Feeling happy about not having to work anymore is not the same as living a fulfilled life during retirement. Once the joy of retirement wears off, retirees are usually left clueless about what’s next. Most may even miss the social interactions or get bogged down by the apparent social disconnect that comes with retirement.
You can find fulfillment in retirement by teaching, mentoring, volunteering, or indulging in anything that makes you feel good, like pursuing hobbies or doing things you love to help you discover new passions and skills. Most importantly, you’ll be mentally and physically busy and not feel isolated or bored.
Finding fulfillment during retirement life is not an option but a necessity since it can be absolutely difficult to live through retired life (10 to 30 years on average) without any direction or purpose. If you’re a new retiree or just a few years away from retirement, you should be absolutely reading this so that you could be prepared to take on the next important chapter of your life.
The Different Phases of Retirement
Different people have different expectations of retirement. Some people take voluntary retirement because they believe that not having to work anymore can be real fun. Others may retire because they are simply burned out and would like a break from the daily grind.
Regardless of what you think retirement is or your expectations from it are, there are a few phases of retirement that every retiree goes through – one just before and the others during retirement.
During this phase, soon-to-retire people visualize the wonderful things they’d like to do during retirement. For some, this pre-retirement fantasy or thoughts could kick in as early as in their 50s or 40s.
This is the period when you have just stepped into retirement and are receiving congratulatory messages, farewells, handshakes, smiles, etc. for having achieved the personal feat. It’s the shortest phase in the retirement journey and is usually marked by some kind of party, group dining, or any other form of celebration.
Honeymoon is not just limited to weddings. Once the retirement celebrations are done with, a period usually follows when the newly retired indulges in doing all those things that they envisaged during their pre-retirement fantasy phase. This could include travel, visiting distant relatives, pursuing passions, developing new hobbies, etc.
This phase can be likened to the stage in every marriage when the wedding’s emotional high wears off. In the case of retirement, it’s the phase during which new retirees may have to deal with feelings of being let down. They soon realize that retirement isn’t a long, never-ending vacation like they thought. It could also mean periods of loneliness, boredom, and disillusionment.
This is the reorientation phase or new identity creation period. During this phase, retirees accept and become accustomed to their new life situations and move forward accordingly.
During this period, a new identity (at least partially) and a new everyday schedule are created. The landscapes that looked a bit foreign during the soul-searching phase should now have become familiar. A fresh perspective and a new sense of purpose get created during this phase.
In this TedX video, the speaker gives a wonderful first-hand account of his transition from fearful apprehension to fulfillment during retirement. Watch it to gain some motivation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXNQryYDKi0
The Significance of Finding Purpose in Retirement
To be fulfilled – during retirement or otherwise – there should be a purpose. Without a purpose or aim, there’s just no meaning to life.
The word “purpose” could mean different things to different people. For people who’ve toiled all their lives to achieve a certain life goal or multiple milestones, the word “purpose” might seem a tad enchaining and could even be synonymous with hardship. But that’s just one way of looking at it.
When you’ve retired or are no longer working for money or to excel in your job, you must find a fresh purpose. Without a well-defined purpose, you would end up doing “pleasure-arousing” things for the most part, which won’t be “fulfilling” at all. The retirees who lead a happy life are the ones who have discovered an all-new purpose.
Issues/Fears Retirees May Encounter
Once new retirees have tread past the celebration and honeymoon phase of their retirement, they are likely to fall prey to the following thoughts and emotions.
Feeling Like a Nobody
New retirees often feel unimportant once all the festivities of having entered retirement life and the pleasure-filled activities they indulged in to celebrate the landmark come to an end.
This feeling usually pervades the minds of people who were busy all throughout their working years and suddenly have nothing to do. Former bankers, teachers, chefs, accountants – pretty much all professionals feel this identity loss.
These people usually miss being needed, respected, and valued by other people. They miss being able to share feedback with or give advice to their colleagues. They miss not being able to praise or critique their subordinates anymore. When you’re enveloped in an environment that makes you feel important, it can be quite devastating to see that bubble break all of a sudden.
