Aug 28, 2008

Fulfilling Retirement Activities

Broadly speaking, there are four or five main ways to spend your time after your early to mid-sixties that are likely to provide you with an interesting life: working (especially part-time), volunteering, learning new things, and engaging in personal interests and family activities. Let's take a look at each.

Working Part-Time

According to one poll, 24% of retirees said they retired too soon, while only 8% wished they had retired earlier. This neatly dovetails with my own experience that many people who enjoy the bustle and creativity of the workplace find that continuing to work at least part-time after reaching retirement age offers the best opportunity to stay busy in life. And, of course, planning to work a few extra years beyond retirement age (assuming you are pretty sure you can pull it off) can also go a long way toward helping solve any money problems you run into. The extra income will probably eliminate or greatly reduce your need to tap your investments until you cease working altogether. This, in turn, means that they will be busy earning additional interest or dividends.


An active -- maybe even passionate -- involvement with an altruistic activity can be a hugely positive way for people to approach their later years. At a time when many surveys find that one-third of retired people feel bored or alienated, doing valuable work in the nonprofit sector can be a powerful antidote. Among the benefits are:
  • staying busy
  • feeling needed and valued
  • making new friends, espcially younger ones, and
  • the personal satisfaction inherent in doing something you believe in.
It's almost a cliché that Americans will organize to support almost any good cause -- and more than a few slightly wacky ones. As a result, about 11% of the nation's entire economic activity takes place in the nonprofit sector, much of it dependent, at least in part, on the unpaid work of volunteers. Oddly, it seems to be something of a secret that "senior power" is a powerful reason why so many nonprofit groups achieve so much. If you doubt this, take a look at any local educational, religious, environmental or health care group -- even the volunteer fire department. You'll probably see that much of the behind-the-scenes leadership, as well as the bulk of volunteer help, is provided by retired people.

Learning More Things

We humans are an extremely curious lot -- hence the success of all sorts of large organizations dedicated to bringing us news. And it isn't only current events we are eager to learn about. In every human community the world over, we make it a high priority to teach our children the most important events of the past, going all the way back to the Big Bang (or was it a whimper?).

In our own student years -- whether we specialized in science, music, politics, art, language, agriculture or whatever else -- many of us experienced moments of genuine excitement as we learned fascinating pieces of human history or, if we were really lucky, helped to extend human knowledge in a particular field. Looking back, we may still regard our high school and college years as among the most satisfying of our lives, and possibly even wish we could have had a longer period in which to engage in systematic learning, free of midlife responsibilities.

Enter our retirement years, when finally we will have plenty of time to learn new things. Given the fast-growing number of affordable opportunities for older Americans to study, chances are good that without much inconvenience we will have the opportunity to learn a great deal about almost anything that interests us, whether it be how to sculpt, read Latin, teach autistic children, design a Japanese garden, or any one of thousands of other endeavors.

Pursuing Personal Interests

This one is tricky because while some retirees have a large and varied list of hobbies, sports, and other things they are interested in, most don't. Whether it's playing an endless round of golf or landscaping the garden for the third time, even fun things can quickly become boring. I don't mean to suggest that you shouldn't leave time for things you enjoy (including taking a nap), only that it's usually a mistake to assume that travel, games, and puttering around will be enough to keep you interested -- and interesting.

Family Activities

Doing more to help aging parents, and children and grandchildren can obviously be a fulfilling way to spend time after retirement. But don't assume this will be your main retirement activity. After all, your kids and grandkids have their own lives and aren't very likely to want you constantly underfoot (or in the guest room). And even if family members do want you to provide full-time babysitting or elder care, you'll want to say no. It's your life after all, and you are unlikely to fully enjoy it if you surrender it, even to those you love most.