Three Retirement Needs You Must Satisfy

I recently read the book The Joy of Not Working.

It’s sub-title is “A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked”. It was less of a retirement book than a “work is bad and not working is good” book.

As such, it wasn’t my favorite and I don’t think it adds a ton of value to the retirement books we’ve discussed so far.

It was strange that the book was just “ok” to me because it was written by the same guy who wrote How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, which I really liked. It was also surprising because the book has “over 300,000 copies sold.”

All those job-haters must have gone out and bought this book. LOL!

That said, the book did have one section that shed more light on comments found in How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. And that’s what we’ll be covering today.

Three Retirement Needs

The book describes this section as “three needs that jobs inadvertently fill” and notes that you should take steps to fill them on your own when you stop working (the book covers retirement plus unemployment of any kind, but I’ll just focus on the retirement angle.)

These three needs are:

  • Structure
  • Purpose
  • Sense of Community

Here’s how the book introduces this section:

Unemployment can negatively affect people’s well-being and self-esteem through the stress that can arise from the lack of predictability, lack of control, and lack of social contract. Some unemployed individuals become so lost that they have been known to start missing jobs that they passionately hated and colleagues who used to drive them berserk.

In addition, there are three important human need that most jobs inadvertently fill: structure and associated routines, sense of purpose, and a sense of community. Even if people work at a job that is low status or undesirable, the workplace generally provides them with the means for satisfying these needs. To be happy and successful, the unemployed must satisfy all three needs through other sources.

Let’s look at these three in detail and how the book suggests addressing them.

And of course I’ll chime in with my comments along the way.

Creating New Structures

Here’s how the book introduces this issue:

Losing workplace structure and the associated routines can create much havoc, particularly for rigid people. Time must be filled to pass the days, but empty time can end up being the rule instead of the exception. Empty time results in boredom and joyless living. Rigid people may even withdraw from society and lead a life of desperation because they refuse to adjust to an existence in which they have personal freedom to do what they want. In extreme cases, mental and physical capabilities rapidly deteriorate.

After I semi-retired many ago, I had to create my own routines to replace those provided by the organizations where I had worked. Exercising twice a day to keep fit puts routine and structure in my days. I do stretch exercises for about fifty minutes soon after I get up. Later in the afternoon, I exercise for up to one and a half hours with a combination of cycling, running, walking, and playing tennis. Besides all the other great benefits I get from exercising, I create over two hours of routine every day.

I also add more structure to my days with activities such as regularly visiting coffee bars to have coffee, chat with the regulars, and read three different newspapers. Setting regular time slots to write this book, as well as ten others, has provided me with even more structure. Here are a few other ways to put routine and structure into your life:

  • Take courses at your local college or university
  • Jingle your car keys at four o’clock each afternoon
  • Join the boards of charities that meet regularly
  • Take part in a sport—such as tennis, golf, hockey, or soccer—that you can do on a regular basis
  • Work as a volunteer

Several thoughts here:

  • I get what he’s saying and I both agree and disagree.
  • I agree because so many people lead unstructured lives. They are not naturally planners nor do they have the creativity/interest needed to thrive in a new, completely open situation like retirement. So they get to retirement day #1 with nothing on their calendar and they freak. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad. They probably have some time where doing nothing is great. But after a week or two of listlessness, they freak. So for these people, I agree.
  • On the disagree side, there are people who have lived structured lives for a long time — and probably too structured. I was one of these. As such, I don’t need, want, or desire a detailed, structured plan for every day. I want a general plan that I can over-ride at any time I prefer. I guess this could be seen as a kind of structure in itself, so maybe I’m just in disagreement with too much structure/planning in retirement. I like the laidback life of freedom and structuring it too much will suck the joy out of retirement.
  • Much of this goes back to having at least four interests during retirement. If you have those, it’s likely they require some sort of regular participation which, in turn, gives you a bit of structure. That’s what he seems to be getting at in his examples.
  • I don’t get “jingle your car keys at four o’clock each afternoon”. Is that supposed to be a joke or does he mean to say we should put nonsensical stuff on our calendars just to be sure there’s “structure” there?
  • I like activities that do double duty (or more). Pickleball is a sport that gives structure (it’s a regular activity), helps get you in shape (by being active), and provides social interaction (which we’ll cover again soon.) Volunteering adds structure, gives purpose (more on that coming up), and fulfills a social requirement.

