How to Have a Purposeful Retirement, Part 2

Today we continue our coverage of the book Purposeful Retirement: How to Bring Happiness and Meaning to Your Retirement.

Last time we covered the first half of the book and today we’ll go over the second half.

In this part, author Hyrum Smith covers a wide range of important retirement topics, so let’s jump right in…

Retiring with Your Spouse

Retirement often means you’re going to be spending more time with your spouse (if you’re married) — a LOT more.

For some this is no big deal, but for many it’s a huge issue and can cause serious problems.

Smith talks about the subject starting with the following:

Many years ago a physician in Japan started seeing some alarming health symptoms in women. His patients were plagued by depression, headaches, stomach ulcers, and even stress induced rashes.

He realized they were all suffering from the same thing, and he aptly named the physical result the “retired husband syndrome.” He thought that as many as 60 percent of wives of Japanese retirees suffered from the same ailment.

This is certainly not a problem only seen in Japan. In America, we seem to be suffering from what is commonly called “Gray Divorce.”

“Gray Divorce” is the name given to the phenomenon of a high divorce rate after retirement. Gone are the days when you only spent a few fleeting hours with your spouse. Now that you are retired, you are with each other day in and day out.

All day in and all day out.

This can be too much for some couples. After retirement, you may look at each other and wonder, “Do I even know who this person is? And do I like this person anymore?”

Is this really a thing?

To find out I Googled “gray divorce” and found out it most certainly is a thing.

Here are a few highlights starting with a definition from Wikipedia:

Grey divorce or Silver Splitter or Diamond Divorcees is a term referring to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older (“grey-haired”) couples in long-lasting marriages. Former American vice-presidential couple Tipper and Al Gore’s decision to separate after over 40 years of marriage is an example of this trend as is the former married research and writing duo Masters and Johnson and music duo Captain and Tennille, whose own divorce came in 2014 after 39 years of marriage.

We then move on to Kiplinger’s thoughts on the subject:

In the past 25 years, the divorce rate for Americans over the age of 50 has more than doubled.

While divorce rates for other age groups have leveled off or even fallen, one out of every four people going through a divorce in the United States is 50 or older. Compare that to 1990, when fewer than 1 in 10 people who got divorced was over 50.

Why is this happening? Several factors are converging. The stigma of divorce is disappearing. Even Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are re-examining their posture toward the church’s stance on divorce. People are also living longer, and so the prospects of remaining in an empty relationship don’t bode well for many people today. They are allowed to act to change their future. Another reason for the increase in gray divorce appears to be the economic gains women are making, according to an NPR report quoting Brown. “Many no longer have to choose between a bad marriage and poverty.”

Ok, so gray divorce exists. But notice what’s not mentioned as a leading cause — retirement. Seems like there are a whole bunch of other factors responsible (though trying to come up with a firm set of reasons why people get divorced is difficult).

Forbes does assign some financial issues as a reason for the increase:

Financial matters are the primary issues that arise during a grey divorce. Finances can be tricky to handle, especially when one spouse has challenges managing them. Couples who struggle with debt or constantly fight about finances often end up divorcing.

On the other hand, if one of the partners earns all of the money in the household and; therefore, makes all of the decisions involving money, problems may arise. Divorce can be also be caused by a partner’s overspending habits or mismanagement of funds. Research has shown that marriage grows stronger when the husband increases his earnings; conversely, the marriage more often fails if the wife’s earnings increase.

Sure, these may be reasons people divorce, but 1) they don’t seem any different for someone who’s 35 or 65 and 2) still no mention of retirement as a factor.

So I Googled “divorce caused by retirement” but all the top articles were centered around how divorce is deadly in retirement and financial issues to address when divorcing in retirement.

BTW, when I had typed in “divorce caused by” the top suggestions by Google for the next word were:

  • In laws
  • Social media
  • Depression
  • Money
  • Cheating
  • Mother-in-law
  • Fortnite

Haha! Fortnite made the list!

I’m not really sure how much retirement causes divorce, but I can see where it has the potential to create problems. After all, if absence makes the heart grow fonder, by retiring many couples go from a work-related daily absence (at least for several hours) to virtually no absence at all.

