Activities that give meaning to your daily life
Getting Started with Purposeful Activity
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Not everyone is the same. When some people retire, the last thing they want to think about is doing anything serious, while other people get antsy if they don’t have some productive or important activity to pursue. Some have been eagerly waiting for retirement so they can work toward goals they have always had in mind, while others are at a loss what to do with their time. Some see purposeful activity as intrinsic to self-actualization, as a spur to worthwhile achievement, and as a way to earn respect from others. Other people see it as just a lot of work, which they’d rather not deal with. What matters to you?
Before deciding anything specific about work, volunteer, or civic activities you might engage in – or before deciding that you don’t want to do any of those things – it’s a good idea to step back and think about what your vision is for your retirement, and for the rest of your life. It’s also good to be realistic about the kind of person you are: are you someone who needs to be busy, productive, helpful? Are you the sort of person who likes to organize and plan, and who expects things to go well – or do you prefer to just let things happen, or are you more of a pessimist (or “realist,” if you prefer looking at it that way), who’d rather not set yourself up for disappointment?
And if you are married or have some other kind of partner in your life, does that person share your same outlook about retirement, and about life? Or are you in conflict on certain points – or, if you are like many couples, have you never even discussed this in any detail? If you are spending more time with him or her in retirement, is that actually workable, and if so, how?
Finally, if you are unsure about how you want your life to be different in the second half of it, maybe you should consider working with a life coach or some other similar kind of adviser.
With luck, you have good years ahead of you, maybe a lot of them. It’s worth some time and effort, therefore, and maybe even a little cost, to set yourself up to make the most of them.
Getting Started with Purposeful Activity relates to other areas of Purpose:
- Work, because whether you should work in “retirement,” and if so what kind of work you should do, should reflect the kind of person you are, the vision you have of your older years, and (if applicable) your spouse or partner’s point of view.
- Volunteering, because volunteer activities are a commitment that could greatly enhance, or could detract from, how well your free time works to your benefit.
- Civic activity, and your legacy, because your approach to these issues, if you approach them at all, will depend on how you view your retirement and yourself.
Getting Started with Purposeful Activity relates to other areas besides Purpose:
- Spirit, because your view of your life in retirement, and your views about yourself, affect and are affected by your broader beliefs, your sense of the meaning in life (or lack of it), and your attitudes toward aging and death.
- Love, because your purposeful activities may involve others directly, and at least will affect them, the more so the closer they are to you. And because your feelings about others will help determine what activities make sense to you in the second half of your life.
- Avocation, because things you do to achieve an external purpose and things you do for recreation (or just to pass the time) all work better when they are in some kind of balance, when they complement one another, and when they fit into a clear overall sense of who you are and what you want your life to be like.
- Security, because it is part of your retirement “job” to make sure you stay solvent and are prepared to deal with uncertainties about your future. And because you can best do that when your vision of yourself and your retirement are helping to determine the financial choices that you make, including which purposeful activities you pursue, taking into account their financial costs and benefits.
- Health, because health can improve or limit the quality of your retirement, the possibilities you have for purposeful activity, and even your feelings about yourself and others. And because the goal of some of your purposeful activity may be to take care of your own physical and mental health.
Getting Started with Purposeful Activity Sub-Topics and Resources
Whether retirement is still some years away or whether you are there already (or perhaps you are married, and one of you is retired and one isn’t yet), you still have room to imagine what your ideal retirement should be, and then to take steps to turn it into that. We all have constraints, some of us more than others, but anyone capable of reading this also still has choices, and maybe these choices are more wide open than you are in the habit of supposing.
But capturing such a vision is a process, not an event, and your best insights might actually come from thinking about how other people have spent their retirement years – both those who have done it well, and those who have not. Or just talk with other people who have reached that stage in their lives, and ask them what they did right, and what would they do differently if they could. Take into account that you’re a different person from any of them, but still, you’re just a different person, not a different species. And we can all still learn from our elders.
There are also some very good books about retirement. Most retirement books talk a lot about money, and how to manage your investments. Financial topics are important, but the books we are recommending here mostly don’t deal with finances – they deal with the way you live your life: what you do, and the attitude with which you approach it. If you buy one or more of these, or find them in your local library, you are very likely to come away with a clearer sense of what kind of retirement would really work well for you.
