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June 19, 2021, 5:56 p.m. EDT

This is where older Americans find the most happiness

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Kerry Hannon

Ready for this one? Good things came out of the pandemic.

A new study “ The Four Pillars of the New Retirement: What a Difference a Year Makes ” conducted by Edward Jones, the large investment and financial services advisory firm, in partnership with Age Wave, a think tank and consulting firm, and The Harris Poll reports that 70% of Americans say the pandemic has caused them to be more reflective and pay more attention to their long-term finances.

That kick-start is a good thing when it comes to future financial security.

The report is the third online tracking survey fielded in the U.S. from May 2020 to March 2021 by this team. This one was conducted from March 22 to 24, among 2,042 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, including 616 retirees and 335 pre retirees (age 50+ and planning to retire). The research builds off an initial 9,000-person study.

Last week, I was invited to virtually assist Ken Cella, head Edward Jones Client Strategies Group and Maddy Dychtwald, an author and a founder of Age Wave , as they shared in a media presentation of some of the most interesting findings from the research.

For many of us, the sheer fear of the virus, loss of income, or layoffs, and death of loved ones forced us to face the precariousness and sudden change that life can deliver.

The study revealed that 76% of Americans credit the pandemic with helping them “refocus on what’s most important in life.” One-third (32%) of Americans say they now have “more clarity for how they want to live their life.”

Despite the health risk of the virus on retirees, they reported greater optimism than others, with a majority (61%) indicating that the pandemic has given them “more appreciation for what makes life meaningful” (vs. only 46% of all other Americans).

Meantime, over half of retirees (53%) say that they now have “greater empathy and compassion for people who are struggling in ways that they are not.”

Useful =Youthful

Most retirees say that all four pillars—health, family, purpose, and finances—are crucial to optimal well-being in retirement, which makes sense to me. And retirees, when compared with younger Americans, are far more likely to say that “having a sense of purpose” in life is essential to achieve peak well-being (69% vs. 55%).

But surprisingly, at least to me, purpose is sliced and diced in a range of definitions. The one that I think of is not what topped the list. The lion’s share of retirees, 67%, said spending time with loved ones gave them the greatest sense of purpose. Only 40% defined purpose as I do–giving back to others and being generous.

There was no discrepancy when it comes to feeling useful 93% of retirees are all in on this and 87% say being useful helps them to feel youthful. I like that concept.

But 86% of Americans and 89% of retirees agree there should be more ways for retirees to use their talents and knowledge to “benefit their communities and society.” And retirees say they would ideally like to volunteer or work pro bono 3.3 hours per week — nearly four times the retiree volunteer rate in recent years.

Handclapping to that.

The greatest financial worry

As one might expect, the overarching fear of future healthcare costs and long-term care costs as well as outliving savings came into sharp focus for those surveyed as the health crisis enveloped us.

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