Smith goes on:

The marriage you have before retirement is the marriage you will have after retirement, only amplified. In your retirement, you will reap what you have sown during your partnership. Have you worked together as a team? Or have your paths led away from each other more than they have come together?

The issues that exist throughout your marriage will still be there after retirement but may be harder to ignore with an increased level of time together.

This adjustment of retirement will be easier for couples who have maintained separate schedules and juggled multiple things and had to adjust continuously through their marriage.

No matter how great your marriage is, there can be such a thing as too much time together. Encourage your spouse to meet up with friends. Send them out on activities and lunches. Do not hold each other back. You’ll both be happier for it.

For us, my retirement was no big deal. This was primarily for two reasons:

  • We have a good marriage. Even after all this time we get along well and enjoy each other’s company. This is mostly because my wife is long-suffering and has a cheerful personality in almost any situation.
  • We have separate outside interests so it’s not like we’re together 24/7. She works at church, gets together with friends, and spends a lot of time on the phone with her sisters and my mom. I blog, play pickleball, and read. Even when we workout, we do so separately (I do plans created by my trainer and she takes classes). Doing different things for much of the day allows us to enjoy the time we have together.

When I retired I had many people ask me what my wife thought of it, how it would be with us being together so much, and the like. The truth is it’s been fine — no issues whatsoever. Maybe it helps that we have a 3,600 square foot house for two adults and a cat. Ha!

I’d be interested to hear what you think of this issue (and if any retirees have had marriage problems since retirement), so please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

And before we leave this subject, I simply had to share a quote from the book. This is from a story a retired guy was telling — something his wife said to him:

When I retired, she told me the problem with retired husbands is that you get twice as much husband but only half as much money.

Haha! It’s funny because it’s true! 😉

Create a Plan for Being Social

While I haven’t seen the issue of divorce in retirement covered in other books, I see the point that being social is important in almost every one of them.

Here are some of Smith’s thoughts:

According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, 43 percent of seniors reported feeling lonely on a regular basis.

In this study on loneliness, they found that two thirds of the seniors who reported that they felt lonely were actually either married or living with a partner of some kind. Loneliness has nothing to do with how many people are around and everything to do with whether we feel connected to someone, with whether we feel heard and understood.

Do not allow loneliness to become a part of your retirement. It won’t let you go. It’s unhealthy, and sometimes it’s deadly. You do not have to trust me on this. You already know it, but a quick Google search will tell you that loneliness is believed to speed up the onset of dementia, lead to fatal heart disease, and eventually contribute to an early death.

It takes a LOT for me to feel lonely.

I grew up as an only child and spent a ton of time by myself (first it was just me and my mom and she was gone often and then when she married my step-dad, they were gone often.) And I liked it. I still do and don’t need someone around to keep me from being lonely (though apparently people can be around and you’re still lonely).

Some thrive with people interaction and others can only take so much of it. I’m in the latter camp.

When I used to get home from work I was often exhausted, not by the physical work (there was none) or mental strain, but by the people. I had all the interaction I could take and then some. It sucked the life out of me.

It got worse as I progressed up the ladder and moved from more of a do-er (which allowed for more time alone thinking and planning) to a delegator (which required more time with people (especially as my staff increased) working through their issues, plans, etc.)

These days I get enough contact to be fine, but not over-burdening. I play pickleball, see people at the gym, go to church, and occasionally meet someone for lunch. That’s about all I need.

If you require more interaction, then you should create a retirement plan that lets you get it. Otherwise you’re probably in for an unhappy retirement.

Smith offers some ideas for being social as follows:

1. Make friends

Here’s what he says on the issue:

As you choose to be active and choose to live a life outside the constraints of your own living room, you will meet new people and make new friends. You will form friendships as you serve and work with others.

The greatest friendships are formed as we serve one another and with one another. When you are involved in making a difference, you form friendships with Theo people serving right alongside you. Making friends is a natural byproduct of service and making a difference on this planet.

If you get out and do things it’s likely that you’ll form friendships with others doing the same things.

And if you volunteer, you might also become friends with the people you help.

In other words — GET OUT THERE! The friendships should follow from that.

