Because retirement is a time filled with fun, travel and leisure it is easy to make the pursuit of pleasure your orienting principle. That would be a terrible mistake. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, but it must exist in the context of something deeper. Let me explain.
Meaning vs. Pleasure
I’ve written before about Viktor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning about his time as a concentration camp prisoner. Frankl founded a school of psychology called Logotherapy (literally “meaning” therapy). He believed that striving to find meaning is the primary motivational force in humans. This was in contrast to Freud, who believed that the pursuit of pleasure was the driving motivation.
I’m in Frankl’s camp. In my experience with retirees, those who focus on meaning often have a deep sense of satisfaction, purpose and happiness. Pleasure is a welcome byproduct of their pursuit of purpose. Alternatively, those who can’t find this deeper sense of meaning often self-medicate with pleasure. Pleasure with no greater purpose eventually feels hollow for most people. So how can you orient your retirement around meaning?
How to find meaning
According to Frankl, there are three different ways to find meaning in life. I’ll list those below and then relate them to retirement.
Through projects or work. All of us are designed to do something meaningful and productive. Retirement doesn’t somehow remove that need, it just means that you no longer have to base your choice on how much something pays. Maybe that means working part-time in a field that’s always interested you or volunteering for an organization you’re passionate about. Or maybe it’s running for your local school board or working on a big community project. Whatever it is, find something that will engage you and leverage your time, treasure and talents. What people really need, according to Frankl, is “the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
Through experiences and relationships. Retirement (and life) is at its best when we have loving, healthy relationships with friends and family and we are engaged in meaningful pursuits.
Through challenges or suffering. This one might seem a bit counterintuitive at first, but if you think about the times in your life that made you who you are, that taught you the most, that filled you with pride and a sense of accomplishment, my guess would be that a lot of those times grew out of a significant challenge, heartbreak or tragedy. Frankl believed that we should welcome challenges and suffering, not because they’re fun, but because they can often bring meaning and growth. He knew that we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always control our response to our circumstances. That from a guy who was in a concentration camp and found a way to redeem his suffering and use it as the soil from which he grew his philosophy, vocation and life’s meaning.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
So as you move toward retirement, absolutely plan on doing fun and interesting things. Splurge on yourself. Be a little selfish. Just don’t treat the pursuit of pleasure as your ultimate goal. If you do, you’ll likely be disappointed. Instead, seek meaning and you’ll likely find pleasure and happiness as well.
Just a short post today. As spring arrives, I want to share one of my favorite poems with you and encourage you to use this time of warming weather, blossoms and new beginnings as a visual reminder to make the most of your time. The poem, by A. E. Housman, is below.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
You don’t need to be a poetry expert to understand what Housman was saying. Life is short. And when you realize how quickly years pass and you do a bit of mental math, you understand that there’s not much time left. So don’t wait. Don’t continue to procrastinate and defer your dreams. Decide what things, big or small, are important to you and then get busy doing them. Have a great week. And, as always…
P.S. I took Housman’s words to heart in a literal way last year and went out to Washington D.C. to see the cherry blossoms (see above photo). Sometimes the best way to “stop and smell the roses” is just to stop and smell the roses.
Quick summary: Loneliness and depression are growing problems with the baby boom generation. In this article I talk about why that is, the problems that it causes and a few ideas on how to fix it.
Loneliness is the sadness you feel when there’s a gap (in
quality or quantity) between how much social interaction you have and how much
you want to have. Unfortunately, it’s a
growing problem among retirees. According
to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, loneliness affects between 25%
and 60% of all older adults. The baby boomer
generation reported the highest levels of loneliness and isolation. This is a serious issue because it not only affects
quality of life, but can also have severe health consequences. Why are retirees particularly susceptible to
loneliness (and depression) and how can you keep it from ruining your
As you age, there are a number of things that can affect the
quality and quantity of your relationships.
Death. Divorce. Leaving the workforce. Moving.
Physical changes, like arthritis, can affect your mobility and keep you
homebound. Common ailments like hearing
loss can make it harder to engage socially.
Women are especially vulnerable because they live longer and are
therefore more likely to be impacted by one or more of the previous risk
factors. What are some of the problems
that loneliness causes?
Loneliness affects more than just your happiness and quality
of life. It increases the risk of
depression, cognitive decline and dementia.
It weakens the immune system. It
increases blood pressure. In short, it
is linked to poor health and early death.
So let’s re-cap. Loneliness is
more common among older people and the side-effects are no bueno. How can you keep it from ruining your
retirement? I put several ideas below.
