Posted by: drdata921 | September 3, 2015

THE THREE ELEMENTS OF RETIREMENT HAPPINESS

The one thing most striking about retirement is the utter freedom that it allows.  During the course of my working life, everything was so structured.  I went to work on Monday, worked for five days and sometimes the weekend, and with some variation, I came in at a certain time in the morning and left at a certain time at night.  Monday morning comes and you do it all again.

In retirement, there is much less structure.  With some limitations, you can do pretty much what you wish.  For the first year of my retirement that was great.  I had some activities that I had planned, but for the most part, I could be spontaneous with how I spent my time.  If I decided at lunch that I would like to spend my afternoon at the beach, I just did it.  If someone in the local kayak club sent a note on Wednesday about a paddle on Thursday, I was free to drop everything and go.  It was truly wonderful.

However, as time went on, I found that some of this freedom could be a curse.  I started some days with no plans and ended up doing nothing more than watching the news on CNN all day (like watching the stock market dive by 650 points or the progression of riots in Ferguson Missouri).  If this doesn’t make you wince nothing will.

I have found the need to reimpose some degree of structure into my life.  As I looked around for how to do this, I was pulled in two directions.  The first and most obvious was to impose the same structure I had prior to retirement.  I began looking around for a part-time job.

The second was to use this opportunity to explore new things and grow.  The key to happiness at any stage in a person’s life is to continue growing.  Stagnation is a scourge and there should be no reason for this to happen when you retire.  I began to plan my daily activities around personal growth and new experiences.  The focus was on Mind, Body, and Spirit.

So, what does this mean:

  • MIND: The idea is to keep your mind active and accept new intellectual challenges. My first activity was to sign-up for on-line college courses. If you haven’t explored coursera.com you are missing one of the great experiences. Noted university professors teach the courses and there is a range of subject matter. These courses definitely challenge you and the best part is that they are free! I also started to master software that allowed me to build internet websites. And, I am only beginning. I have written a book since I retired which was a great mental stimulator. I would recommend it to anyone.
  • BODY: It is trite to say, but true. The body is the platform on which the mind sits. It is very hard to stay mentally sharp if you body is weak or sickly. I work out at the gym five days a week, but have been doing this for several years. There is nothing new here for me. If you are not a gym rat like me, you can substitute house and yard work, which can be very physical. You can take walks to explore the scenery in you neighborhood or city. When it comes to your body the moral of the story is “use it or lose it.” Staying physically active in retirement is a must.
  • SPIRIT: This is your emotional side. Some people equate spirit to religion, but this is not necessarily the case. If you want to reignite your spirituality by joining a church or exploring another religion – there are no rules here. Alternatively, meditation is a good way to look within and better understand your innerself. Personally, I tune into my emotional side by listening to music. Or, trying writing your own songs and music. This is a combination of mind and spirit. The goal is to exercise your emotional side just like you would you mind or body.

The question I ask as I plan my day is what can I do today to stimulate my mind, strengthen my body, and exercise my emotional side.  This has lead to some very interesting experiences.

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Responses

  1. I have a high need for structure. Interestingly, my job as a college professor didn’t have that much structure imposed from without (except for class meeting times and committee meetings); I had to create the structure for myself. This was good training for retirement, and I have continued to impose some structure on my time by doing certain mental, physical and spiritual activities at certain times of the day or certain days of the week. I have also used activities outside the home (e.g., Senior College courses) to add structure.

  2. Jean, I hear what you are saying. I totally underestimated how important at least some structure was in retirement. Everyone talks about spontaneity, but in the end, there is only so much spontaneity that you can handle.

    I also once worked as a college professor. This was early in my career and I had to do a lot of course preps from scratch meaning that was most of my day. I also had student counseling duties, research, and normal departmental activities. So, there was a structure for me. The only question was when each of these activities would be worked into my 16 hour days.

  3. I so appreciate your insights as I contemplate my some-day venture into retirement. Your point about having some structure makes a lot of sense because it allows us to feel productive. I want retirement to be about more than freedom to do what I want. I also want it to be meaningful and your ideas helped reinforce that.

  4. Alan, good to hear from you. Yes, retirement has been a little different than I had supposed. Not the panacea that some would make it out to be, but the freedom is nice. The question is one of balance and balance can be an interesting challenge.


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