Relishing Retirement: The Case in Favor of a Busy-Free Retirement

There are many good reasons for getting and staying busy in retirement, from: health to emotional well-being, to enjoying life on our own terms, or to increasing longevity. 

A “busy” retirement is a choice that many of us make. In fact, besides the evidence-based arguments for staying busy, or “active,” the peer pressure that eggs us on to “maximize” the time that’s left is hard to miss. That message can be both exhilarating and exhausting, which is why we may want to pause because there is a bigger question here: 

If “happiness” is what we seek in retirement, then how do we achieve it?

You already know there is no “one size fits all” formula, at any stage in life. Each of us has to find our own way to pursue happiness. During our working years, many of us fell for the idea that touting our busyness somehow made us special – until we realized it simply made us burned out. That hard won truth may explain why there is a growing chorus of folks – including me – who refuse to automatically buy into the “busy is better” approach. We’ve been there,  done that, and guess what? It didn’t translate into happiness or a balanced life. We’re not falling into that trap again in our retirement years. In fact, I’m so busy becoming unbusy that I was unaware of a Facebook page called “Becoming Unbusy” to support those who may be considering the slower, more renegade path.

The Pause that Refreshes and Clarifies

Life Coach Marcia Smalley doesn’t buy into the knee-jerk, “busy is better” retirement prescription. She writes that, “As tempting as it is to fill up our days, a truly happy retirement requires more than a full calendar of activities and appointments. It requires introspection, contemplation, and reflective thinking…and time to devote to those things.”

For someone like me, it’s an approach that puts “being” before “doing,” and I will eagerly embrace it. But since that’s not the case for everyone, here are a few tips – mostly gathered from or inspired by Coach Smalley, about taking that deep pause before forging ahead, full throttle, into “busy”:

Ask yourself a few questions 

We are not talking therapy here, just a few key inquiries such as:

  • What do I want to know more about?
  • When have I felt most alive? How can I feel that way now?
  • What would I love to learn? 
  • What do I still have to offer?

When I answer these questions for myself, I am back in the early 1990s, when the magazine Martha Stewart Living first hit the stands.  I was newly remarried, had a big old house, and a road warrior career. I squeezed a few precious weekend hours focused on the blissful elevation of domesticity, but there was so little time to learn and experiment. When I retire, I want to spend more time in that space.

Sit with the questions

Your insights and answers may not arrive immediately, but once the questions are planted in your consciousness, they will take root. Maybe you are driving down the road when, unprompted, you have a key insight that leads you forward. Or something may literally appear in your path that provides a clue. As in: one day while working on a client project, I caught the flutter of a bird’s wings outside my office window. Looking up, I realized it was a stunning European Starling. I sat and stared for a long while. And when it took off, I spent the next hour researching this beautiful creature. Learn more about birds was my insight.

Resist Peer Pressure to Race Ahead

You are in charge of this stage of your life. If not now, when? Smalley’s advice is perfect:

 “We don’t have to run toward a happy retirement. We’ve been racing for years…We can take one step forward at a time. Gather information. Make inquiries. Take a class, take our time. Let the information or the experience sink in…do what the spirit moves you to do, act on what’s truly calling you.”

When you take this “mindful” approach, you may just find that you are relatively “busy,” but on your terms, not anyone else’s!


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