You have no doubt seen the dozens of newspaper and magazine articles over the past years decrying our over-programmed children…too many sports and after school lessons, too much self improvement, not enough time to Play. Well, guess what. Too many retirees are finding themselves in the same boat…over scheduled and actually stressed about their leisure. Is this what they mean by a second childhood?
An editor I met told me: “I am one of those people who wonder how I ever found the time to work. I am so busy with projects and classes and the chorus I joined. I raised five kids and all I ever wanted to do while at work was to be back at home doing all the things I finally have the time to do.”
Of course you still have the option of sitting on the porch or watching the golf channel for hours on end (Should we be more surprised that such a twenty four hour channel exists or that it actually has viewers?). But society (and Business…because retirees have money to spend) thinks you should be on an archeological dig, studying Sanskrit, doing Pilates and learning to tango. Disengagement is no longer considered healthy. Now you are supposed to be Super Retired as long as you physically can…and mentally active forever. It is no longer enough to put your working life behind you—now you must find the equivalent in some kind of Meaningful Play.
So is there a middle ground between the high-impact schedule and sitting on the porch in your rocker? Happily, yes. According to Geoff Godbey, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, “At the end of your life, what you’ve done with your leisure may be more important than what you’ve done at work.” This doesn’t mean you have to become an ultra-marathoner or embark on 100- mile bike trips every week if that’s not your style. Godbey believes your leisure is important because it is one of the areas of your life where you have the freedom to choose.
“Retirement grew out of industrialization,” said Professor Godbey. “The average worker needed the physical rest and diversion. On the other hand, we can suffer from leisure burnout. If we don’t know how to use this gift of time, it can make us stupid.” Godbey believes you should not measure your leisure by its usefulness or value to others because that’s making it like work. However, he thinks leisure is best when it is challenging, like learning about the different plants in your garden, taking piano lessons and playing new music, forcing yourself to socialize with people, or traveling to China after you have studied the culture.
According to the latest research, the kind of person you were all your life…sedentary, active, planner, risk taker … is the kind of retiree you will be. ( Frankly, I don’t believe this research. I have seen too many formerly sedentary folks become a different person once they retire.) So if you were active before, you will most likely continue to be active in retirement. On the negative side, if you were a workaholic, you might become one of those over-programmed retirees. Ideally, your playtime should fit your needs, and you have the choice to change those needs when something unexpected comes up. Otherwise you may find yourself being dragged along when your best friend insists you go bungee jumping with her. The key to successful playtime is that you are the one in control, not a boss, not a client, not a timesheet. The problem is often other people. They ask you what you are doing and you feel compelled to say how busy you are, because we are a culture that values productivity.
It isn’t necessary to fill every day…after all, you might want to be available for that bungee jumping…but days and weeks of open time can prove just as intimidating as a calendar filled with meetings and appointments. Consider these facts:
● Retired people watch an average of forty three hours of TV a week (that’s more than a full time job!)
● People who are mentally and socially engaged are happier and live longer
● Second and third careers are often born out of interests that began as hobbies
● Retirement is a great time to take risks. Failure is possible, but so what?
When planning your retirement, be sure to include playtime as a major part of your day. It should be fun, social, non-stressful and of your own choosing, but be sure to play.