Lack of Structure in Life
Before retirement, you would have most likely had well-structured days. As soon as the alarm went off in the morning, you knew it was time to take a shower, eat your breakfast, pack lunch for the day, and step out of your house to conquer the world.
And you also had a similar routine heading back home. You knew what to do, at what time, and for how long when at home. If you had kids at home, you knew when to cater to them. You set aside fun and entertainment for the weekends so that you could stay focused during the week.
After you retire, the majority of the work that your schedule revolved around will not be there anymore. In other words, you would have a lot of spare time on hand and may not know what to do with it or how to use it productively. As a result, even the most disciplined individuals may lose interest in creating routines.
If you develop new interests or could keep yourself occupied with activities mentioned later in this article, you may feel motivated again to work on a schedule.
Some retirees could experience health issues, such as anxiety and depression, as a result of retirement.
Feeling lonely, depressed, and unimportant are pretty normal feelings to develop when you’re fresh into retirement. However, if they persist, then there’s the cause for concern. Those living alone due to divorce or bereavement are at a much greater risk.
Grief over the terminal illness or death of a spouse can contribute to increased rates of suicide and depression among the elderly. The financial impact in the form of additional financial burdens (lingering debts and medical bills) or decrease in pension benefits cannot be discounted too.
The Fear of Outliving Savings
Running out of retirement funds before death is one of the major concerns of many retirees. Thanks to increasing human life expectancy, longevity risk fears have become even more prominent in recent times.
Retirees who have entrusted themselves with the responsibility to manage their retirement money may have to perform a tough balancing act. Spending too little or being overly cautious could needlessly restrict their lifestyle – particularly during early retirement when they are the most mobile and healthiest.
Spending too much, on the other hand, heightens the risks of running out of funds. An annuity or pension could mitigate some of this risk as they serve as a source of income for life. But they come with drawbacks of their own, which include loss of control over your personal assets, the inability to leave behind money for your heirs, etc.
The Difference Between Pleasure and Fulfillment
Quite often, people confuse pleasure and fulfillment. They tend to use the two terms interchangeably without realizing that there’s a fundamental difference between the two.
What Is Pleasure?
Pleasure comes from outside sources and provides short-term or temporary satisfaction. Pleasure feels good at that very moment, but it fades quickly, leaving you yearning for more.
For example, when you buy a new smartphone or a gaming console, the happiness you derive from seeing the device in the flesh and using it is a form of pleasure.
Once the novelty of the gadget wears off, it doesn’t provide the conceived pleasure anymore. When a brand-new version of the product releases, you feel the same happiness and joy again. But then it subsides once again after a few weeks or days. And the vicious cycle continues.
There is nothing wrong with pleasure or feeling the need to derive pleasure. In fact, it’s okay to have that wave of dopamine hit you every now and then. It’s just that you shouldn’t become addicted to it.
Because if you do, then you’ll become dependent on things or events outside of your locus of control. And if you get too dependent on pleasure, phases of no pleasure could stress you out.
What Is Fulfillment?
Fulfillment, on the other hand, is rooted within you. The sense of satisfaction it offers is long-term. It’s basically the fuzziness and warmth of pleasure that touches your soul. The feeling of fulfillment is not correlated to an event. Even if it is, the feeling will last much longer than the actual event.
Fulfillment is the feeling of having achieved something desired or expected. For instance, if you taught your grandkid the basics of playing tennis and that grandkid goes on to become a professional tennis player, no one can take away the fact that you were his/her first coach. That reality fulfills the grandfather in you.
Teachers are paid to work, and they derive joy and happiness from a pay hike or a work promotion. These periodic events offer them happiness and pleasure. However, when their students go on to succeed in their lives or professions, the “kick” they derive from that is called fulfillment.
Unlike pleasure, fulfillment doesn’t come by often or at regular intervals. There is quite a bit of process involved in finding fulfillment. There is effort involved and pretty much everyone working towards a goal would experience it at a certain point in their lives. Whenever the sense of fulfillment sets in, the euphoria experienced is multifold compared to the happiness derived from pleasure.
Ways to Find Fulfillment During Retirement
The road to finding fulfillment could be fairly long. However, if you do things you love or feel inclined toward, the destination may not feel too far-fetched.