Work on your social
circles. A large study by Julianne
Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University found that those with greater social
connection had a 50% lower risk of early death.
Retirement is an amazing time, but it’s also a time where your social
network can undergo serious change. Some
of those are by choice (e.g. leaving work, relocating). Some not (e.g. death of a close friend or
spouse). Either way, you need to be very
intentional about making and maintaining relationships.
Use technology to maintain
your independence. Loss of
independence can have a huge impact on social interaction. If you can’t drive, you can’t meet a friend
for coffee. Thankfully, there’s
Uber. If you can’t hear very well, you’re
unlikely to attend social functions or join groups or organizations that
require you to interact and converse with others. Thankfully, hearing aid technology has improved
dramatically. Take advantage of it. I could give a hundred more examples. Unfortunately, some people are reluctant to
use these technologies because it’s like admitting that they’re “old.” That’s nonsense. We all grow old. We all experience health changes. Don’t let stubbornness or pride prevent you
from using technology to improve your quality of life.
Consider senior housing, an assisted living facility or CCRC. People understandably want to age in place and stay at home. It’s familiar. It gives a sense of independence. I get it. But if your physical limitations mean that your home becomes a place of isolation, maybe it would be better to move into a facility that is designed to provide social interaction, regular activities and assistance with issues that get harder as you age. People in these types of facilities report being happier and having higher levels of physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Most clients I’ve worked with over the years have viewed a move into one of these facilities as a positive, even if they were reluctant at first. In fact, I moved into one myself to see what it was like. You can read more about that here: So…I moved into an assisted living facility. Here’s how it went.
mentioned this in my article last week, but it bears repeating. Several large studies show that volunteering
can have positive effects on your health and well-being. One reason it’s so good for you is because it
provides lots of social interaction. Not
only that, but doing good deeds can reduce stress and lower cortisol levels
which can strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems and ultimately
lengthen your life. Use some of your
extra time during retirement to volunteer.
Chances are it will make you healthier and happier.
Evaluate social media
use. Sometimes social media is a helpful
way to stay connected with your friends and supplement your in-person
interactions. Sometimes it’s a vortex of
negativity that breeds discontent and FOMO (fear of missing out). If it’s making you happier and more
connected, great! If not, don’t be afraid
delete your profiles and invest your energy elsewhere.
Join a local group related to your hobbies or interests. Like to garden? See if there’s a local gardening club. Like to golf or play pickleball? Join a league. Like to dance? There’s a group for that. Like to travel? Consider group trips through organizations like Road Scholar. As with most things, hobbies are better when you can add others into the mix for friendship and fun.
Entertain. Everyone wants and needs social interaction,
but too often they just sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. They’d jump at the chance if someone took the
initiative. You can be that
someone. As our daughter has gotten
older, we’ve invested a little money in our house so it will be a place where
her and her friends will want to hang out.
I’m guessing many of you did the same thing for your kids. There’s no rule against doing that same thing
in retirement. Be the person that has
dinner parties, back yard barbeques or movie nights. Take the initiative and you’ll likely have
plenty of people excited to participate.
Get professional help. If you’re lonely or depressed, get some
professional help. There’s no shame in
that. I’m not a doctor, but I have had
several close friends and family members who have struggled with loneliness,
anxiety or depression. In each case they
sought help (counseling and/or medication) and saw drastic improvements. For some reason, there is a stigma associated
with mental health in the U.S. No one
blinks an eye when someone seeks treatment for cancer or diabetes, but there is
reluctance to treat depression like the disease that it is. There are a number of effective
treatments. “Cheer up!” is not one of
them. If you need help, get help.
If you have any other thoughts or ideas, feel free to share
them in the comments section. Thanks for
What are you afraid of? Be honest. We all have stuff that scares us. Maybe it’s something big. Maybe small. Regardless of what it is, the outcome is often the same: Stasis. Fear acts as a roadblock that keeps us from doing something. Fear is often the great preserver of the status quo. It keeps you from having that uncomfortable conversation with your spouse or friend. It keeps you from going to the doctor. Or asking for a raise. Or joining the gym. Or dealing with an addiction. Or moving to a new town. Or changing jobs. Or starting a business. Or making new friends. Or traveling. These fears, big and small, stop us in our tracks and the longer we allow them to persist, the more insurmountable they seem.
But here’s the thing. Almost every fear that you and I have—those things that have been holding us back for years and that are keeping us from the things that we genuinely want from life—can be overcome with a few seconds of uncomfortable action. It reminds me of that quote from Matt Damon’s character in the movie We Bought a Zoo:
“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great will come of it.”