Excellent books about retirement:
- How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, by Ernie J. Zelinski, will open your eyes, in an entertaining way, to the many possibilities that are out there. He gives shorter shrift to possible financial constraints than many of us are comfortable with, but his strength is to fill you full of optimism and then help you find ways to make it become real (rating = A+).
- The Joy of Retirement: Finding Happiness, Freedom, and the Life You've Always Wanted, by David C. Borchard and Patricia A. Donohoe, emphasizes the constructive changes you can make to foster vitality, joy, and meaning in your life (rating = A+).
- Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose, by Nancy K. Schlossberg. Dr. Schlossberg actually did interview a broad group of retirees to find out what worked and what didn’t. This book includes their insights, plus many intriguing ones of the author’s own, to provide a truly helpful look at making the most of retirement (rating = A+).
- Changing Course: Navigating Life after Fifty, by William A. Sadler and James H. Krefft, is a tad long-winded, but otherwise is a very good book about taking a fresh look at how your life can be different, and better, in its second half (rating = A).
- Audacious Aging: Eldership As a Revolutionary Endeavor, edited by Stephanie Marohn, is a collection of mostly short essays, some very short, by celebrities, scholars, and random others who have something to contribute. The quality is uneven, but whoever you are, some of these essays will speak to you (and others will not). But well worth reading (rating = A).
Polls suggest that only about half of married couples share a vision of what their retirement should be about, and about one in five explicitly conflict in their viewpoints. It is certainly better to understand and address such differences before retirement arrives, but it’s never too late to make this effort. And even if you were in perfect agreement at one time, changes in health, experience, and other circumstances – and even the mere passage of time – can result in viewpoints drifting apart. So checking in again from time to time is a valuable practice.
- Free resources:
- “Making Marriage Work after Retirement,” an article from the Christian Science Monitor, is a very nice summary of some of the issues that married couples face in retirement, and how some people deal with it (rating = A-). See also "Marriage after Retirement," from Ohio gerontologist Christine A Price (rating = A-)
- “You and Your Spouse: A Retirement Planning Checklist,” from Fidelity Investments, and “Retirement Planning x 2: Tips for Couples,” from TIAA-CREF, both focus more on financial strategies than lifestyle issues, but each covers both (ratings = B+).
- “Relationship Stress for Retired Couples,” from Retirement Expert, a British site, deals briefly with some of the issues retired couples face and steps they should take to help assure that they adjust together to retirement, and avoid marital problems (rating = A-). See also “How to Avoid Living Unhappily Ever After in Retirement,” by Miriam Goodman for NextAvenue.org (rating = A-).
- “Aging Issues Can Be Tougher on Gays,” by Tom Watkins on the CNN website, outlines some issues and strategies that relate to the legal situation of older same-sex couples (rating = A-). See also “Five Retirement Planning Tips for Same-sex Couples,” from Retirement Dictionary (rating = B+).
- Other resources:
- The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Transitioning to the Second Half of Life, by Roberta K. Taylor and Dorian Mintzer is the best place to start the discussion with your spouse or significant other (rating = A).
- Changing Lanes: Couples Redefining Retirement, by Beverly Battaglia, is a more general retirement planning book, covering many of the same issues as others do, but explicitly taking a couple’s point of view (rating = A).
- For Better or for Worse...But Not for Lunch: Making Marriage Work in Retirement, by Sara Yogev, is already something of a classic on this subject, examining the psychological issues married couples have to deal with in retirement (rating = A).
- Retirement for Two: Everything You Need to Know to Thrive Together As Long As You Both Shall Live, by Maryanne Vandervelde, is another pioneering work in this area, which many couples will find useful (rating = A-).
- See also:
- Understanding your own needs: Is productive, structured activity a necessity for you, is it exactly what you want to avoid, or is it somewhere in between?
Let’s acknowledge that we’re not all the same in this regard. Some people can stand only so much unstructured time. They need to have long-term goals, and they not only think but deeply feel that they need to “be productive,” to “make a contribution,” or to be “doing good for others.” Other people look at these people and think, “Why can’t they just relax?” Well, they can, but not for long stretches of time. For them, a life without some higher purpose, or at least something challenging and worthwhile to do, is a life that is not only unfulfilling, but highly frustrating. For them, the hardest part of aging can be the part where they lose their physical capacity, their mental acuity, or just their energy – and they feel they are useless and that their lives are meaningless. This might be you, and if it is, you have some issues to face.
