Welcome To Your New Job in Retirement
It’s Monday morning. You wake up and try to clear the fog in your head.
Immediately you force yourself out of bed. You stumble into the kitchen for
your coffee, ready to steel yourself for the day.
You flip on the TV and hear about the traffic mess you have to get through
to get to work. Suddenly, you realize you don’t have to deal with traffic.
You don’t have to multi-task. You don’t have to go to work. You’re
The day stretches in front of you with nothing on your calendar. What are
you going to do? There are errands of course. Things you’ve put off because
you didn’t have time. You have this weird feeling: aren’t I supposed to be
Isn’t this supposed to be the day you’ve dreamed of for years? You were
forewarned that the transition from work life to retirement might night be
easy for you. Maybe they were right.
Perhaps you’ll consider a novel concept. Most people have never spent a lot
of time going after it on purpose. It’s guaranteed by the Constitution, but
we don’t really know how to get there.
Your new job could be the pursuit of happiness.
Part of the deal with retirement is supposed to be an increase in happiness,
right? After all, you have complete control over your time. You could just
decide to do nothing.
However, you’ve always valued your ability to be productive. How does this
retirement thing work then? Being retired isn’t being productive. Or is
Most of us want to be happy in retirement. Perhaps we think it will just
sort of happen because we don’t have the stress of working anymore. But
many who retire without about a plan for transitioning from their work lives
find themselves unhappy.
It may surprise you to learn that happiness is the subject of actual
research in the field called positive psychology. Pioneering work begun
decades ago and a significant body of scientific data amassed since teaches
us about how we humans can attain true happiness.
The adage that “money can’t buy happiness” is not entirely true, the
research shows. People with money are happier than those without, but not
by much. The measurable differences between the CEO of the large
corporation and the underlings who work for her is not very big. On the
happiness scales to used to assess happiness in these studies, the worker
bees are almost as happy as their bosses.
The massive house, the fabulous car, the exquisite jewelry do, indeed create
happiness, but the problem is, it’s transitory. The fun wears off all too
fast and we become used to them. We have learned that these objects only
give us a “happiness boost” for a limited time.
So what does it then? What makes people happy in the long run? A number of
things do. To reduce them to a few specifics, and to focus on you, the
retired person, here are what we call The Big Three: structure, purpose and
School, work and raising our families all give us structure. One of the
things that immediately ends with retirement is the structure of the work
day. “But, isn’t that great?”, you ask. “I’ve looked forward to freedom
from the daily grind for years!”
Yes, it’s great, as long as you can create a new kind of structure for your
life as a retired person. To find yourself with no structure turns out to
be unhealthy. It can lead to feeling lost, unhappy and depressed. Routine
of some kind creates structure. It’s part of your new job to make your own,
Purpose is of critical importance to a retired person who wants to be
mentally healthy, pursuing happiness. Purpose is a building block of
happiness. If your career was your prior purpose, you must now discover a
new source of meaning in your life.
Maybe you have something in mind already. Introspection may be necessary to
Some retirees take up daily golf, some get involved with charities, and some
find what gerontologists call their “encore careers”. We can re-invent
ourselves to be anything, as long as the reinvented version gives us a true
sense of meaning and direction.
Finally, there is community. Except for the isolated few, work typically
involves a place and other people. That is a kind of community, whether it
was ideal for you or not. Giving up your work to retire also is giving up
that community, that connectedness to others.
Creating community for yourself can take many forms. I recently did a
presentation at a local Rotary. The group meets weekly for lunch, is very
congenial and has the added benefit of a group purpose. It raises money for
local good causes. I was struck by how many of the members related to one
another as a sort of extended family.
Some retirees move to communities built just for you. Presto! Immediate
opportunity to create community with people of similar age and interests.
Others find a sense of community by participating actively in religious
groups, taking classes, or doing regular volunteer work with others.
Whatever your way will be, why not purposely seek happiness as your new job
Plot your strategy just as you used to plan your workday.
Get more connected in your community.
With just a little effort, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your new job
of pursuing happiness is less work than you might think. It can be more fun
than you can imagine. I toast your promotion.
Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N, Attorney