The following are things you can do to find fulfillment during retirement:
- Taking up a vocation close to your heart
- Engaging with people and staying social
- Taking up new challenges or continually setting new goals
- Staying active and healthy
- Not harboring ill feelings for anyone
Let’s take a look at the aforementioned in a bit more detail.
Consider a Part-Time Vocation
Retiring from professional life doesn’t mean you need to stop working. There are many retirees who have tried out less strenuous or less mentally taxing vocations and made alternate careers out of them.
According to research, retirees who work in some capacity are usually in much better health, both physically and mentally, and report increased levels of satisfaction. Make sure the job is not full-time. Look for part-time opportunities or positions you could manage from home.
Most importantly, look for work opportunities that you would love to take up. Money shouldn’t be the driving force.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to stay alone or enjoy private time every now and again. But that shouldn’t become a habit.
Humans are designed to be “social creatures” and staying aloof all the time won’t help your cause, even if you are the most introverted person on the planet. Your mind and body require some form of interaction with fellow homo sapiens, even if you do not realize that.
Look out for some kind of community you could be a member of. Look for opportunities to bond with people who have thoughts and interests similar to yours. If you like to play a sport or are passionate about cooking or crafts, find individuals and/or groups that share similar passions.
You could be a part of a group that has morning coffee together or you could bond with people who you frequently meet in the park. As aforementioned, you need not be constantly surrounded by people. But having people around you who you could confide in or relate to would be nice.
If you have friends and family to fill in that role, then that’s even better. But make sure your circle is wide and encompasses more than just family or people that you’ve been friends with for ages.
Keep Learning and Exploring
Retirement is not the time you bring down the curtains on yourself. You may have hung up your boots, but that doesn’t mean you treat every day during retirement as a holiday. If there are certain things you couldn’t do during your working years due to time constraints or other restrictions, now is the time.
People who are least happy during their retirement are the ones who cannot disassociate themselves from their jobs or are just not willing to try something new. They might have instead chosen to permanently babysit their grandkids. These are people who spend most of their time catering to their kids and their grandchildren.
To spice up things, take up any new activity – such as volunteering, reading books on the regular, etc.
As a retired individual, it’s very easy to get out of bed and not do anything or not feel the inclination to do any real work. Retired life, for most retirees and people looking forward to retirement, tags along with it an indirect message that it’s okay to do nothing.
Unfortunately, it’s the rut most people fall into and later find it very difficult to come out of. Their mind gets conditioned to the notion of being idle or indefinite resting periods. If you want to do that, then that’s okay.
You are certainly not committing a crime by thinking of nothing or not planning to do anything at all. However, if you want to live a fulfilled life during retirement, inactivity or indefinite hibernation should be the last thing on your mind.
Kindly note, you may not be able to figure things to do right away. For instance, if you think cooking or painting is where your interest truly lies, there’s every possibility that you discover those are not your true callings once you try your hand at them. Perhaps, you are a natural teacher – something you had no clue about before. Therefore, keep trying and exploring new stuff.
As a retired individual, you have more than a decent amount of time on your hands. Therefore, you need not rush through things or push yourself to like something or excel at a particular thing. And if the thing you like to do doesn’t occupy you for a substantial period of time during the day, you can always discover new hobbies later to help fill up the day.
Exercise and Stay Active
Staying active and healthy is arguably the best way to live happily during retirement. This entails eating well and having a proper exercise schedule. If you were never really the “exercising kind,” you can start with walking. Walking could offer significant health benefits, including a boost in mental health. When you are physically fit, you are likely to be in good mental shape too. Walking is the easiest way to stay both physically and mentally healthy.
If you’re looking to incorporate more or actual exercises into your routine and/or feel the desire to build muscles, hire a fitness trainer. Get your doctor on board, too, particularly if you have certain health issues going on. Needless to say, take it slow.
Let Go of Anger and Hatred
Don’t take people or the things they do or say to you seriously, particularly actions and words that are potentially hurting. Learn to deal with issues as quickly as possible and get over them at the earliest. Do not hold on to negative thoughts or emotions since they could easily accumulate and turn into one huge baggage.
