4 Steps To Take Decades Before Retirement To Keep It From Getting Old

Shane Terry |

Pulling out of the driveway, my chatty rideshare driver volunteered that he retired a few years ago from the hotel that I had just checked out of.

“I just had to quit,” he said. Somewhat confused, I ask, “Quit what? Working at the hotel?”

Looking back at me in his rearview mirror, eyes twinkling, he responded briskly, “No, retirement! I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

While accelerating onto the highway, he explained, “It was becoming the same ole same ole. I just had to quit.”

You can certainly quit a job but you can also quit retirement, at least in the classic sense of retirement. Psychologists refer to what my driver describes as habituation, when people become accustomed to or no longer react to a situation or stimulus. In short, even retirement, like decades of work before it, can lose its excitement and become what my driver craftily refers to as the “same ole, same ole.”

In fact, after about a year, nearly 2 in 5 people retire from retirement, at least part time. It’s not that people are unhappy in retirement; it is just that they do not anticipate how much time there is in retirement. In my previous Forbes article , I argued that for people in relatively decent health, retirement life might be 8,000 or more days – a full one-third of adulthood. Moreover, the big and small things many believed would fill their retirement days either didn’t, or their routines became as tedious as the morning and evening commute they toiled for decades and came to loathe when working.

My driver could tell I was somewhere between baffled and amused. He volunteered why he went back to work. He shared, “I enjoyed my time away from work for a while but found that I fell into a boring routine. I missed talking to people, meeting new people, and having a reason to go out for other than buying groceries or going to the coffee shop to see the same faces every day.”

MassMutual recently released its 2024 Retirement Happiness Study , which reports the perceptions and self-reported behaviors of pre-retirees age 40-plus and people already in retirement. According to Matt DiGangi, Head of MassMutual Strategic Distributors Annuity Distribution,  MassMutual’s research on retirement happiness underscores the importance of managing expectations and preparing for retirement both financially and emotionally. The happiest retirees invest not just in their financial futures but also in their social circles, pastimes, passions, and physical health long before retirement.” MassMutual’s data indicate that 77% of pre-retirees believe they will feel happier on any given day in retirement compared to 67% of current retirees who say they are happier.

And what do people anticipate doing in retirement? What activities do they think will make them feel happier? Most (55%) pre-retirees do not see retirement as the end of work. Instead, 38% of pre-retirees view retirement as “shifting focus to a new type of work or fulfilling purpose,” while another 17% see retirement as simply “working less.”

The study findings further report that while many retirees had a plan or developed activities to keep them engaged, many were like my driver; they began to suffer from the “same ole, same ole.” When asked if they experienced more or less boredom, 38% of retirees reported being about as bored as anticipated, and another 16% discovered they were more bored than expected. Of those who returned to work, 83% did so as a choice, not a financial necessity.

The most revealing findings are what people think they will do in retirement versus what they report doing as retirees.

Travel is always a big and stated goal in retirement planning. A full 79% of pre-retirees said that travel was how they planned to spend their free time; instead, 55% of retirees actually reported traveling.

Likewise, 61% of pre-retirees said they will spend more time pursuing hobbies. Retirees are a little less excited about their hobbies in retirement; 52% report they are painting, gardening, and more.

Half (50%) of pre-retirees anticipate getting outside and exploring nature as a pastime; the data show that only a quarter (27%) of retirees actually seek out flora and fauna retirement.

Even volunteering drops from relatively high anticipation to modest participation. Of pre-retirees, 44% expect to volunteer, but only 22% of retirees report volunteering to fill their free time.

So, what are people doing in retirement? In fairness, more than half (56%) of pre-retirees say they plan to watch movies and television. Clearly, the entertainment and advertising industry sees ratings when they see retirees. A full 8 in 10, or 83% of retirees, report spending their free time watching movies and television.

A Longevity Planning Approach To Living In Retirement

Retirement planning is focused primarily on ensuring financial security. In contrast, longevity planning is about financial security and overall well-being – which demands a holistic approach to ensuring enough money and preparing for what to do with the vast wealth of free time found in retirement. Here are four steps to managing the chances of retirement years becoming the same ole, same ole. These steps should begin decades before when you believe your last day of work will be.

Collect Ideas

A decade or more before retirement, begin noting and discussing with your partner or significant other places and activities that spark your interest and curiosity or simply make you smile.

Curate Options

Years before retirement, translate inspirations collected over time into specific activities, places, and social groups you may wish to pursue. You can begin forging connections to grow your social circle and become familiar with organizations you find interesting for future part-time and even full-time work or volunteering.

Compare Plans

As retirement approaches, revisit and review your shared interests with your significant other and how they have evolved over the years. Compare your shared aspirations, expectations, and hesitations.

Confirm Alternatives

It's not easy but take retirement out for a test drive. Find time to volunteer, even work part time, or try out a gig job on weekends. If you are thinking you might move in retirement, use some of your banked-up vacation time to experience where you might live. Don’t choose a resort hotel but consider renting a home where you might live and do the daily, often boring, life tasks, for example, cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Identify and visit where you might meet new people. Participate in activities that may confirm or negate what you believe today will contribute to a happy retirement tomorrow.

I parted company with my driver at the airport. He smiled as he handed me my bag and said, “I think I will find another ride or two, go home, see what the missus is up to, and maybe go back to work for an hour. I work and do what I want on my time now. It’s better than being retired.”

By Joseph Coughlin, Senior Contributor

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