We all look forward to retirement as a rewarding and pleasurable time of our lives. But there are going to be occasions when the reality does not measure up to the dream. Here’s what to watch out for, and what to do about it.
You get bored. Many new retirees experience a honeymoon period when they travel, move to a dream retirement home or just relax and enjoy all the free time. But the newness of retirement eventually wears off, and then you may have lots of time on your hands with nothing much to do. Remember that people are usually happiest when they’re engaged in activities they consider important and that give them a sense of accomplishment. You can enliven your retirement by finding and developing new interests, such as a sport, hobby, volunteer job or caring for your grandchildren, and building a schedule around what has become important to you.
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You’re busy, but not satisfied. Retirees often go through a period when they feel like they’re drifting, and all the days and weeks feel the same. Remember that retirement is not exactly a vacation. You still have to perform routine activities like cooking meals, paying the bills and bringing the car in for repairs. You can minimize these tasks by simplifying your life, including moving to a smaller, newer house, downsizing your possessions and cutting back on extraneous activities. After that, part of your budget can go toward some personal pampering, such as eating out more often, hiring a cleaning service or outsourcing chores you don’t like, so you spend less time taking care of business and more time doing what you want.
You don’t know what to say when asked, “What do you do?” Many people were defined by their job. They identified themselves as a teacher, lawyer, firefighter or homemaker. New retirees are often at a loss when people ask what they do. Some people even feel embarrassed to admit they’re retired. But remember, retirement doesn’t mean not working. It means working at something you enjoy, whether it’s playing golf or tennis, volunteering at a school or library or playing bridge or backgammon. Being retired doesn’t mean you have to sit around and do nothing. Whatever it is you’re doing, that’s what you tell people when they ask what you do.
You end up running errands for everyone. Your friends and family know you’re retired. And since you have “all that extra time,” they start asking you to do favors for them. You babysit, run errands and make the arrangements for family gatherings. Many retirees want to help out and don’t mind pitching in. But sometimes you have to set limits, especially if you feel people are taking advantage of the situation. You didn’t retire just to take care of other people’s problems.
Getting lonely. You won’t see your old work friends every day, and you no longer have much in common with them anyway. Perhaps other friends are still working or have moved away. Most people feel happier when they are part of a community and have a network of supportive friends and family. So be open to new experiences, meet new people and gravitate toward those who share interests and common values. Many retirees find compatible people at church or through a social organization. Beyond that, it’s important to break out of your social bubble and accept those who have different backgrounds and beliefs. The vigorous discussions you might find in a book group or adult education class might bring you an unlikely but valuable friend.
Gaining weight. Some retirees, especially those who worked physically active jobs, might add on weight after they retire. It’s easy for retirees to sit around the house, perilously close to the refrigerator, and spend too much time lying on the couch reading or watching TV. To avoid this problem, make a point of spending some of your extra time shopping for fresh foods and preparing healthy meals. Also, staying active is key, whether you take up a sport, enroll at a fitness club or join a walking group.
Stuck in a rut. If you retired to play more golf, but then after a couple of years find you’re getting tired of the game, then give yourself permission to change things up. Retirement does not have a single job description. To stay interested in life, you sometimes have to change your focus, interests and activities. You don’t want to become an old curmudgeon, always believing things were better in the good old days. Chances are the good old days were not better, especially if you’ve now expanded your life to include some new ideas, friends and points of view. Remember to leave room to be thankful for what you already have.
Tom Sightings is the author of “You Only Retire Once” and blogs at Sightings at 60.
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