- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Many Americans already in midlife will live from one-quarter to one-third of their lives after the traditional retirement age of 65. In short, even if after you officially retire you continue to work part-time, travel widely and participate in sports or other leisure activities, you will have plenty of time to do many other things. After talking to hundreds of older people, I'm convinced that the degree to which most people's retirement years are fulfilling has a great deal to do with how they spend this large chunk of discretionary time. People who are busily involved in a wide variety of activities -- both mental and physical -- are likely to do well. That may not surprise you. But what you may never have considered is that if you wait until retirement to start figuring out how to stay happily occupied, it may be too late.
Many retirees report experiencing a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, they have the sense that time is short and their life is running out. On the other, they don't have anything interesting to do after lunch. Even the most avid fisherman, gardener, traveler or dog lover is likely to find plenty of time to both follow her passion and do many other things -- including, if she isn't careful, becoming bored, depressed and prematurely dependent on others. As my friend Babette Marks, now in her 80s, puts it, The ability to maintain an active involvement in life in a number of different ways is one key to leading a decent life when you're older. Face it, what else have you got? Your health probably isn't great, half your old friends are dead and you don't recognize yourself in the mirror. If you don't keep interested and involved with lots of activities and interests, you'll end up a depressed old vegetable.
Marks is as right as she is blunt. In my observation, most people -- especially those who have been busy earlier in life -- make a successful transition to a reasonably fulfilling retirement if, and only if, they stay busy doing things that reinforce their sense of self-worth. Usually this means being involved with others in activities that are felt to be meaningful. I can't find anyone in their 60s and 70s who tells me it's fun to spend most of their time watching TV, sitting on a park bench, sleeping late, or even reading. And even many people who are more active -- jogging, walking, bike riding or swimming -- report that continually doing these things alone can quickly become joyless. To the contrary, people whose lives revolve almost exclusively around these types of passive activities seem to be sicker and more depressed and tend to die sooner than those who are more actively involved with life.
One example of how keeping busy seems to correlate with long life and intellectual vigor can be seen in the careers of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the few jobs in America where people have never been required, or even officially encouraged, to retire until they are obviously no longer able to do the work. Out of the more than 100 justices who have served on the Court since it began to function in 1789, over 50% have served into at least their middle 70s, an astonishing age when you remember that over half died before the year 1900, when the average U.S. life expectancy was less than 50.
You may think I'm belaboring a fairly obvious point. Chances are you don't want to be an old couch potato anyway, and accept that staying involved in life's daily affairs probably does increase the odds of enjoying a fulfilling retirement. Great, but can you back up your conviction by answering this simple question: "How are you preparing now to be able to lead an interesting life after you retire?"
Some of us look forward to retirement with an almost childlike sense of anticipation: "This is what I've waited for all my life -- a really long summer vacation!" Depending on our particular retirement fantasy -- gardening, travel, woodworking, painting, golfing, spending time with grandchildren or simply having the freedom to take a daily nap -- leisure-time activities are likely to figure large. Finally we will be free to enjoy every bit of personal gratification we have postponed since the day our parents first said, "If you don't stop playing and do your homework, you'll never amount to anything." Lots of other people in midlife, however, simply refuse to think about retirement. The idea creates a strong sense of unease because they can't conjure up any clear vision of what their lives will be like as they age. This inability to confront the inevitability that work, family and even recreational patterns will change later in life is especially common among people whose lives center around their jobs. As one midlevel manager I talked to remarked, "Once they take away my employee ID number, I'm not sure what I'll do or how I'll define myself."
At 65, Lots of People Are Just Getting Started The notion that older folks are supposed to sit on a park bench and feed pigeons while they wait for the Pearly Gates to open is increasingly seen as baloney by people of all ages. Many people do their best and most creative work after normal retirement age, a fact that is finally gaining wide recognition.
Ronald Reagan served two terms in the White House after age 65, and George Bush served most of one. Michelangelo designed St. Peter's cupola at 83. Ben Franklin helped draft the U.S. Constitution when he was over 80, and Oliver Wendell Holmes served on the Supreme Court into his 90s. Many painters and musicians, including Picasso, Matisse and Casals, continued to create inspirational work well into old age. When, at 93, Georgia O'Keeffe could no longer see well enough to paint, she took up sculpture. May Sarton finished her last book, At Eighty-Two: A Journal, just before she died at age 83. And as we all know, septuagenarian John Glenn retired from the U.S. Senate in order to have enough time to rejoin the space program.
|1 What Will You Do When You Retire?|
|2 Health and Fitness|
|5 Loving Life|
|6 Nursing Homes: How to Avoid Them, or Pay for Them If You Can't|
|7 How Much Money Will You Need When You Retire?|
|8 Where Will Your Money Come From After Age 65?|
|9 How to Save Enough-- Even If You Think It's Impossible|
|10 The Savvy Peasant's Investment Guide|