Wes Moss: How religion fits into retirement happiness

Much of our happiness in retirement discussion has been around putting into practice solid financial principles. From nest egg sizes and withdrawal rates to tips on booting the adult kids off your retirement payroll, cash has obvious implications on happiness levels.

But so do lots of other things. My far-reaching money and happiness survey of over 2,000 retirees in the U.S. has surfaced some non-cash happiness essentials. So, if you’re asking yourself, “How in the hell can I be happy in retirement?,” I say, try a little heaven.

We asked thousands of retirees about their religious service attendance and self-identified happiness levels. Attendance could include church, synagogue or a similar place of worship. And simply put, if you want to be happy, we found that a little religion is good, but more is better — up to a point.

Our survey data overall shows that more church equals more happiness in retirement, but only up to a point. We found that the happiest retirees attend church on average once a week. In fact, weekly service attendance puts you 1.5 times more likely to be happy than those non-attenders. If you’re the Christmas- or Easter-only type, you’re actually 50 percent more likely to be unhappy relative to your churchgoing friends. Once respondents jumped to the “multiple times a week” category, happiness levels actually tailed off a bit. I’m not sure how to read into this, except for too much of a good thing might actually be … too much. Just don’t tell my pastor.

I’m partial to this advice since my family just recently joined a new church closer to my neighborhood. It’s where my children attended preschool. It was an easy decision to join this church since we’d already built such great relationships there. I run into some issues with getting to church every week since I spend the vast majority of my Sunday mornings at the WSB radio studio recording “Money Matters With Wes Moss” from 9 to 11 a.m. But once I retire someday in the distant future, I plan to enjoy church regularly and increase my happiness!

Digging deeper for the retirement application, it’s helpful to understand what these attendance levels actually mean. Walking through those church doors probably won’t deliver a happiness silver bullet. It’s actually what accompanies religious service participation that matters.

Earlier, we published findings showing that happy retirees enjoyed over 3.5 core pursuits in retirement. You can think of these pursuits as hobbies-on-steroids. Interestingly, the most common core pursuit for the happiest group: volunteering. Volunteering gives retirees the feeling of meaningful accomplishment; a self-satisfaction that is hard to replicate outside of acts of service and giving. Church (or other religious participation) is filled with outlets for this. Sunday school volunteering, global missions trips or dropping a $20 in the offering basket — you’d be hard-pressed to find as many easy means for a service-led happiness boost in one place. And the more you go, the more likely you’re participating in one or more of these.

Beyond opportunities for service, the sense of community and belonging in faith groups brings new richness to the retirement season. Consider the lifestyle experienced by residents in Loma Linda, Calif. This community, made up primarily of Seventh-day Adventists, is the only recognized “Blue Zone” in the United States.

These zones, defined in the New York Times best-selling book by the same name, represent the nine happiest and healthiest people groups in the world. As the only one in America, this community offers compelling proof on concentrated religion’s impact on happiness. This town — where as many as 1/3 of residents are Seventh-day Adventist — outlives the rest of America by nearly a decade. They report outsized levels of vitality, in part because their faith encourages finding sanctuary from the bustle and stress of life. They take 24-hour sabbaths for rest and prioritize spending time with like-minded friends.

According to “Blue Zone” research, they find well-being in sharing each other’s values and providing support and accountability around healthy habits. All this strengthens social networks (the real, human kind!) and gives consistent relational connection.

The most actively religious among us are statistically happier. They’re finding purposefulness and a sense of shared, profound meaning. So while you’re fine-tuning your financial plan for retirement, double-check that you plan for some good ole’ gospel time. Can I get an amen?!

Wes Moss has been the host of “Money Matters” on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB in Atlanta for more than seven years now, and he does a live show from 9-11 a.m. Sundays. He is the chief investment strategist for Atlanta-based Capital Investment Advisors. For more information, go to wesmoss.com.


This information is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and should not be viewed as investment advice or recommendations. This information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. This information is not intended to, and should not, form a primary basis for any investment decision that you may make. Always consult your own legal, tax, or investment advisor before making any investment/tax/estate/financial planning considerations or decisions.


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Business

Troubled Georgia nuclear project faces another fateful moment
Troubled Georgia nuclear project faces another fateful moment

The future is again in question for a multi-billion expansion of Plant Vogtle in Georgia. But consumers are likely to pay for the nuclear power project even if it’s never completed. By the end of day Monday, energy organizations from around the state are supposed to vote on whether the expansion should be kept alive despite repeated delays and...
Atlanta home sales down again, prices rise
Atlanta home sales down again, prices rise

A supply-demand mismatch has continued to chill housing sales in metro Atlanta, according to a report from Re/Max of Georgia. The number of home sales last month was down 7.1 percent from the level of a year ago, with the worst plunge coming in Clayton, where sales fell 17 percent. That compares with a national decline of 1.1 percent during the same...
Delta to use facial recognition in Atlanta’s international terminal
Delta to use facial recognition in Atlanta’s international terminal

Delta Air Lines plans to launch what it calls the nation’s first “biometric terminal” by deploying facial recognition at multiple points in the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson. At the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal and Concourse F at the Atlanta airport, Delta plans to use facial recognition at check-in...
Georgia jobless rate dips below U.S. average
Georgia jobless rate dips below U.S. average

Georgia’s economy added 12,000 jobs last month as the state unemployment rate ticked down below the national average for the first time in more than a decade, according to a report Thursday from the state Department of Labor. The jobless rate dipped from 3.9 percent in July to 3.8 percent in August — a sign that, even if the U.S. ...
More Stories