One basic question that everyone needs to ask themselves: What does it mean to “to retire”?
The idea of retirement is actually a pretty modern invention. [i] When farming dominated the economy, most people worked until they died, handing over the more difficult tasks to younger family members or hired hands. As the modern economy developed, and more folks moved to the city to work in factories, retirement was seen as a way to both rewards the loyal worker and make room for younger, more “fit” workers. The pension was born.
But today’s economy is no longer dominated by manufacturing, or what was known as a “blue collar” job. More and more of us have spent our lives working “white collar’ jobs. Many of these jobs we can continue doing longer than the more physical jobs.
Complete retirement might lower your expectancy. I am not talking simply about the correlation between getting older and developing more chronic conditions. Correlation is not causation. I am talking about how retirement might impact your health if you don’t stay active or engaged in society. One study I found [ii] showed that complete retirement leads to a 5-16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5-6 percent increase in illness conditions, and 6-9 percent decline in mental health, over an average post-retirement period of six years. Much depends on whether retirement was voluntary or forced, with the latter being associated with an increase in drinking or other negative behaviors.
Also, retirement can lead to social isolation. Many retirees complain that they miss the daily social interaction that works provided, and end up returning to work, if only part-time. Back in my early forties, I quit my job and started my own design firm. (that did not work out well for me, but that is a different story)! I had some work but did not have any employees so I felt isolated most of the day. I can imagine how isolated and depressing it might be to retired and just sit around watching TV all day.
On the other hand, there are also many studies that show that retirement can lead to a more active lifestyle for many. I know from personal experience that working full time for someone else has made it hard for me to get to the gym or ride my bike like I did when I was experiencing some involuntary unemployment due to the 2009 recession. As a result, I have gained too much weight at my desk job!
The lesson here is don’t retire unless you intend to remain or become more active and involved someway in something you love. I for one intend to ride my bike more, maybe get involved in some volunteer activities, or advocate for a cause. I have some non-profit experience I might be able to tap into and continue to make a positive contribution to the world. What is your passion?
So, it might be better to focus on the positive side of aging:
- Live for the day!
- Seek new experiences!
- Share your lifelong accumulation of talents and skills!
- Advocate for something!
- Make new friends!
In short, stay active, connected and involved!
If you have some ideas on this topic or something else you would like me to explore about retirement and positive aging, please let me know!