How we spend time plays an important role in retirees’ emotional and psychological health, and how they feel about their retirement. When we retire, we move from the role of ‘producer’ to that of ‘non producer’. The resulting feeling of being unproductive can threaten one’s sense of purpose and self-worth. By having personally meaningful tasks, we get some of the benefits that were previously provided by our careers.
Now I know that sounds trite, almost stupidly simple – stay active and you’ll be happier. But there’s more to that idea than what would appear on the surface. Not all ways of being active contribute equally to one’s quality of life. First, as I alluded to, an activity must be personally meaningful to add something to one’s well-being. Certain activities are low-grade, meaning they’re non-engaging, such as housework and chores — not many people feel fulfilled from ranking leaves. Higher grade activities, such as those that are tied to your passions, are more psychologically beneficial — they can enhance how you feel about yourself.
For an activity to be worth anything, you have to look forward to doing it and be emotionally invested, not just use it to fill time. This is really key — you can’t spend your time in low-grade activities and expect to feel good about life.
Still, just putting your time to any old bunch of high grade activities might not be enough. There are different types of high grade activities, and they provide different kinds of benefits. For example, those that are simple yet fun work differently on your mental outlook than those that are more serious and have problem solving components.
Furthermore, some activities we do alone and some with others, and these also work differently. Solo activities can make you feel productive, but they lack a social component, so if that’s all you do, over time you’re likely to feel isolated and alone. Social activities such as sports or memberships in clubs, organizations, and informal networks strengthen your sense of connectedness to a group, again a benefit you used to get from your job.
I’m not done — there are different types of social activities. Those that are entertainment based, such as membership in a club, and those that are work based, either as a volunteer or a paid job. Both are a source of group membership and emotional support. However, work based social interactions also allow retirees to feel productive and useful. Entertainment based social activities, in contrast, may not deliver these benefits quite as well, but they do provide bonding to a group and are a source of enjoyment.
Finally, both social and solo activities have at least two classes — some require thinking and are sedentary, and others are physical. Again, physical and cognitive activities deliver very different benefits.
The point is, aim for balance and have different activities because they can produce different benefits. Your daily or weekly routine should include a mix of the social and solo, as well as the physical and mental. We all know that variety is the spice of life, but it’s actually a psychological necessity for the retiree.