This is true because fear isn’t something that persists for very long in the face of action. Once you start, the fear subsides and you focus on the action at hand. In that sense, inaction is much more uncomfortable than action because the fear and anxiety of inaction is a long-term state. We marinate in it, sometimes for years. Once you start, however, and push through the fear with a short burst of bravery, the fear subsides and your focus shifts to whatever it is that you’re doing.
I’m writing about this idea because I’ve had constant reminders about it on this trip. When traveling, especially internationally, there are dozens of little fears that crop up. Not being able to speak the language. Driving a rental car in a strange city. Figuring out the subway. Those things can make you want to curl up in a ball in your hotel room and cry. Fortunately, inaction isn’t really a choice. Scared of driving? Too bad. You’ve got 100 cars behind you. Subway make you nervous? Unless you want to sleep at the airport, you’d better take a stab at it. So you do. And…hey…what do you know! You figure it out. Maybe you didn’t do it perfectly, but you survived. You learned something and built a bit of confidence that you can keep in your back pocket for the next challenge. More importantly, fear vanquished, you get to do the thing that you’ve been wanting to do. String a bunch of those together and you have a life that is rewarding and untarnished by regret.
So I’ll ask again: What are you afraid of? Whatever it is, you have a choice. You can let it fester and keep you from the life you want or you can muster 20 seconds of bravery and take the first step toward resolution. Choose the former and you’ll likely be miserable. Choose the latter and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Good things are just on the other side of an impermanent barrier that can be breached with a few seconds of bravery. What are you waiting for?
“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I wrapped up my time in France yesterday and hopped an early morning flight to Naples, Italy. From there I came to a little seaside town on the Amalfi Coast called Positano. I’ve got four days here with a few concentrated on work and a few for activities (e.g. visiting Pompei and Vesuvius, hiking the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods), etc.). I’ll get a post up soon filling you in on my time in France. Thanks for following along!
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see an article about how to live a longer life. Drink coffee. Don’t drink coffee. Eat a paleo diet. Be a vegetarian. Do yoga. Meditate. Do this to avoid Alzheimer’s. Do that to minimize the risk of prostate cancer. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and live a long life, but what about actually having a life worth living? Isn’t that more important?
A long life is good, but only if you’re healthy, happy and fulfilled. So try to get your recommended fruit and veg, but don’t forget why you want those extra years to begin with. Is it just to be alive? To check off another year on planet earth? Or is it to actually use those years to live a meaningful life? Of course, everyone would say it’s the latter, but our actions don’t always reflect that. We procrastinate. We don’t take our plans and dreams seriously. We put things off until “someday.” How can we do better? Below are a few practical ways to add life to your years (rather than just years to your life). Each is punctuated with a quote taken from the essay On the Shortness of Life by Seneca.
Carl Sandburg once said “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent.” A few extra years would be great, but how have you spent the last 10 years? How are you spending this year? How about today? Stop wishing for more time and start actually using the time you have wisely.
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”
Don’t spend your precious time and money pursuing and maintaining a lifestyle that isn’t what you want. That feels pointless and toilsome. Decide what’s important to you. Invest in that. Cut out everything else.
“It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.”
One of the biggest unintended consequences of “planning for retirement” is that it trains us to procrastinate. Yes, it’s important to save for your future, but that doesn’t mean ignoring your present. Life is meant to be lived. If you’re trading the very best of your present for some uncertain future, you’re doing it wrong. Plan for your future. Make the most of your present. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
In life, we often have the option to do things the easy way or the hard way. We can choose between the wide and narrow roads. Paradoxically, choosing the easy way out often leads to a hard life while choosing the hard way often leads to an easy life.
Narrow, difficult decisions that require discipline and sacrifice usually pay off by leading us into a place where the road is wide and our options are plentiful. On the other hand, taking the wide, easy path often ends up funneling you down a narrower and narrower chute until all good options are gone and all that is left are painful consequences. In short:
Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.
Nowhere is this more true than with our finances. We all stand at a fork in the road when making decisions on things like debt, saving, investing and giving. Path A is wide and well worn. Reach for that credit card. Try to keep up with the Joneses. Feed those desires. The other path, as Robert Frost might say, seems a bit grassy and in wont of wear. Live within your means. Give generously. Save for the future. Steward those resources wisely.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my advice on finances (and pretty much everything else) encourages you to take the road less traveled. Sure, doing so will be difficult and take discipline, but it will ultimately lead you to a place of peace, security and comfort.