2. Create your own community.

Why not get together with a group of friends around sports, common interests, or something similar?

My wife does this with seven other ladies from the gym.

They attend many of the same workout classes together and chat before and after those. Eventually someone said, “Hey, why don’t we meet for lunch?” So they started having lunch at a local place now and then.

Soon after that, someone hosted the group at her house and the idea caught on. Now they rotate homes for a lunch every month or so.

You could do the same sort of things with friends in your life. And the community could be built around whatever you like — chess, book club, knitting, etc.

3. Communicate.

Here Smith suggests we should “talk and write.”

The talking part is a social connection (of course). But he also suggests you consider writing to communicate with others about your life. This has the added benefit of keeping your mind sharp since writing isn’t an easy process.

4. Babysit.

Yes, babysit.

I know. It seems strange to include it but here’s the basis for it:

Researchers from the Women’s Health Aging Project in Australia studied the cognitive function of over 180 women who cared for their grandchildren. They found that the women who spend one day a week caring for their grandchildren had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive disorders.

This study was the first of its kind to examine the effects of babysitting on cognition. But other completed studies have pointed to the fact that regular interaction with our grandkids can have a very positive effect on our mental health; it can help us ward off depression, lower our risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and even help us live longer.

For example, a study performed by the Institute on Again at Boston College studied 376 grandparents and 340 children for 19 years. The study found that the closer the relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild, the less likely either one was to develop depression.

Our daughter got married last summer and (hopefully) is planning on moving back here next fall.

It can’t be too early for us to have grandkids — bring them on. 😉

My wife also gets a good dose of kid interaction at church. She teaches third graders every weekend.

Take Care of Yourself

You knew this one was coming, right?

How can you have a purposeful retirement if your body isn’t working correctly (or at least adequately)?

Here’s how Smith addresses the issue:

Retirement means little if we do not have good health.

Have you moved today? Inertia is the enemy of retirees. Keep Moving. You need to stay in good physical shape.

Physical activity stimulates endorphins, natural chemicals which promote a physical feeling of happiness. If you are looking for more happiness in your life, look for more ways to incorporate exercise. It will help you be happier and live longer.

We also build muscle mass and our bones have improved bone density when we exercise, meaning we don’t slouch forward and we don’t break if we fall over, either. But hopefully we will do less of that, because exercise improves our mobility and balance. When we exercise, our bodies do a better job at fighting off illness. We’re also able to digest our food better, though if that successfully happened for you, remember our conversation about organ recitals: you don’t have to share it with anyone and everyone.

Research tells us that we are also better able to fight off big diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and even certain cancers. It helps us sleep better, because we actually are tired from doing something, and it increases our mood and general feeling of self-confidence. We just feel better.

If you feel good, you have the opportunity to do good. So what does that mean? It means if I want to have a purposeful retirement, I have to feel well. It means I have to go out and move my body.

Smith offers some suggestions for keeping active:

  • Walk
  • Run
  • Swim
  • Yoga
  • Weight Training

I would add tennis, cycling, and, of course, pickleball.

I’m sure there are many others as well, but the idea is to pick something you enjoy and do it!

I am in what is probably the best shape of my life in retirement. It helps when you have 24 free hours every day to exercise. 😉

Here’s what I do physically:

  • Cardio three times per week. I usually do the stairs for 30 minutes or so.
  • Weight training three times per week. I use routines my trainer made for me.
  • Walk at least 15,000 steps per day. This will go up in the summer because…
  • Play pickleball twice a week. This is my winter schedule (we play inside) but when summer hits it will probably be 4+ times per week.

A few things I’d like to add:

  • Swimming. This was my main exercise for several years and I wouldn’t mind adding it again now and then.
  • Cycling. Also my main form of exercise at one point. I don’t want to get hard core like I was before and the hills in Colorado are killer, so I’ve considered an electric bike that will make any trips more pleasurable.
  • Tennis. I have considered adding this to my list as I loved it when I was younger.
  • Singles pickleball. I play almost all doubles these days, but singles is a completely different sport. Perhaps I should play more.
  • Climbing. Not actual rocks, but we have two climbing gyms that are pretty nice.
  • Hiking. We do some of this but not much. If my daughter moves back I could see us doing more as she’s an outdoor lover.

