When planning for retirement, begin planning methods to have enjoyable
Whether or not you are already retired, you probably know two types of retirees. Some of them have never had so much fun. They embrace the freedom of their last years with both hands. Their days are so full of meaningful activities that they joke, “I don’t know how I ever had time to work”. Others, on the other hand, hang up their work clothes on a Friday and then seem to encounter the remaining years of their lives like a blank sheet of paper. What’s next, you seem to be asking? What should I do with all this time?
I always remember the scene in Godfather II where Hyman Roth, the aging gangster who still plans to kill people and make even more millions, spends his afternoon alone in front of the TV while his wife makes him a sandwich .
What can we do to make sure we fall into the first category – that our golden years are as rich and full as possible, and not an empty desert of daytime television? It’s not just about being busy; It’s about making sure that when we retire we get the most out of the free time we have and deserve.
After all, many of us have 20, 30 or even more years of free time after we finally handed over our company phone.
For some answers, I spoke to Catherine Price this week, the author of the forthcoming book The Power of Fun. Price, an established science writer and former writer of How To Break Up With Your Phone, investigated surprisingly tricky questions of what is really “fun” and how we can get more of it. That included not just diving into the scientific research on the subject – there is less than you’d hope – but also recruiting a “fun squad” of 1,500 volunteers around the world to find out what makes them really, really happy power.
What did she find and how can it help us?
In short: if we want to have a lot of fun for a lifetime, especially in retirement, we must not leave it to chance or hope for the best. We need to think carefully, plan, and take steps to achieve it.
“One of the biggest things people need to think about is that leisure isn’t going to be inherently enjoyable,” she says. “There’s ‘work’ to be done … Watching Netflix 6 hours a day for the rest of your life may be entertaining, but it won’t give meaning to your life.”
And thanks to technology, she warns, our hours are increasingly filled with “fake fun” – from hours of watching TV to hours of scrolling through “social media”. “Real fun,” she argues, is different. Their research leads them to believe that there are three things we experience when we are having the most fun.
The first is play: we do something for its own sake, be it play or music, mountain hiking, skiing or whatever. The second is “connection”; Even introverts told Price that the times they had the most fun were usually when they were connecting with others. And the third is called “flow”, which means that you are so occupied that you lose time.
Fun is not frivolous either. There is tremendous scientific evidence that happiness and wellbeing are also linked to better health and longer lives. Have more fun in retirement and we will likely stay healthier and live longer.
Price described real fun as activities that are both fun and stimulating. The kind of thing that makes you jump out of bed in the morning to get in.
So how do we do this for ourselves? It’s a three step process.
The first step, Price argues, is figuring out when we’ve had the most fun in our own lives. After all, each of us is unique. “Real fun,” she says, “is an emotional experience, not an activity.” She encourages us to think about our lives – going back to childhood if necessary to identify the moments when we had the most fun where we felt most alive and engaged and where we laughed the most. She also suggests keeping a notebook or journal for a couple of weeks, jotting down moments that involve those magical elements of game, connection, or flow.
In the second step, it is worked out what these events have in common and what topics arise. What are our “fun magnets” and “fun factors”, as she calls them? What are the activities, people, and surroundings that we usually enjoy the most? Do they include physical activities such as exercise? Creativity? Music? Common group experiences? Do we have the most fun in large or small groups? Playing chess with a friend in a café or going to a big concert? Everyone is different.
And the third step, of course, is to take steps to use these discoveries to make our lives more fun.
Price uses the acronym SPARK for this. Make room for fun – both physical and calendar space. Pursue passions, activities, and hobbies. Attract fun through fun actions and a fun mindset. Rebel against the rules, habits and conventions that hold us back. Finally, stay tuned – persistence is a key factor for success in pretty much anything.
Conclusion: If we want to have fun in retirement, we can’t leave it to chance.