Brace yourselves. This week’s Economist — the only real newsweekly in the English language and must reading at the Mead manor, where we would as soon watch network news as read Time or Newsweek — has bad news and really bad news on the pension front.The bad news is that corporate and public pension plans are horribly and perhaps irredeemably underfunded. Years of lies, accounting sleight of hand and unrealistic assumptions about returns have now reached the point where private final salary pension programs in the US are now underfunded by about half a trillion dollars. Small change compared to US public sector pensions, where the pension gap at over $4 trillion is eight times the size, but it looks increasingly as if a lot of people aren’t going to have the money they’ve been told to expect.That’s the bad news. The really bad news is worse. According to the same issue of the Economist, returns on all classes of assets — stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities — could be depressed for years. Since many pension organizations (and especially the ones in government where they don’t go to jail for using cockamamie accounting assumptions to deceive the public about their financial position) are still using assumed rates of return that are much higher than those financial experts now think likely, the pension gap is likely to grow rather than shrink in years to come.So your pension is in jeopardy, your portfolio has taken some big hits, and no matter how much you (or your employer) socks away, you won’t get much return on your savings.What to do?The best and perhaps only real choices that most of us have involve two changes. First, save more and make realistic assumptions about your future rate of return. There is no way around it; if you want to be financially secure or even sort of secure in the future, you must sock more money away now. Nobody cares as much about your retirement as you do; if you don’t save for yourself you can’t count on the government or a benevolent employer to do it for you. Save, save, save. This is true whether you are twenty or whether you are seventy; Americans have let themselves get out of the habit of saving, and we need to get back to it. Whether your income is large or small, you need to look for ways to cut expenses. That will help you save now; it will also mean you will know how to retire more cheaply. We need less Martha Stuart and more Ben Franklin in our national character these days. Thrift, friends. It’s a virtue.Second, and perhaps even more important, adopt reasonable goals. Stop thinking that the goal of your working life is to get rich enough to quit at 65 and have fifteen years of active leisure. The goal of a working life is to find ways of contributing to the common welfare that sustain you and your family, that fulfill you and help you to grow. As you go on in life, you should be looking to keep contributing. The goal isn’t to play golf at Palm Beach or veg out in front of the tube. Retirement is a time to change careers: work part time, or work at something you love that pays less — but that still contributes something to your income.You want a working life that pays the bills but keeps you connected to the world in interesting and useful ways. These don’t have to be big earth shaking jobs; it can be healthier, more satisfying and morally better to work a few hours a week as a crossing guard keeping in touch with the kids in your neighborhood than to sit around watching daytime TV. A partial retirement where you work part time and at more user-friendly jobs can be better and more rewarding than total idleness and empty leisure. Many people with fully funded pensions and ample savings volunteer or go back to work because the boredom and feeling of uselessness become unbearable.Think of your goal as a long period of partial retirement involving part time and/or community focused work followed by a short period in much older age of living entirely off your savings. This is a goal that many of us can achieve more easily than the old style of retirement — and makes for a richer, more interesting and quite possibly longer and healthier life.(Obviously, for the disabled and those in deteriorating health, the situation is different. Society is going to have to become more generous with disability payments as the length of the working life increases.)There is bad news and there is really bad news, but none of it has to stop us from living rich and full lives. Thanks to advances in medicine and a richer understanding of how to fight the consequences of aging, most people in the advanced world can look forward to ten or fifteen more years of active living than past generations. This is a blessing, not a curse, and I personally would rather retire slowly and gradually than spend those years playing canasta and watching TV.Slow, gradual retirement isn’t just more affordable; it is a better way to live and a more noble goal. We can choose to overcome bad news by living better lives.