot of research has been done on the health benefits of having a strong social support network in later years. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the size of your social support network and your longevity.

After reading this article and asking yourself some thought-provoking questions, it is now time to put together your retirement plan. In Barry's words: "Always remember it's never too early to plan and retirement isn't as far off as you think."

Stewart Group is bringing Barry LaValley, a global retirement lifestyle expert, to Hawke's Bay and we are offering the Hawke's Bay community a free seminar with Barry on August 8, 5pm, at Porters Boutique Hotel, Havelock North. Limited spots available, please register your spot at www.stewartgroup.co.nz/barry or email your details to enquiries@stewartgroup.co.nz

• Nick Stewart is the CEO and Authorised Financial Adviser at Stewart Group, a Hawke's Bay-owned and operated independent financial planning and wealth management firm based in Hastings. Stewart Group provides free second-opinion service on your current investments.

• The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from an Authorised Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961.