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Is Keeping Busy the Secret to a Happy Retirement?

By Marcia Smalley January 22, 2022 Lifestyle

The short answer to this question is “no.”

I can hear the collective gasp. And I agree that retirees are eager to plunge into the things we love, things we’ve put off, or things we’ve always wanted to try. But aligning “keeping busy” with “happiness?” That’s a slippery slope.

During our work lives we put a lot of emphasis on productivity. We’re evaluated according to how much we accomplish. That spills into other aspects of life, because we live in a culture that values getting things done, momentum, progress. We can ride quite the hamster wheel.

How busy we are is a difficult yardstick to set aside. It’s been a dubious badge of honor we’ve worn for most of our lives. 

Is retirement the time to polish that badge to a blinding shine? Not necessarily. 

As tempting as it is to fill up our days, a truly happy retirement requires more than a full calendar of activities and appointments. It requires introspection, contemplation, and reflective thinking… and time to devote to those things.

Don’t Let Going Within Scare You

Retirement is the perfect time to get to know yourself better. You can get clarity about what you truly want and allow that to guide how you spend your valuable time. Your day-to-day has become less noisy. Let that work in your favor.

This doesn’t mean you must go on a pilgrimage or spend hours in meditation (unless you want to). Getting to the Heart of You can be as simple as asking key questions such as:

What do I want to know more about?

When have I felt most alive? How can I feel that way now?

If I could wave a magic wand, what would I love to learn?

What do I still have to offer?

No busy-ness is required other than voicing some thoughts. Maybe reflecting on previous versions of yourself. And seeing what happens next.

Sometimes We Just Wait

Answers to big questions like these may not come quickly. Or the signs we’re waiting for might be subtle, almost silent.

At this stage of life, we learn to appreciate nuance. We can find magic in surprising places. We can allow for an unfolding that we didn’t have the patience for in years past.

Serendipity becomes a companion. Synchronicity makes more appearances. Those messengers travel at their own speed, and that’s OK.

Permission Granted to Go at Your Own Speed

Early on in retirement it can feel like we’ve been shot out of a cannon.

Ready, aim, FIRE! Here we go into the vast field of dreams and landscape of possibilities! Fill your time! Say yes! Try this, attempt that!

It can be exhilarating. Or it can be exhausting.

If all this activity leaves you breathless, what’s the hurry? We don’t have to run toward a happy retirement. We’ve been racing for years.

We can release “busy-ness” without languishing.

We can take one small step forward at a time. Gather information. Make inquiries. Take a class, take our time. Let the information or the experience sink in.

We can connect with others who are living their retired lives and talk about our experience. Join a group, get some support. There are more than a billion people in the world age 60+, and we need one another.

The trick is not to simply kick up dust. Instead, do what the spirit moves you to do, act on what’s truly calling you. Nothing more, nothing less.

Retirement is not “one size fits all.” We enter into and continue through our retired lives at our own pace. That doesn’t always look to the outside world like we’re busy. Indeed, if we were, we might run down the wrong track. We might overlook some important information.

So close your calendar and close your eyes. Take a breath and take a moment. See what comes up, even if it’s nothing at all (yet). 

Wave bye-bye to busy. At least for a while.

Are you a retiree that’s too busy? Have you taken time to reflect on what you truly want in retirement? Are you devoting time to introspection as you plan your retired life? Let’s have a conversation!

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The Author

Marcia Smalley is a certified retirement coach and life coach, a writer and a teacher. She delights in helping mid-life women step confidently into their next act and design a joyous, expanded life. Marcia provides coaching support to women who are navigating retirement or other life transitions and writes a monthly e-newsletter to her entire online community. Please visit her website at

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