Anyway, what do you do (or plan to do) physically in retirement?

Of course, exercise is only part of the equation (unfortunately).

The larger portion of a healthy lifestyle is eating right.

Here’s what Smith says about this:

What’s the problem with being home a lot when you are retired? That’s what I asked, as well. “You are way too close, at all times, to the refrigerator,” he explained. “And you confuse boredom with hunger. That’s not healthy. I will not tell you that I have not gained weight since I have retired. Certainly, I have. But I make it a focus of my day to stay active. Because if you are not taking care of yourself, you will get sick. If you feel good, you can do good. If you’re falling apart, your options are limited. Take care of yourself,” he said.

Several thoughts here:

  • As you get older, your body can handle less junk. It’s a slow process of giving things up. I have gotten rid of most refined sugar items, most carbohydrates (especially the bad ones like white bread, pancakes, and potato chips), and diet soda. I also limit myself to three half-caf cups of coffee per day.
  • That said, I do allow myself some leeway on special occasions like vacations and holidays.
  • I follow intermittent fasting principles, focusing my meals into an eight-hour window each day. Sometimes I have to wait for my first meal if we’re headed out later, but generally it’s fine. The key benefit here is that it keeps me from eating a snack late at night.
  • I drink about 150 ounces of liquid per day, most of it water, the rest coffee.
  • In many ways, retiring makes eating better easier. You now have the time to buy and prepare better meals.
  • One key to not eating junk: don’t have it in your house. If it’s not here it’s hard to eat it.
  • We eat out less than we did, especially since the kids are gone.
  • My wife is a healthy eater from way back, so she hasn’t had to change anything in her diet, though she does have a soft spot for ice cream she needs to watch.

What are your eating suggestions for retirement?

Purposeful Happiness

Now we enter into the vague world of what makes people happy in retirement.

As you recall, this was the complete focus of the book You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think where they listed the five secrets to being happy in retirement.

That book was backed up by research. Smith takes a more qualitative approach to happiness as follows:

While you’re moving forward in your own retirement, what do you want to give yourself to?

What makes you happy?

Reading a book? Golfing with a friend? Lunch with a child or a grandchild? Serving at a local theatre or school?

Once you identify it, implement it. Put it into your life.

If you don’t know, there are resources out there to help you. Did you know you can go to Google and search for happiness questionnaires? You can answer just a few questions, and they’ll whip out some customized suggestions on how to bring more joy into your life. If you need more direction, there are tools online and in great books on how to write your own personalized mission statement. You can even go to the library and do a keyword search on happiness and pick a book that looks educational and interesting.

The key is to act and to choose to find joy. The act of retirement is not a switch. It will not help you go from being a curmudgeon to a happy person.

To me this all goes back to having interests.

If you have interests prior to retirement, it’s great because retirement allows you to spend more time on those interests.

If you don’t have any interests prior to retirement, you need to develop some. Otherwise you’re probably going to be unhappy in retirement.

I didn’t consciously list my retirement activities before I retired, but I’ve never been at a loss for things that keep me interested, so I knew I wouldn’t have a problem.

But I have met so many people (generally men) who have three interests in life: work, home, and TV. That’s it.

When you take work from them they lose so much that it makes for a very bad retirement. These are the people who MUST work out the “what activities will I be involved in during retirement?” question before they retire.

Make It Happen

In the end, having a purposeful retirement is about deciding what you want retirement to be like and then making a plan to make that happen.

Here’s how Smith summarizes it:

In retirement, you need to set up new guidelines to make productive days:

  • Set goals
  • Make a to-do list
  • Find out how to measure success outside of the workplace

I do the first two for sure. If I complete those, I’m successful (which then covers the third).

For those of you retired (or those thinking about it), what’s your plan for making sure you accomplish what you want to accomplish in retirement? Or do you even know what you want to accomplish?

And that’s it for this book — another great retirement book IMO (boy, I wish I had read all of these about 10-15 years before I retired!)

Anyway, what did you think of it?


Originally posted at

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