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Do The Things That Make Us Happy Change Over Time?

Mark Gale

Mark Gale



What is happiness?

Nearly 80 years later, we published The Colour Report, a look at what retirement really looks like in the present day – and for the most part, the average person's ideas about happiness haven't changed much.  The biggest change, perhaps, is how the +55s see themselves compared to the previous generation. Indeed, our survey respondents believe they have more choices than their parents did, and are ‘more special’ (59%), making the most of what life has to offer.

Man stretching outside

Staying Fit & Active © matthewennisphotography


More than seven decades ago, participants in the Bolton study defined happiness as ‘engaging in my hobbies, spending time that is free of worry’ – and today's retirees are not vastly different. They’re intent on living the same rewarding, active lifestyles that they always have. More than eight out of ten (83%) people responding to our survey said that they spend at least the same amount of time exercising as they did before retirement. And it's not an attitude that diminishes over time, either – 28% of those over 75 are members of a gym or sports club, showing you are only as old as you feel. But it's not just sports and exercise that are making today’s retirees happy.  They're just as active in their adventures as they are in their pursuits of good health.  And it is here that we really see a change in attitudes. Home & Away While the majority of respondents to the 1938 Bolton survey were happiest in their hometown, around 60% of today’s retirees have visited new countries and almost half (45%) are planning to travel in the next 12 months. Perhaps ‘security’ – the top happiness factor in 1938 – has come to mean something different for us in the 21st century.


As mentioned in the introduction, The Colour Report respondents believe they are more radical than previous generations. They are largely better travelled, and have wider experiences than their parents, so security is no longer defined by the limits of ‘home’, but by what one is able to do. On the flip-side, community still means a lot to us in 2015. The Colour Report shows that more than one in five (21%) retirees have started new volunteering activities, which suggests that contributing to society is still seen as an important happiness factor.  Perhaps our ability to travel more widely simply means that we see ourselves as part of a broader society than our parents did. Looking Good Back in 1938, ‘more beauty’ was on the list of ten factors that affect our happiness, and our study shows that a healthy bit of vanity isn't something that's lost as we grow older.  Roughly a third of those polled in The Colour Report follow the latest fashions, and almost three-quarters say their own appearance is of great importance. Of course, this more radical generation of retirees acknowledges that they have more spending power than their parents did. A fact that means they can actually satisfy their desire to look good and dress well after they stop working. In fact, almost half of retirees are spending at least as much money on clothes as they did when they were younger, with only 5% of participants saying they buy clothes targeted at older people.


Love & Support Almost 80 years ago, respondents wrote about ‘congenial and satisfying companionship’ and coming home from the pit to see ‘my kiddies and wife’ as the things that really made them happy.  It’s here that the links between today’s retirees and the Bolton respondents become strongest. It seems that support from those we’ve known longest increases in value as we age, with 68% of respondents to our survey wanting to live close to family. The ‘satisfying companionship’ that made people happy in 1938 is still an important factor for retirees today, with the vast majority of people saying that a laugh with friends keeps them young. And that’s not to say that new relationships can’t be fulfilling. While some people might believe that it gets harder to find companionship as you grow older, the fact is that plenty of retirees today are feeling the thrill of starting new relationships.  Almost one in five (19%) respondents to our survey are members of an online dating site, with almost one third finding someone special. When it comes to happiness, age really is just a number.  If you'd like to know more about what makes today's retirees tick, you can take a look at our Colour Report here.


Happy Couple in love

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