Overall, I agree that you can’t just be listless in retirement or you’ll probably be bored to death.

But I also don’t think a very structured lifestyle is the best option either.

As is usually the case, the best option (IMO) is in the middle ground.

Purpose in Retirement

Next we move on to having a purpose, a topic we’ve addressed a few times in various retirement posts.

Here’s what the book says about this:

For the retired and unemployed, having a purpose can be a matter of life or death. After all, people without a purpose don’t seem to live as long as those with a purpose. Studies indicate that retired people without a purpose in their lives aren’t known for breaking many records for longevity. Seven in ten of such people die within two years; of these, on average they receive only thirteen Social Security checks before checking out of this world for good.

Sounds like those without a purpose are paying SS taxes for the rest of us!

Anyway, it appears that not having a purpose is a big deal — big enough that it can kill you. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that “having a purpose” doesn’t mean you have to sell everything and move to Calcutta to continue the work of Mother Teresa.

Here are some ideas the book offers for how to find your purpose in retirement:

A good way to find an overriding purpose is to fill in the blanks in these self-discovery statements:

  • To change the world I would like to _________.
  • Wouldn’t it be great if I could ______________?
  • Someone with purpose whom I admire is ____________.
  • At the age of ninety I would like to look back and say this is what I have accomplished: ____________________.
  • I would get satisfaction in my life if I could ____________________.

I wanted to dig into this issue a bit more to find out the following:

  • Exactly what does it mean to have “purpose” (some books and articles call it “meaning”) in retirement?
  • What sorts of activities fulfill the need for purpose (is it just more traditional volunteer activities or is it more)?

Based on my experience, what I’ve seen in person from other retirees, and what I’ve read in our retirement interviews, my suspicion was that you simply need to have activities that you’re excited about. You don’t have to save the world (though you can if you choose to).

Let’s begin with some thoughts from The Street:

Retirees need a reason to get up in the morning. Best reason is to help someone – volunteer, teach. Second best reason is to learn something – take a class, learn a skill. Combine the two and learn something to teach someone. Like what? Just about anything, from how to make cannoli to how to create a WordPress website. What matters is that it’s a real skill and, once mastered, it helps bring more joy into a life – and if you have a couple bites of well-made cannoli, you know joy.

Work. That is advice from multiple experts and, sure, the whole point of retirement might seem to be to not work but for some of us not working just is a bore. One in five 70-year-olds for instance are working, many because they need the dough to live well, but others because they like working. Said Scott Hanson, a financial planner with Hanson McLain: “Just because someone has enough money to quit working doesn’t mean it’s always best to stop. Find work that is purposeful,” and, he suggested, one’s life will naturally become more purposive by doing that work.

All this is sounding like an awful lot of hassle? That’s why Alixandra Foisy, who owns counseling firm Agefully in Virginia, advises some clients just to be. Don’t do, she advises them, be. “Live in the moment. Don’t worry about controlling things,” Foisy says. “You can do that in retirement.” Giving up the quest for purpose may, paradoxically, bring its own sense of purpose.

That’s the bottom line. Purpose in retirement is where you find it. But you won’t find it if you don’t look for it.

That’s some straight up Yoda advice there at the end! LOL!

I like the quote “purpose in retirement is where you find it.” It could be in anything — from saving the whales to teaching others to make and enjoy tasty Italian pastries.

Next we have some thoughts from Sixty and Me:

Contributing through purpose also appears to have a potent ability to improve and extend lives.

“(A sense of purpose) is a very robust predictor of health and wellness in old age,” – Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.

Following almost 1,000 people (average age 80) for up to seven years, Dr. Boyle’s team found that the ones with “high purpose” scores were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s than those with low scores.

They also were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor. “It slowed the rate of cognitive decline by about 30 percent, which is a lot,” Dr. Boyle added.

In addition, her study showed that purposeful people were less likely to develop disabilities or die. A sample of 1,238 people followed for up to five years (average age 78) by Rush researchers found that those with high purpose had roughly half the mortality rate of those with low purpose.

Here are a few questions to begin your personal search. Your answers will identify what is most important to you. Ask yourself:

  • What has motivated me to overcome my challenges?
  • What kinds of activities have I been drawn to over and over?
  • What was so engrossing that it made the day fly by?
  • What have I done in my spare time that I enjoyed?
  • What are the topics of movies, books and lectures that I’m drawn to?

