Researchers have found several factors beyond money that contribute to a happy retirement, including good health, strong relationships, and a sense of purpose.

But failures are inevitable, both in life and in retirement. Not everyone enjoys good health – and no one enjoys it forever. Loved ones die or move away. Activities that you thought would give your life meaning may or may not be possible: think of all the activities and plans that have been canceled due to the pandemic.

However, many retirees continue to be happy despite the hardships, and research shows that their psychological attitudes help determine how well they cope with change.

“Mindset is key, and it’s one of those things that’s within our control,” says retirement manager and coach Joe Casey, author of Win the Retirement Game: How to Outwit the 9 Forces That Try to Steal your joy.”

Cultivate optimism

A 2014 study by two Kansas State University researchers found that people who are more optimistic tend to be happier in retirement. Research participants’ level of optimism was measured by their agreement with statements including “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best” and “In general, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad things.”

Positive emotions such as optimism help people be more resilient and think more creatively, while pessimism can make it more difficult to take productive action or cope with difficult situations, says the study’s lead researcher Sarah Acebedo, now a professor at Texas Tech University’s School of Financial Planning.

But don’t despair, pessimists: you can learn to be more optimistic.

“I do think some people can be optimistic or pessimistic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change your outlook and perspective,” says Acebedo, who also edits the Journal of Financial Therapy.

Asebedo recommends a book by psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman’s “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,” which explains cognitive behavioral techniques for combating pessimism. If you need additional or ongoing help, talk to your therapist about developing a more optimistic outlook.

“It’s not Pollyanna’s look,” Casey explains. “It’s really more, ‘Okay, let’s look for the good.'”

Cultivate a positive outlook on aging

While positive thinking in general can help you cope with life, thinking positively about aging can actually extend your life.

A 2002 study led by Yale University professor Becky R. Levy found that people who had more positive attitudes about aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than people with more negative attitudes. The gap persisted even after the researchers took into account other factors that affect life expectancy, such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, health and loneliness.

The researchers examined how study participants’ views on aging predicted their survival up to 23 years later. 338 men and 322 women aged 50 or older responded to several statements about aging, including “As you get older, you are less useful” and “I am as happy now as I was when I was younger. »

Positive attitudes about aging have had a greater impact on life expectancy than many health factors. For example, low blood pressure or low cholesterol contribute about four years to longevity. Other healthy behaviors, including not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly, add one to three years to life expectancy.

Levy’s research also found that a positive view of aging can protect against dementia and help people recover from health setbacks.

People can change their views if they become more aware of and challenge negative stereotypes of aging, Levy writes in her book Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live. She also recommends building intergenerational friendships to combat ageism and finding positive role models.

Cultivate a growth mindset

Casey says it can be difficult for people in retirement if they believe they’ve stopped growing and that their days of learning new things are behind them. He coaches his clients to develop a “growth mindset” that embraces learning and change.

He points to the research of Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindact: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck has found that people who believe that their intelligence and talents can be improved—what she calls a growth mindset—tend to be more successful in life than those who believe their abilities are innate— what she calls fixed thinking.

Casey encourages clients to not only learn, but to challenge themselves. It can mean learning something that requires effort or mastering a skill.

“Mastering gives you a sense of control and gives you a sense of accomplishment that people often lose when they leave a more professional workplace,” says Casey.

But mastery also requires another aspect of a growth mindset: the willingness to take risks, accept and learn from failure. This can be difficult for people who are good at their jobs, Casey says.

“They’re not used to being bad at anything,” he says. “To get good at something, to master something, you must first be bad at it.”

This column was provided to the Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Contact Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner and NerdWallet columnist, at [email protected] or @lizweston.