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Study: How Novelty Spices Up Retirement

 

When "Mr. A" retired from a demanding legal career 10 years ago, his wife was still working. He decided it was his turn now to do the cooking.

He bought a copy of Gourmet Magazine and tried several of the recipes. It was a mess. He started watching cooking shows on TV. He took some cooking classes, collected recipes, and very gradually started learning how to cook. "I guess I’ve gotten pretty good," he said recently.

Mr. A was one of 20 retirees participating in a recent study. The study revealed that novel activities spice up retirement and increase life satisfaction. Participants were recruited from a Learning in Retirement program in the southeastern United States. Retirees ranged in age from 57 to 78 years and had been retired for six months to 12 years.

According to Galit Nimrod (University of Haifa) and Douglas Kleiber (University of Georgia, U.S.A), 19 out of 20 participants added at least one brand new activity after they retired. New activities included: volunteering; learning activities, such as classes, lectures and computer use; creative activities, such as writing and painting; and social and physical activities.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development (Vol. 65, (1), 2007).

Novelty as a new "turn-on"

The push to try something novel is motivated by both internal and external factors, according to researchers. Internal triggers include the need for stimulation, search for meaning or just wanting to help others. External triggers include health-related issues, money or "keeping up with the Joneses."

The authors found participants pursued novel activities for different reasons. Some retirees used new activities to reinvent themselves and others to preserve their existing sense of self.

Reinventing the self

When "Mr. E" retired from a managerial career, he dreaded becoming unproductive: "I just don’t want to stop work, and kind of say, ‘Now what do I do?’" he said.

Mr. E developed a two-year plan, which involved moving to a house that he and his wife owned in another part of the country. He renovated the house, sold it for profit and moved back to his preferred home.

"Ms. M" retired and lost her husband in the same year. She signed up for a host of activities, including volunteering for several organizations, beginning a Spanish class and founding an investment club.

But later, she realized she had to stop and confront her own needs. "You know, I have found that they were all things that he (my husband) liked to do, and I liked to do them with him," she said. "And that’s been the adjustment since he’s gone is, what do I like to do?"

Preserving the self

"Ms. Y", a former professor with a mood disorder, planned to write her autobiography after she retired. It was not a way to reinvent herself, but as a way to sustain her present identity.

As Ms. Y explained:

My goal is to write my autobiography . . . the journals will help me describe the 27 years I experienced recurrent manic episodes in the absence of depression . . . and the journals themselves are important. . . . I feel they provide a unique way to study bipolar disorder . . . it’s my goal to document what I have, and to leave something so that, if someone wants to look at it, then its there.

Likewise, "Mr. H", a retired banker, accepted a fraternity advisory job at his old alma mater because the new role provided a challenge. But more importantly, it gave him an opportunity to boost fraternities – a social institution he had valued highly since his student days.

Using novelty to spice up retirement

According to researchers, 50 per cent of participants reported greater satisfaction with life after retirement than before. Seven out of 20 participants reported no change, and three said they were unsure. None reported lower life satisfaction.

Participants offered several reasons for their current happiness, including:

relief from work
independence
general circumstances
companionship
activities
meaning

But, according to researchers, it seems people do not just enjoy the fact that they are doing something new. The most significant role of innovation is in creating the opportunity for a more challenging and meaningful life. As "Mr. L" put it, "Life after
retirement, to me, was a lot more meaningful than it was before. I mean, we thought we were doing useful important stuff, but it was still a lot of routine junk."