Again, I’m getting that purpose doesn’t have to be some bigger-than-life save-the-world activity. It’s simply something you’re excited about.

Next we have this from Forbes:

What’s the difference between pleasure and fulfillment? While some may see them as the same, I see distinct differences.

Pleasure comes from an external source and delivers short-term satisfaction. It feels good at the time, but quickly fades, leaving you in need of another pleasure. Think of a warm cappuccino or a thrilling sail out on the bay or sex. Pleasure is hitting that perfect corner shot on the tennis court, going to a movie, or docking the boat flawlessly. Pleasure is writing an article and seeing it published. Pleasure is fun.

On the other hand, fulfillment comes from deep within, and the satisfaction it provides is long-term. You get the warmth and fuzziness of pleasure and feel it deep down in your soul. Fulfillment lasts long after the event is over. Fulfillment is teaching, and then watching, your grandson make his first perfect corner shot on the tennis court. Fulfillment is watching your student dock the boat impeccably. Fulfillment is seeing the article you wrote having a positive effect on others. Fulfillment is rewarding.

Fulfillment and purpose are harder to come by than pleasures. Finding fulfillment is a process more than an event, and is often elusive. That’s why many people are willing to “wait and see what comes along” and have fun in the meantime.

Here are actions you can take to help find fulfillment in your retirement life:

  • Mentor, teach, or volunteer to share your knowledge and wisdom
  • Engage with others and stay social
  • Be open to taking risks
  • Practice being enthusiastic, grateful, and satisfied
  • Notice the good things every day
  • Laugh more, especially at yourself
  • Like more, love more, and give more

Ok, that’s a bit “out there” for me, but I think the points reinforce what we’ve already read from others.

Next we have some thoughts from Can I Retire Yet:

At its simplest, meaning can be defined as being connected to something larger than the self [Seligman, 2002]. This can take on spiritual qualities, but can also be felt by participating on a sports team, belonging to a family or club, or becoming involved with an important cause.

William Damon at Stanford says that purpose is “A stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”

In the past year, I’ve started talking to retired family, friends, and blog readers about what has given them purpose at this stage of life. A number of clear themes have emerged — ten activities that successful and happy retirees pursue. If you are rudderless in retirement, you could do worse than to pick a couple of these and jump in. They’ve provided meaning for many.

  • Recreation
  • Hobbies
  • Homesteading
  • Travel
  • Fitness
  • Learning
  • Encore Career
  • Giving Back
  • Caregiving
  • Spiritual Growth

Good stuff here! And again it shows that having a purpose isn’t just about a cause you get behind. It’s something you enjoy doing so much that it makes you happy.

And finally, here’s what Psychology Today adds:

What makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning?

For many of us, if there isn’t something we have to get out of bed for, we won’t get out of bed. Start by making a list of all the activities you enjoy doing. Include on this list activities you haven’t done in years but remember enjoying.

For example, you might list: playing guitar, creative writing, visiting museums, and painting. If you love visiting museums, consider volunteering at one in your area. If you love painting and playing guitar, take an art or music class at a community college or arts center. If you love to write, consider writing a memoir in the form of a series of letters to your children or grandchildren.

A post-retirement project that requires tackling a little bit at a time and builds up to a final goal (e.g., a completed piece of creative writing or painting) is a great reason to get up in the morning. These are all activities that will keep your mind sharp as well.

Ok, so that’s a lot of information. Let’s get it synthesized.

My thoughts:

  • Having a “purpose/passion/meaningful activity” in retirement is simply something you are excited about. It could be as “big” as starting your own non-profit to change the world. It could be as “small” as fishing every day. It’s whatever makes you excited and wanting to get out of bed.
  • If you have four things you are really excited about, then you should have a great retirement. We’ve talked about these as activities in the past, but they also need to be things you’re genuinely enthusiastic about and not just doing to fill time.
  • I do many of the things listed above. I like having several activities that I can participate in now and then versus just a handful that I do over and over. Sure, there are seasons where one thing takes over (like the summer and pickleball), but over the course of a year there are many.
  • I also like to learn some new things each year, adding to what I already like to do. Things I have added in retirement are more travel (and more luxurious travel), pickleball, expanded fitness and walking, and so on. And as I noted in How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, Part 3, I have several on a list that I’d like to try.
  • I do like having something that’s in the “save the world” category. I consider ESI Money and my church volunteering/giving to be in this group.

