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Designing an Ideal Retirement: Leisure (Podcast Episode 6) Thumbnail

Designing an Ideal Retirement: Leisure (Podcast Episode 6)

This blog accompanies Episode 6 of The Retirement Oasis Podcast. To listen to the podcast, you can visit your favorite podcast platform (Apple, Stitcher, Podbean, etc.) or go here: 

In our previous two episodes, we discussed how retirement today is different from our grandparents’ retirement and how we have an ideal opportunity to design an ideal retirement. This retirement era for us can be an amazing period in our life.  In Episode 3, we discussed some keys to finding fulfillment in retirement and how having the right mindset is the key to finding fulfillment. 

We also mentioned that there are three domains of well-being in retirement, including Finances, Health, and Inner Well-Being or Fulfillment. You need to have a solid foundation on your finances and health before you can maximize your fulfillment in retirement. 

We then provided an overview of the Inner Well-Being or Fulfillment aspect of retirement. Again, the retirement stage can be an amazing period in our life because of our increased health span in retirement and our increased financial resources compared to previous generations. Our generation, whether it is Baby Boomers or Gen X, have the opportunity to find fulfillment that was perhaps missing during our younger years. 

As a reminder, retirement is not about withdrawing as it may have once meant, but rather it is about using the time and money to experience freedom and pursuits that are now more available. In today’s episode and for the next three episodes, we are going to discuss four areas in retirement that can lead to a fulfilling retirement. While there are many ways to categorize our activities in retirement, we will discuss the approach adopted by retirement guru Mitch Anthony and formulated by social entrepreneur and retirement commentator Mark Freedman. They laid out the areas or domains in retirement according to the following classification: Play or Leisure, Connecting, Renewal, and Work.[1] (Anthony, 2008)   The idea is that a proper balance should be struck, but it does not have to be evenly balanced. Your focus in any one area will be unique to you, and can be said to comprise your “retirement DNA”.[2]

A Fulfilled Retirement – and a Fulfilling Today

Although we will be using the framework from these four categories in discussing retirement activities today, I wanted to bring back the notion that we referenced in earlier blogs and episodes that fulfillment is made up of three elements, according to Martin Seligman, a psychologist. He said the elements are pleasure, engagement, and meaning. So, as we discuss these four domains of retirement, consider how one or a combination of Seligman’s elements are found in those activities.

Not only can multiple elements be found in the categories of activities, but specific activities in retirement can arguably be found within those four domains. Of course, when we live our lives, we are not thinking about what categories or domains activities belong to – nevertheless, we will explore the activities in this manner.

Before we go on, it is worth mentioning that by considering what an ideal retirement is before you retire will likely not only lead to a more fulfilling life in retirement, but will hopefully help you re-evaluate how you are living today. It is a matter of striking the balance of living for today versus tomorrow and by focusing on living an intentional life in the future will, perhaps, allow you to take a step back and evaluate your life satisfaction today. Many of you are already taking that approach today, but I know for many of us life happened, it got busy, and perhaps we drifted from being proactive about life to being more reactive.

Also, it’s important to note that beginning to think about what a fulfilled life looks like in retirement may have two additional benefits. First, you can look more fondly about the future and make your remaining working years perhaps more meaningful. Second, you can begin to experiment with some of these activities in your working years. This will perhaps allow you to have a better sense of what your ideal retirement may look like once retirement arrives.

Play and Leisure in Retirement

So, let us turn to the one of the domains of retirement – Play or Leisure. This is often what we think of when we think of retirement. While this can mean different things, Play or Leisure is generally those activities that we do for the sheer pleasure of it, whether it is golfing or sitting on the beach.[3]  Retirement commentator, professor, and author Dr. Mike Bellah wrote that the play we should look for is the type of play that we sought as a child – it should primarily be fun and could even perhaps be spontaneous.[4]

You don’t want to get too carried away with Play, however. As we talked about in an earlier episode, the traditional view of retirement primarily focused on rest and leisure. We also mentioned that a total life of leisure may lead to decay.  It is said that those who are most unsuccessful at retirement go from binging on work to binging on leisure.[5]  Yes, we do indeed need much more than leisure to live a fulfilled life.  Most retirees now realize that as it is said that about less than 1/3 adhere to the traditional view of retirement and focus merely on relax and leisure.         