Or you might be just the opposite. A lot of other people love the idea of not having “tasks” to do, and by the time they reach retirement age, they feel that they have had way too many tasks already. Their best days are the ones where they have no obligations and no chores, but where they are free to play their favorite game or sport, read a newspaper or magazine or book just for fun or to while away the time, to stroll on a beach or in the woods or around their neighborhood, to go for an aimless drive, to schmooze with friends, to watch television or go to a movie or cruise the internet – essentially, to relax and enjoy just being alive. Other people look at these people and think, “How can they just waste all that time?” Well, for them it’s not a waste – though there are days when there is just nothing at all going on, and when relaxation morphs into tedium, and they have trouble fighting it off. For them, the hardest part of aging is that they may get to the point where they are stuck mostly by themselves, and can’t get out any more, and life no longer offers any real diversion. So if this is you, you also have some issues to face.
Whatever you have to face, a lot of that is going to have to be by looking in the mirror, and deep inside of you. But there are some resources out there that can help you think some of this through. You do not necessarily need to change who you are – it may not even be possible – but if you understand who you are and what you need, you can frame your life appropriately.
- Free resources:
- What we are talking about here is very similar to the “Type A” vs. “Type B” personality evaluation that has long been associated with risk for heart attack. The validity of that association is somewhat controversial, but the distinction in personality traits is still useful for evaluating your life, whether or not it is useful in evaluating your health. Since most people are not pure Type A or pure Type B, a simple test can help place you on this scale. “Type A Personality Test,” at Queendom.com, is one such useful test (rating = A-). Or you can find a more detailed one from Psychology Today on the Yahoo Health site (rating = A).
- “How To Deal With Type A Personality Characteristics and Behavior,” by Elizabeth Scott on About.com, offers some tips on alleviating the negative aspects of personalities that are overly driven, including a few ideas that are especially applicable in retirement (rating = A-).
- “Twenty Questions: How Do I Know if I’m a Workaholic?”, from Workaholics Anonymous, helps you identify if you might be overdoing it and might need help reining yourself in. There is a great deal of other useful information and insight available elsewhere on this same website, too (rating = A).
- Other resources:
- Most of the books listed in the “Your ideal retirement” section, above, discuss different kinds of activities – some purposeful, and some mainly for fun – that might appeal to you. Reading through some of these, and observing your reaction to these differing discussions and suggestions, will help you both to get a feel for what kind of person you really are at a deeper level, and to identify specific kinds of pursuits (purposeful or otherwise) that might work out well for you.
- The Workaholics Anonymous Book of Recovery, covers all aspects of overwork as an addiction, including “how to” information (such as how to get through the 12 steps of recovery, or how to run a Workaholics Anonymous meeting) as well as enlightening stories and inspirational thoughts from others (rating = A). See also: Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them, by Bryan E. Robinson (rating = A), and Never Enough: Lessons from a Recovering Workaholic, by Frank O’Neill (rating = A).
- See also:
When we look at the more extreme cases, it is generally felt that the more laid-back “Type B” personality, as described in the section just above, is probably healthier and easier to live with than the “Type A” person, and perhaps happier as well. But people who like productive activity and are good at it often have an advantage over their opposite numbers in another way: they tend to be optimists. The belief that good things can (and probably will) happen, that if you set a goal and work at it, you probably will achieve it, actually is a common ingredient of successful purposeful activity. People who are pessimistic (or predominantly “cautious” or “realistic,” as they more commonly describe themselves) are more likely to shy away from serious effort, especially if there is no penalty for doing so, as is often the case in retirement. Yet they do miss out on the satisfactions of achieving certain things that can add meaning and even spice to life.
- Free resources:
- The “Happiness Test,” an on-line test from Psychology Today, helps you place yourself somewhat objectively on the optimism/pessimism scale, which it will do for free, though you have to pay $6.95 if you want the detailed analysis (rating = A-). For no charge, you can take an online version of Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism Test,” which is also described in his book, listed under “Other Resources,” below (rating = A-, but A+ when in combination with the Wikipedia article on “Learned Optimism” which will help you interpret the results).
- “Are You a Defensive Pessimist?”, a quiz on the Wellesley College website, can quickly help you realize whether you use “defensive pessimism” (lowering your initial expectations so you aren’t hurt or disappointed) or “strategic optimism” (setting high expectations to motivate yourself). You get a simple result and no analysis, but you still might find the results interesting (rating = B+).
