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, and 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?
Of course you still have the option of sitting on the porch or watching the golf channel for hours on end. (you know who you are.) 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.
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, 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. Actually, in my research, I found that not necessarily true. Sometimes the most active Type A people in their work lives became sedentary, apathetic and emotionally distant in retirement. But like everything else in retirement, you have choices. 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. There are good reasons to have a plan and interests:
● 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?
● Retired people watch an average of forty three hours of TV a week (that’s more than a full time job!)
So now is the time to discover what kind of ‘play’ appeals to you. You could join a book group or a mah jong club, play scrabble at the local community center, become a docent at a museum or take up lawn bowling. Whatever you choose, make it playful and not competitive (well, okay, play can be competitive. But never serious!) Enjoy this time and try something new. It is time for fun.