Happiness in retirement is not a given. Not an entitlement. And it’s an illusion to assume that it is.
Bestselling author and founder of the Retirement Coaches Association, Robert Laura, said this in regard to the illusion of retirement:
Up to this point, people have been trained to believe that retirement is this happy place where things magically unfold. Where they can finally become the person that they have been chasing. But just removing work from your life won’t do that. People have to understand that retirement doesn’t eliminate work, it reorients it. You still have to work in other ways including putting an effort into your new identity, relationships, social network and physical health.
Whether a CEO or stay-at-home mom or dad, once you’ve left the personal experience of work, you’re a metaphorical empty-nester. The part of life where earning happiness through the achievements prescribed by others has mostly evaporated.
For many, the feeling of abandonment at the loss of this is stunningly quick. Unceremoniously over. Punctuated only by the fond farewells of co-workers. Then followed by radio silence.
For those who’ve done pre-emptive work to form an achievement/happiness bridge in retirement, it’s an easier landing. But there’s still work to be done. Because the changes in our emotional and psychological selves at this particular time of life can be as significant as those in puberty or early adulthood.
You might be thinking, “That’s not me.” And if that’s the case, hats off to you! Truly. But for those of us needing GPS to locate deep satisfaction and happiness during retirement, there’s still work to be done.
Reporting on a recent study, Ness Labs, a thought-leader in the application of evidence-based strategies to daily living, found that older adults under-predict potential changes in their lives. In fact, the older the participant, the less the change in values and preferences that were predicted.
Yet within the same study, a group 10 years older, retrospectively reported significant changes. Can this be the wishful thinking of the young?
The truth is, surrounding big transitions like retirement, a lack of careful thought and planning can produce a stagnant, dissatisfying future. As mentioned at the top of the article, happiness is not an entitlement. So, betting one’s future on a roll-of-the-dice is not a productive choice for older adults.
Though it’s a given that the years ahead can include loneliness, cognitive decline, and a host of other health issues, science instructs us that many health-related issues can be held at bay by employing an active mind and a young spirit.
I don’t normally quote Jane Fonda, but in this case – I will. During a recent interview, when asked why she stopped drinking, she said, and I paraphrase, the effects of drinking in the evening cause her to lose several productive hours the next day. She then looked directly into the camera and offered: “I’m 85, how many hours can I afford to lose?” I use this example because it demonstrates an intent to change.
We need to caretake ourselves throughout the entire journey that is our lives. With intent. Take responsibility for creating a third act personae. Be aware of our passions, interests, and – yes – pursuing dreams we’ve left on the side of the road along the way.
After a lifetime of serving many masters, we must serve ourselves.
Happiness isn’t elusive. It isn’t fickle. Or a fair-weather friend. It requires cultivation. And should be actively chosen each day.
In youth, we choose happiness from a menu stacked with the pre-selected ideas of others. With age – and an accumulation of earned-wisdom – we can create our own learning syllabus. Craft a smarter life. Delineate the difference between who we are now and who we’d like to be. The stakes are high.
Michelangelo was once asked how he created his masterful sculptures. He said, “I chisel away at the stone until the perfect form reveals itself.” His words had a tremendous impact on me. Because the intent, or choice, toward the production of something better is what separates great artists from the rest of the pack. As well, it separates satisfied, happy people from those who choose a less intent-full route.
We can choose to sculpt our own perfect lives. Round out those rough edges. At a point in life when there’s time and the wherewithal to do it.
Have you chosen to chase happiness in retirement? Have you decided this is a path you need to take for yourself, without looking to others for ideas?