Reasons for unhappiness in retirement

By Maddie Johnson | November 7, 2022 | Last updated on November 7, 2022
3 min read
senior man depressed / DGLimages

This article appears in the November 2022 issue of Advisor’s Edge magazine — our second last print issue. If you’re a print-only subscriber, learn more about our digital transition and how to continue to receive all the best news and features on

Many clients spend years saving for their golden years, only to realize the formula for a good retirement involves more than just finances.

As a result, advisors frequently see retirees who discover that, without working, they’re actually quite unhappy — even if they have more than enough money to fund their non-working days.

According to Amy D’Aprix, founder of Life Transitions by Dr. Amy and a consultant for Scotiabank and the Scotiabank Women Initiative, there are several reasons why people find themselves unhappy in retirement.

“There’s this myth that once I am retired I will be eternally happy, and I think that contributes to many people actually being unhappy,” said D’Aprix.

While people put a lot of thought into planning for the financial aspects of retirement, she said they often overlook the psychological impact and don’t plan for the “life” side of it.

Therefore, clients should consider what they might lose when they stop working. D’Aprix said that while not everybody loves everything about their career, leaving a job for a lot of people means losing their audience or that realm where they can demonstrate their expertise.

“Nobody is interested anymore,” she said.

Without an audience, retirees also tend to lose a sense of accomplishment.

“For many professionals, a lot of what we feel we contribute to the world is through our work,” D’Aprix said. “If we haven’t thought about how we will replace that in retirement, it leaves this real gap in our lives.”

What can follow is a lack of structure and sense of belonging — or, in some cases, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Many people also don’t realize how much of their social connectivity is tied to their workplace.

The good news is these challenges are preventable and advisors can help clients clarify how they want to spend their golden years.

One tool is to learn from other clients’ experiences in retirement. Advisors can educate future retirees and initiate conversations through anecdotes, D’Aprix said.

“Most people only retire once, but an advisor could go through it a hundred times” with their clients, she said.

For clients who fear losing their audience or sense of purpose in retirement, advisors can share their own plans and worries about retirement, and what they’ve considered to combat them.

Advisors should be asking “high-impact questions” that make a client think deeply about their future, D’Aprix said. For example: “When you think about retirement, what are the three most important things?” or “What is your greatest concern about transitioning into retirement?”

One challenge couples often face in retirement is that their lifestyle expectations don’t match. D’Aprix said partners need to have those essential conversations early on.

Questions like the ones above are a way to engage a partner who has traditionally not been as active in financial conversations. “They may not be as interested in the money, but they could be in the life issues. Having those conversations builds trust,” D’Aprix said.

Advisors can then look at those responses and determine what should be factored into a financial plan.

“An advisor doesn’t have to become a therapist, but they do have the wisdom of having watched many people move into this stage, so one of the best things they can do is educate,” said D’Aprix. “Asking the right questions and encouraging these conversations allows [clients] to have a retirement that they can feel great about.”

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Maddie Johnson

Maddie is a freelance writer and editor who has been reporting for since 2019.