Older people reveal key to living a happy life long after retirement

Alfie Houston, aged 71, from Ballymena said the most crucial  aspect of enjoying old age is staying in good health
Alfie Houston, aged 71, from Ballymena said the most crucial aspect of enjoying old age is staying in good health

With a new survey suggesting that almost two-thirds of pensioners are happier now than they have ever been, News Letter reporter Stephen Gamble took to the streets to find out why.

There is a saying that ‘life begins at 40’, but these Northern Ireland pensioners have been making a strong case that the old adage should be amended to ‘life begins at retirement’.

Former veterinarian David Wilson, aged 84, said he does not miss the stresses of work and is cherishing his retirement

Former veterinarian David Wilson, aged 84, said he does not miss the stresses of work and is cherishing his retirement

A new poll has suggested that older people in the UK are happier than ever.

The study revealed that almost two-thirds of older people over the age of 70 feel more content now than at any point in their lives, and half believe they are in the prime of their life.

Yesterday, the News Letter took to the streets to find out what was the key to staying happy into old age.

Of the almost two dozen people that we quizzed, the overwhelming majority heartily concurred with the findings of the survey.

Semi-retired Jean McKean, aged 72 from Co Donegal, says she has cut back on work to spend more time with her family

Semi-retired Jean McKean, aged 72 from Co Donegal, says she has cut back on work to spend more time with her family

Less stress, more quality family time, and freedom to travel on dream holidays were just some of the reasons listed by pensioners we spoke to.

In the seaside town of Portstewart – a popular destination for pensioners – I spoke to an elderly Belfast couple who were visiting for the day.

The pair, both in their 70s, told me life for them has “never been better” than it is now, adding that they have the time, freedom and financial means to pursue their hobbies and go travelling.

They added: “We lived through the Troubles and so we feel very fortunate to be able to spend our later years in peace and comfort.”

Drina Stewart, aged 67, from Ballymoney is enjoying her retirement, but her husband would rather be out grafting

Drina Stewart, aged 67, from Ballymoney is enjoying her retirement, but her husband would rather be out grafting

Ballymena man Alfie Houston, aged 71, said the key to contentment at old age was to try and stay in good physical and mental health as much as possible.

Mr Houston, who retired from his job in the NI Fire and Rescue Service six years ago after his wife took ill, added: “The most important aspect of enjoying old age is all to do with your health.

“I had been a smoker since I was a teenager, but two years ago I woke up one Sunday morning and decided I didn’t need cigarettes anymore. My health has definitely improved and I would certainly say I am happy.”

Jean McKean, a 72-year-old B&B operator from Co Donegal, has cut back on her work to spend more time with her 10 grandchildren.

This Belfast couple, both in their 70s, said life has never been better for them and they are looking forward to enjoying their golden years together

This Belfast couple, both in their 70s, said life has never been better for them and they are looking forward to enjoying their golden years together

She added: “I am semi-retired now. I didn’t want to stop working completely because I find it helps keep my mind active. I like to keep physically active as well and do a lot of walking.

“Financially I manage ok. I have enough to get by and can afford everything I really need.”

Retired veterinarian David Wilson, who I met strolling along the promenade in Portstewart, said stopping work at the age of 64 had given him a new lease on life.

The 84-year-old added: “Life has most definitely got better since I retired 20 years ago.

“I haven’t got the stress of work to worry about and I have children who live in England and the USA, so I get to travel and see them and spend time with them.

“I have been keeping active since I stopped working by playing indoor bowls and walking as much as I can.”

Portstewart couple Stewart and Ruth Morrison had differing opinions on the merits of getting older.

Ruth, who has recently taken early retirement, said the key to happiness in old age is keeping a positive outlook on life and staying active as much as possible.

However, Stewart felt “life is more limited when you retire”.

He added: “Old age is when you start getting health problems and it doesn’t matter how much money or free time you have if your health is failing.

“If you don’t have health you don’t have wealth.”

Drina Stewart and her husband Sammy both retired from their ice cream van business in Ballymoney a few years ago.

And while Drina, aged 67, says she is delighted to put her working life behind her, Sammy feels differently.

“It broke my heart to stop working,” the 70-year-old added.

“I have worked all my life but had to stop for health reasons. I would rather be out grafting.”

But the pair, who have nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, both agree that having the opportunity to spend more quality time with their family is a major perk of retired life.

Meanwhile, a 69-year-old Coleraine woman credited her retirement with bringing her much closer to her husband.

She added: “When my husband retired at 65, I took early retirement and we went abroad to teach.

“It was a great adventure for us and was almost like a second honeymoon. It was great.”

A couple in their 60s from Enniskillen, who have a holiday apartment in Portstewart, told the News Letter: “Life has undoubtedly improved since we retired.

“No work, little stress, being able to spend more time with family, having all our debts all paid off, and having no mortgage. It is fantastic.

“It makes a big difference if you are physically fit and able to stay active.”