Nevertheless, many retirees may frontload leisure in the early years. Some commentators call this the honeymoon stage where there is more play and less work or self-development. It often is more intense travel in the early years, and that is ok. In those early years, you may not quite experience the law of diminishing returns in the leisure, and such frontloading of leisure may help you get across that retirement target date with more energy.

Going back to the positives of play, there are indeed benefits. There is strong evidence that play leads to several health benefits – or a “well of refreshment”[6] -- so it should indeed be an important part of retirement.   Psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and author Dr. Stuart Brown, in his book Play: How It Shapes The Brain, Opens The Imagination, And Invigorates The Soul, said that play can lead to what is called neoteny, and this in turn allows people to be open to change and remain curious. (His study was actually on Labradors.)  The title of his book alone -- where he says play shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul – convinces me that play should be part of my retirement. 

Play often leads to laughter, and there is ample evidence that laughter is good for our health. It is said that laughter can boost immunity, minimizes risk of heart disease, relieves stress, strengthens resilience, and perhaps can even burn off calories.[7] Thus, participating in play -- especially with others that bring out laughter – can have significant benefits.

Brown and many others say that it is important to live in the present – that is how you maximize your happiness. I know that it is trendy to talk about living in the present, but there is so much truth to it.

I think those moments of happiness created by play can also help us get through perhaps more difficult times or mundane times in our lives.  If we are going through a difficult season for our health or we may be in the thick of an intense volunteer project that we may be struggling with for whatever reason, remembering that great golf course that we played – or perhaps even that hole in one – can bring energy and hope to us in that moment when we need it.  So, even though we say that pleasure from certain play activities may generally be all about the moment, they can still have long-term benefits.

Play and Leisure: What are your drivers?  

Obviously, we are going to want to pursue activities that are of interest to us and we are somewhat passionate about. One of way of looking at what we find fulfilling is by looking at our drivers. Traditionally, career consultants try to match up your drivers and strengths to an ideal career. However, focusing on your drivers should not end at retirement. Drivers are said to be our personal motivators or what make us tick and are the key to satisfaction.[8] Our drivers could influence not only our activities in retirement but how we engage in those activities. 

In their book Don’t Retire, REWIRE!, career counselors and authors Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners lay out several drivers including accomplishment, belonging, creativity, friendship, prestige, recognition, and value, among many other. Somewhat similar is the concept of strengths. Many of you may be familiar with Clifton’s Strengthsfinders  - such approach attempts to explain what one naturally does best using 32 themes.   I’m interested to learn more about Strengthsfinders concept in retirement, but there is no doubt that the way we are wired impact what we like doing and how we like doing it – even in retirement.

Play: Be Spontaneous

While a lot of your play or leisure time will be planned and well thought out, there is something to be said to doing fun things spontaneously.  By being willing to be spontaneous will open up the door of opportunity to do fun things you might not have otherwise considered.  This is the ultimate of living life in the moment.   There’s something energizing in one’s normal day-to-day affairs if they live in a way that they are open to having fun at any moment.

While some structure and planning is definitely good in retirement, you will want to create some freedom in your schedule to be spontaneous.  

Play: Blend work and leisure. 

If you are lucky enough and you happen to be one that wants to continue to work in some form during retirement, perhaps you can blend leisure with work. Perhaps you take on a business development role and golfing is all of a sudden part of your work life, or you have to visit other cities as part of your new career and you combine personal travel with this.  Being more flexible with your career in semi-retirement opens up the possibilities for blending the two.

Play. Workaholics beware.