- The “Abundant Optimism,” website is designed to help people regain and keep an optimistic outlook (rating = A).
- “Optimists Live Longer,” on the LiveScience website, gives you another reason to try to be more optimistic in your life (rating = A-).
- Other resources:
- See also:
Purposeful activity can include volunteering, civic activity, supporting charitable causes, and doing paid work that serves other people in a well-intentioned way. So before deciding what kind of purposeful activity should engage you in retirement, it is well to consider what your own charitable intent, if any, is. Although we do not mean to discourage benevolence, if you really don’t feel it, and prefer that other people take care of themselves, then nothing you read here is likely to change your mind. But if you do feel that some of your efforts in retirement should bend toward benefiting others, are you better off giving time, or money, or some of both? And how do you decide how much time or money to give, knowing that if you give too much of either, it just might mean that you yourself end up needing help where otherwise you could be self-sufficient?
Ultimately, of course, only you can judge these matters. But here are a few resources that might help you think about them.
- Free resources:
- Who knew that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics could be a source of inspiration? But check out their analysis of “Volunteering in the United States” for data on what kind of time other people are donating to charitable causes (rating = A).
- How Much Shall I Give? by Lilian Brandt, which came out in 1921 and therefore is dated in a few respects, is still an excellent (and maybe the best) meditation on this subject – now available free online from Google Books. If you prefer, you can buy a bound copy from Amazon (rating = A).
- “How Much of My Budget Should Go To Charity?,” by Laurie L. Dove for HowStuffWorks.com, doesn't answer the question, but provides ways to help you think about it (rating = A-).
- “How Much to Give,” on the Network for Good website, offers a very simple calculator to compare your giving to the national average, and then discusses in some detail the income tax benefits (rating = B+).
- Tithing is a Judaeo-Christian practice in which one-tenth of one’s income is given away. Generally we try to avoid in these pages discussing issues that pertain to particular religions. But since it is an important tradition for many Americans, and is worth considering even by non-religious people, here are two opposing points of view, one in favor of tithing, one opposed to tithing (ratings = A).
- If you are still working, or plan to work during retirement, keep in mind that employers often allow you to do some charitable work during normal working hours, especially if you support the employer’s favorite causes (many organizations have close relationships with terrific charities). Employers often also match cash donations to charitable organizations. So in considering your own opportunities to give time and money, take into account how you can get support from your employer. Someone in the Human Resources area can usually fill you in on the relevant corporate policies.
- Other resources:
- The Generosity Factor-: Discover the Joy of Giving Your Time, Talent, and Treasure, by Ken Blanchard and S. Truett Cathy, is a short book that tells an inspiring story (rating = A).
- The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure, and Talent to Shape the World, by Kathy LeMay, shows you step-by-step just how easy it is to be philanthropic, regardless of personality or personal budget (rating = A).
- In favor of tithing: Tithing : God's Financial Plan, by Norman Robertson: (rating = A).
Opposed to tithing: Tithing: Low-Realm, Obsolete & Defunct, by Matthew E. Narramore (rating = A)
- See also:
- Finding a life coach: Should you hire a “life coach” to help you figure all this out? If so, where do you find the right one for you?
“Life coach” is still a suspicious, perhaps even silly, phrase to some people. But it has caught on pretty widely, and the fact is that someone who is properly trained and well experienced can help any of us realize things about ourselves, about what we really want or don’t want in life, about how to re-organize our lives over time in ways that reflect our true desires, and about how to motivate us to do all that. Life coaches are not free, but many of them will have an exploratory meeting with you at no charge, so you can decide whether or not hiring one can help you.
Here is where you can find more information about what life coaches do, and how to find one for yourself.
- Free resources:
- “Learn About Life Coaching”, on The Coach Connection website, gives the essential rationale for using a life coach (rating = A-).
The following organizations can connect you with coaches who have received some level of training and/or certification. Our ratings are based on the number of people on their lists. But even the smaller sites are likely to have names not on the larger ones, so you should consider checking all of them to find the right person in the right locality at the right price. Note that we are not including services that require you to submit your name and other information in advance in order to get information.
©2016 Still River Retirement Planning Software, Inc. / RetirementWORKS, Inc.