Exploring Retirement

Welcome to the August 2015 edition of Exploring Retirement. Each month we feature articles on well-being in retirement as well as showcasing an activity to consider. In this issue I will be discussing subjective well-being.

New writers are welcome, so if you are interested, please contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk. For ideas to write about, have a glance at the July 2014 issue of Exploring Retirement, available by clicking on "Past Issues" in the navigation bar on the left of this page. These are only suggestions, please contact us if you have a different topic you would like to share your thoughts on.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining their principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

Subjective Well-being in Retirement

Ed DienerProfessor Ed Diener has been studying well-being for practically all of his adult life and is acknowledged as a world authority on the subject. When he first began his life's work, psychology was deeply concerned with mental health problems such as depression. In order not to be seen as frivolous, he decided not to label his studies as "happiness" but chose the more scientific sounding term "subjective well-being" instead.

Defining "happiness"

Professor Diener had to come up with a definition of happiness that would gain general acceptance. He suggested that subjective well being has three components - how satisfied with our lives we are over a given time period, how much positive emotion we experience in that time period and how much negative emotion we experience. Given this definition, a happy person will judge their life to be going well, will experience frequent positive emotions and fairly infrequent negative emotions. An unhappy person will judge their life not to be going well, will experience infrequent positive emotions and fairly frequent negative emotions. The important thing about this definition is that it allows happiness to be measured using three simple psychological scales.

Frequency versus intensity

One of Professor Diener's most significant findings about what influences our overall happiness is that the frequency with which we experience positive emotions is more important than their intensity. While it is wonderful to experience joy over some life event, it usually doesn't happen that often and, when it does, it does not last that long, On the other hand, we can all experience happy moments throughout the day and it appears to be the sum of these that constitutes a "happy life".

Hedonic Adaptation

Hedonic adaptation refers to the natural ability all of us have to adapt to changing circumstances. This includes circumstances that make us happy or unhappy. Putting it simply, we get used to it! Studies show that over time our level of well-being tends to hover around a "set point". It's a bit like our body weight which may go up and down a few pounds but over a year doesn't change much. Professor Diener believes that is is possible to raise our set point for happiness but rather like losing weight, it isn't easy.

Well-being in retirement

So, if we want to apply the findings on subjective well-being to increase our overall contentment with retirement, what should we do? I think the importance of Professor Diener's work is that it shows that we can do something. We don't have to make dramatic changes to our lives. We do need to keep happiness in mind as a longterm goal. Aim for lots of "small wins" such as going for coffee with a friend or taking a walk in a beautiful garden. Above all, change your routines to avoid hedonic adaptation. Variety really is the spice of life!

You can watch a video interview with Professor Diener here -

Featured Activity: The Big Lunch

The Big Lunch is a very simple idea. The aim is to get as many people as possible across the whole of the UK to have lunch with their neighbours annually on the first Sunday in June in a simple act of community, friendship and fun. Since starting in 2009, thousands of Big Lunches have taken place in all types of communities. In 2014, 4.83 million people took to their streets, gardens and community spaces for the sixth annual Big Lunch.

Big LunchHere is a photo of the Big Lunch happening near us in the pretty seaside village of Groomsport.

The Big Lunch is not exclusively for older people and that is part of it's attraction. It can be a truly cross-generational happening.You can find details of a Big Lunch event happening near you from the website, click here. A free information pack explaining how to organise a Big Lunch in your neighbourhood is available from the website.

You can view a short video from the 2012 Big Lunch in Northern Ireland by clicking on the link below.


Michael McSorley - Gran Fondo.

Last year Michael was a volunteer at the Giro d'Italia three day road race in Northern Ireland. He was so inspired by the event that this year he decided to enter the legacy event round the scenic Mountains of Mourne. To read how got on, click here

Jeanette Lewis

Jeanette has chosen to write about the joys of summer. Summer in Canada is all too short and she is keen to savour every moment. To read Jeanette's article, click here.

Tall ships visit Belfast

Our cinema goers have managed to escape into daylight in time for the visit by the Tall Ships to Belfast. To read their article on this memorable occasion, click here.


Reflections is intended to showcase short pieces of poetry or prose that reflect on our life experience. This month features another poem by my late friend and colleague, Philip Clarke. Here Philip muses on an experience we all share, that deep inside we are still the child we once were. I'm grateful to his wife, Noelle, for permission to publish these poems.

To read Philips poem "The Wheel of Life", click here.


Our cinema goers this month have been to see "Samba", the story of an illegal migrant worker in Paris. The subject of illegal migrants is a hot political topic in the UK at the moment, so this film is very timely. To read their review, click here