Workaholics and those intensely focused on achievement in their careers may struggle with the concept of leisure and even retirement. While many espouse the many benefits of work and some researchers even suggest that workaholics may be better off continuing to work full time in their 70s and 80s, retirement commentator Zelinski has a different take. He said that it is time that we rid ourselves of this concept of moral virtues of hard work. As we retire, we must get rid of this work ethic and replace it with an enjoyment ethic. He said that he has seen many retiree’s work ethic prevent them from truly enjoying retirement. That initially appears to be a bit harsh, but I can absolutely understand what he is saying. We will later review the benefits of work, but there is certainly a tension between spending time at work versus leisure. We will see, and I think most of you will agree, that it should not be an either-or proposition.

Play: Travel in Retirement

Travel is a special category within leisure, and this is often the number one thing that retirees look forward to. Planning out travel is critical because it can be costly and time-consuming.  While we have an upcoming episode on travel and will cover this quite a bit in our podcast, we want to touch on a few observations about travel in retirement.

It’s important to understand why we travel as this can influence the extent of your travel and the manner of your travel. Travel can serve many purposes, including providing a sense of adventure and exploration. It can also be a great learning experience as you can learn different cultures, history, and perhaps even languages. It can be done to relax and rejuvenate (which is perhaps the traditional view of a vacation). Travel can allow you to meet new people and can expand your horizons and view of the world.

As we look at the reasons for travel, we see that it is more than just leisure. It can serve to connect us to others and even be part of renewal. It’s no wonder that travel is often at the top of retirees list.

Travel in Retirement - Planning is Key.

Planning out your goals for travel early in retirement – or, ideally, well in advance of retirement - -will be important for both financial and non-financial reasons.

While the non-financial issues in retirement should get a lot of attention, we cannot ignore the financial part of our goals and desired activities in retirement. Travel, at times, can require a good amount of resources. You can either start with what your ideal travel looks like and budget from there, or if you have a set budget you can back into what travel is possible based on your finances.  Of course, one can still see quite a bit of the U.S. and perhaps the world on a budget, but some international trips can obviously cost quite a bit. By thinking about this ahead of time can impact your decision about when to retire and/or how much to annually save for retirement.

Travel while healthy.

Another consideration for travel is obviously to consider the time period in which you can be active to travel.  While our health spans continue to improve with improved diet, health care, and focus on exercise, the fact is that we will all slow down and likely won’t be able to travel as much. As we approach our 60s, each decade sees a significant drop-off in percentage of individuals that are quite healthy. Both the type of travel could change and the amount of travel could change. But, age itself should not be a restriction on travel. We all probably know many of those in their late 80s that may still be driving RVs while others may be incapable of traveling on their own in their 70s. The fact is that we don’t know how our health will limit our travel so seize the day while you can.

Of course, as you do that and you are still working, you may realize that there may not be enough years to see all that you want to see. Perhaps that will encourage you to accelerate some of those travel plans during your working years.

Travel can be quite different in retirement. 

There are many aspects of travel that are different in retirement, and it is important to consider those as you play out how travel plays a role. With these considerations, perhaps it takes on a different role than you originally thought. Some of the differences of travel in retirement are as follows:

  • More time and flexibility. As we plan our travel goals in retirement, it is important to realize that travel can be quite different in retirement. The biggest difference is that we likely have more time and flexibility when we travel. That can lead to many different opportunities to see the world. The flexibility may not only be about time, but also about who you travel with.
  • Moving may be an alternative. As you explore travel and discuss the reasons for traveling, you might discover that you would be better off moving to another part of the country or outside the U.S.  While we can explore the concept of moving in future blogs and podcast episodes, if you have a sense of adventure and the stars align, moving in retirement may be ideal for you.

 Travel - Creating a bucket list.

I’m a huge fan of planning out travel over the long-term and creating a bucket list of where you want to travel. By creating a list, you will not only have a greater chance of seeing your targeted places, but you will likely be able to create better logistics in seeing those sites. If, for example, you wanted to visit Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, by considering this ahead of time will allow you to visit those locations in one trip, if that makes sense in your situation.

