Financial planners can do more to encourage the real behaviours that will lead to happiness in retirement according to Nicolette Rubinsztein, a former president of the Actuaries Institute and current non-executive director at UniSuper, Zurich, OnePath, Class, CBHS Health and SuperEd.

Rubinsztein gave a presentation at the Conexus Financial Retirement Conference this week where she drew data from a number of studies to show the real factors behind happiness in retirement.

“It turns out that money has very little to do with successful ageing,” she said.

When it comes to longevity – which is by default a requirement to happy ageing – Rubinsztein said the role of genetics is often overstated and only has a 27 per cent influence, with the rest taken up by environmental factors. Income levels have a significant impact on longevity, she explained, but only up to a certain point. Once you’ve got enough the curve flattens.

Providing you can live a long life, she reckons, the most important marker for a happy retirement and life in aged care is the connections we make and our engagement with those around us.

Rubinsztein referenced the landmark ‘Harvard Longitudinal Study of Adult Development’, which tracked three groups for 60 to 80 years in the US. The three cohorts were grouped as Harvard graduates, socially disadvantaged men and intellectually gifted women. Rubinsztein warned that the cohorts weren’t representative of society as a whole, but said the results were “interesting” nonetheless.

“When they first started this study they really thought the secret to adult development was actually in your physical constitution, your intellectual ability and your personality traits,” Rubinsztein said, before showing a video of the study’s fourth director, Harvard scientist and psychoanalyst Robert Waldinger, expounding on its findings during a recent TED talk.

“The lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder,” Waldinger said. “The clearest message we get from this 75-year study is this: good relationships keep us happy and healthy. Period.”

People who are more social connected are “happier, physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less connected”, Roberts continued. While social connections are good for us, he added, loneliness “kills”.

Rubinsztein also brought the work of the study’s third director, George Vailant, and the value of generativity into the discussion. Generativity, which is defined as ‘care for the next generation’, is a good predictor of happy ageing, Vailant believes.

“If you ask a group of 25 year-olds what their wishes are, 92 per cent will be wishes about themselves,” Rubinsztein explained. “When you ask a 65-year old, a third [of those wishes] are about themselves, a third are about their family and a third about the broader community. That’s what we call a widening social radius.”

Like Waldinger, the importance of relationships is George’s most significant takeaway from the study. The ability to make new friends, in particular, is key.

“We lose our work friends and then our friends might die when we retire,” Vailant is quoted as saying.

Other good predictors of happy ageing include not smoking, an absence of the abuse of alcohol, healthy weight, a stable marriage, exercise, an education, income levels and having an adaptive coping style, according to Vailant. “You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches,” Rubinsztein commented.