Watching your retirement accounts bounce up and down can make you feel panicky and out of control.
As your life savings shrink, you may be contemplating working longer, saving more and living on less. Even when they bounce back, it can seem a little overwhelming, frightening and unmanageable.
While it's true that no one can control the stock market, let's not forget that there are plenty of other aspects of your future retirement over which you do have some influence.
The real measures of success Robust health, close friends, warm family relationships and engaging activities are what really constitute a happy retirement, says Ralph "Jake" Warner, co-founder of Nolo Press, the legal self-help publisher.
Warner's been singing this particular song for years, but until lately, it was tough to get people to listen.
Not so long ago, Warner said, "everyone with a 401(k) plan was sure that they were about to be rich." Now, after a dose of market reality, Warner senses more people are receptive to his ideas.
"It's as if people figure that since they are unlikely to become filthy rich, they need to move on to retirement plan No. 2," Warner said, "which involves embracing more homely virtues, like having good friends, good health and interesting things to do."
Warner's perspective comes from interviewing scores of contented retirees for his book, "Get a Life: You Don't Need a Million to Retire Well," first published in the mid-1990s and updated not long ago. The interviewees ranged from well-off seniors to some living just on Social Security checks.
Over and over the retirees told him: Money is good, but it takes a lot more to build a fulfilling retirement.
In fact, the single-minded pursuit of money during your working life can actually take the shine off your golden years. The stress, anxiety and single-minded focus, Warner said, can end up undermining your health, relationships and ability to pursue other interests.
So once you've got your financial retirement plan in place -- you've thought about your goals, started saving, created a diversified investment portfolio -- you might want to think about getting your life plan in place as well.
Good health Obviously, some aspects of your health are beyond your control. Disease and accidents can strike the healthiest of us. But you can reduce your chances of serious problems in many ways: Eat right. Get enough exercise. Maintain a healthy weight. Minimize the effects of stress. Go for regular check-ups and health screenings.
Physical health is only part of the picture. Monitoring your mental and intellectual health is important, too.
Getting a real life Warner's book is full of other interesting ideas, such as the notion that brokerages and mutual fund companies are fueling Americans' paranoia about not having saved enough for retirement. He asserts, as the title indicates, that $1 million portfolios aren't necessary for most of us and that many retirees will be able to live on less than 70% of their pre-retirement incomes.
Whether or not you agree with everything Warner writes, his prescription for developing the non-financial side of retirement makes a lot of sense.
So think about what you can do, right now, to bolster your future happiness. And hold on to those thoughts the next time the Dow dips or you start worrying if your retirement funds will ever grow again.
"Who knows? Being a little poorer," Warner said, "may even be good for some people."