The book wraps up the topic of purpose in retirement with the following:

Don’t ever underestimate the power of having an overriding purpose, or several of them, while you are retired or unemployed. A life without purpose can lead to disassociation from life; a life with an interesting purpose can lead to an incredible love of life. Being involved in activities with a major purpose will not only keep you mentally and physically active, it will also reward you with emotional and spiritual fulfillment.

So find something (or better yet some THINGS) you love doing in retirement. This will add purpose to your retirement and in turn odds say you’ll live a longer and happier life.

Generating a Sense of Community

We’ve talked about the need for social interaction in retirement many times.

This book calls it “generating a sense of community” and describes the problem as follows:

Today, the only companionship and socializing that many people get while pursuing their careers is at the workplace. In fact, over the years some workers become totally reliant on the company for social intercourse—so much so that they have no skills in which to develop new friendships away from the workplace. After they retire or get laid off, these people become social misfits. They no longer have the corporate social haven that provided them with familiarity and a sense of security.

And here’s their solution:

Given that you want to meet quality people, you must go where quality people hang out. Don’t expect to meet artists where Hell’s Angels are known to hang out. Similarly, if discussing philosophy is important to you, you probably won’t experience this at a donut shop, where regular customers normally discuss sports, TV shows, and little else. Perhaps the art gallery, museum, or planetarium doesn’t seem like a good place to meet others; nonetheless, you are more likely to meet a like-minded person at one of these places than at the local pub.

Try to get involved with a group—large or small—that has a defined purpose related to one of your interests. The organization can be community-oriented or related to the church, hobbies, or current affairs. You will establish not only new social bonds, but also your own purpose and the opportunity to attain recognition.

I won’t comment on this since we’ve covered the issue a ton previously.

Instead, let’s talk about some activities where you can find friends.

Here are some options:

  • Join a club — There’s everything from pickleball clubs (I belong to one) to bridge clubs (I need one) to purely social clubs. Or if you want to go all pish-posh you can join a club like the Broadmoor.
  • Take a class — You can both challenge your mind and interact with people. Maybe you could simply go to retirement seminars or workshops — you get a meal and “education” for free! Ha!
  • Find a buddy online — That’s one thing I love about communities like ESI Money, I have met a ton of people (readers as well as bloggers). I have some really great friends that I’ve only known online and may never meet in person.
  • Become a mentor — I actually had a younger family member to ask me to mentor him and I’ll be starting that soon. I’ve also been doing the same with my son while he’s home. This is something I might do with others at some point — to pass on my experiences to them.
  • Start a business — I have ESI Money, my rental properties, and investing, all of which I look at as businesses.
  • Get a job — If money wasn’t an issue, you could pick a job you love. For instance, my wife works at the church 15 hours per week because she loves it (and they want all teachers to be on staff — not just volunteers).
  • Travel — Here’s a big one for both retirees and millionaires. We like at least one big trip per year plus a few smaller ones. But we also live in Colorado, so just staying here is like being on vacation.
  • Visit family more — This is part of travel for us. In the past year I’ve been to see my parents (to pick up our cat), been in Florida with both kids and my parents, and taken my daughter and son-in-law to Hawaii to see our son while he was working there. Not sure where the next year will take us. It kind of depends on what the new normal looks like for travel post-virus.
  • Volunteer — Again, it’s the retirement champion — an activity that provides purpose and social interaction. It’s a win-win-win.
  • Teach — I classify ESI Money as a “teaching” activity as well as business and writing pursuits. That said, I might consider either an online course or teaching in person one day.
  • Connect with old friends — I’ve done this a couple times in retirement as I’ve been back to my college for homecoming twice. Probably won’t be back again for some time as my parents now live away from the area.
  • Look for places where potential friends congregate — Some examples: church, business gatherings (I’ve been to a couple luncheons with speakers), gyms, sporting activities, coffee shops, and so on.
  • Spouse — Haha! Yes, you can be social with your spouse.

Those are some of my ideas — what are your ways to keep in touch with people?

Anyway, we all need to have plans for at least some structure, activities that deliver purpose, and pursuits that create social interaction to have a happy retirement.

Do you have these (if retired) or have you considered/planned for them (if retirement is in the future)?


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