With the mental baggage, it could be quite difficult to live and enjoy your retirement period. Relieving yourself from the mental baggage you could be carrying from your past can be extremely cathartic and will make finding fulfillment in life a lot easier.
A Few Other Changes to Make to Adapt to Retired Life
Taking up a teaching role, mentoring people, constantly learning new things, etc. sounds great. But there are a few other things that you must do to stay happy and orderly as a retiree.
Create a Fresh Budget
After retirement, when you’re not earning as much as you did before retirement, saving money becomes paramount. Even if saving money comes pretty naturally to you, you might still have to make some adjustments in your personal finances after retirement. Ideally, you should create a spending plan that can last at least a couple of decades.
Ascertain what you would possibly need and not require during your post-career life. For instance, you would be spending considerably less on business clothing. However, you may have to add in fresh spending categories such as fees for membership in different organizations that you intend to register with.
Create a budget that sets aside a decent amount of funds for fun or entertainment. During the budgeting, you would realize how important getting a part-time job would be since you possibly cannot go on vacations every year on retirement money alone. When you balance your spending and savings, you would have spare money to spend on others or other activities such as taking your grandchildren to lunch every week.
If you’re not good at budgeting or have never made budget plans before, get a financial advisor to do it for you. A financial advisor would assess your situation and draft a financial plan accordingly.
Set Modest Goals
Before retirement, you may have had several small milestones to achieve or tasks to complete – such as finishing projects, making deadlines, getting a promotion, etc. These goals were the reason you kept moving. Make sure you keep yourself goal-oriented, even in retirement. The goals you set for yourself during retirement should be small and preferably different than what your goals were pre-retirement.
For instance, think about things you would like to achieve during your first month of retirement. Perhaps, you would like to lose a few pounds or gain some pounds in weight—set goals for the next few months or a year. Write them down so that you do not feel mentally taxed, having to remember them all.
Remember, your goals should be fun, achievable, and specific. If the goal is to read a particular number of books in the next week or two, write down the names of the book and their authors as that could help you stick to your goals.
Keep the Bond With Former Colleagues and Old Friends Intact
Having befriended a particular group of people you worked with for decades and the prospect of not seeing them again all of a sudden can be a pretty difficult pill to swallow. Therefore, stay in touch with your old friends and regularly meet them while fostering new relationships.
You could make meetings with your old friends a part of your routine. For instance, ask a friend to meet you every Monday for lunch. Another friend could tag along for a walk every Wednesday. And if you don’t plan to do much on Fridays, meet another friend for a coffee every Friday evening.
If you guys are family friends or you know each other’s spouses well, invite them over or head over to their place for dinner once a month. If there are not many people in your life to meet during the week, see it as an excuse to meet people and make new friends.
Living a fulfilled life in retirement is not about being busy. It’s not about spending time with grandkids, shopping, binge-watching Netflix, gardening, planning a summer cruise, etc. These activities, no doubt, keep you occupied and make you feel good. But they are short-term or not sustainable. You cannot watch movies on the trot or go shopping every other day. Also, you most likely do not live with your grandkids or get to see them every day.
Fulfillment is about feeling valued, respected, and able to contribute to others and yourself. When you are fulfilled, you don’t need external stimuli or do not want other people or things to entertain/engage you. Fulfillment is when you start to enjoy your own company. And one of the best ways to accomplish that is by learning new things and constantly wanting to expand on your knowledge and skills repository.
Retirement years should be viewed as an opportunity to do something new and not as a period of indefinite relaxation and inactivity. The key is to develop new goals and keep moving forward. Before retirement, you worked for a company or your business. During retirement, you should work on yourself.
- Next Avenue: The Big Problem New Retirees Run Into
- Thriveworks: Enjoy your retirement: 5 keys to finding fulfillment in late life
- Forbes: The Big Problem New Retirees Run Into
- Verywell Mind: 8 Tips for Adjusting to Retirement
- Senior Directory: How to Stay Happy and Fulfilled in Retirement
- Age Wave: The Five Stages of Retirement
- Investopedia: Journey Through the 6 Stages of Retirement
- BBC: Why retirement can be bad for your health
- Investopedia: Common Post-Retirement Risks You Should Know