Creating a bucket list will also help provide inspiration and provide a sense of adventure even years ahead of that travel. As they say, a large majority of the enjoyment of travel is to plan for it, creating a long-term bucket list can be satisfying in itself. We will have many more blogs and episodes about the nuances of travel so let’s turn to another aspect of play, or hobbies.

Play: Hobbies in Retirement

Hobbies are another aspect of leisure that can be very rewarding in retirement. Hobbies are generally activities that you do regularly in your leisure time, and the ideas are almost endless. I like to categorize them as physical or recreation, self-development, or creative.

Some hobbies may be done for the sheer pleasure while others may have components of renewal if they stimulate the mind, body, or soul. (We will discuss this concept of renewal in retirement later in this blog.) Ideally not only will hobbies be fun, but you will be so engaged in them that you lose track of time.

Hobbies on the creative side.  While there can be hobbies that are physical or for self-development, I wanted to explore those hobbies that are in the creative realm. Applying your creative self – even if you don’t consider yourself of an artist of any kind – is important to grow and develop in retirement. Many suggests that we were born to be creative. Zelinksi made a profound statement that I had not heard before: “In everyone, there is a creative person. Wanting to break out and make a difference in this world.”[9]   Zelinksi recommends having one creative project going on at all times. While you don’t have to pursue this every day, it is there and available should you have the desire to do so.  

To help you consider your options, creative hobbies can be broken down into sub-categories, including arts & crafts, reading and writing, and music, theater, and dance, among others. Some more specific creative pursuit examples are writing a book or poetry, painting, sculpting, learning a musical instrument, or playing in a band.

Remember why you are pursing your creative side – it is not to become famous, to make money, or feel productive. Rather, it is to for the wonder and enjoyment of the creating. It’s not for the finished product – although that can lead to satisfaction – it is for the process of creating.

This reminds me of the Christopher Cross song in the early ‘80s, Sailing.[10]  Not only do I like that song as a metaphor for retirement, he has a phrase in the song that says “the canvas is a miracle”. While I like that metaphor of beginning with a blank slate with you as the artist can lead to all sorts of possibilities in your life, Cross meant for those words to be applied literally. Pursing creative activities can truly impact the mind and soul significantly.

How do you select your hobbies?

You may select your hobbies from activities you are currently doing or there may be lifelong passions that you have had but have not had time to pursue due to work and family obligations.  As you reflect on what hobbies that have made you happy, you can think about why they made you happy? Who was involved with this? Where was it done?  What kind of emotions did it illicit? What strengths or skills did you use?

It’s also important to determine who you might be doing the hobbies with. If you are married, is your spouse involved?  Do you need friends to do the hobbies with?  Or, are some hobbies done by your own, and is your spouse ok with this?   A lot of this may depend on how much alone time you need (as an introvert) and the degree to which you need to be in a group. Regardless, hobbies can be part of the “Connectivity” domain as you can make further connections with friends and family if you do involve them in your hobbies.

Try hobbies before you retire.

There is some research out there saying that if you don’t establish hobbies before you retire that you will have a lot more difficult time to participate in hobbies in retirement. Your identity may be so wrapped up in your career that you cannot accept the idea of spending time with hobbies. So, our best advice is to begin to develop hobbies well in advance of retirement. Not only will this have added benefits during your working years, it may also give you more to look forward to in retirement. Furthermore, you will be able to hit the ground running in retirement and perhaps be more focused on the hobbies that you truly like. Finding hobbies that you like may require experimentation so the sooner you start to experiment the sooner you can narrow down those hobbies that give you pleasure and engagement.

Do your planned hobbies require a move for retirement?  

As you explore your hobbies and what you want to do and who you want to do it with, this may shed light on whether you need to make a change in scenery in retirement.  If you want to pursue blues music with a passion, perhaps looking for a city with a blues scene is what the doctor ordered. If you want to sail the oceans often, perhaps moving out of Indiana would help you pursue your number one hobby a bit more. (Of course, rarely does the hobby decision alone control where you want to retire.)

Can some hobbies make you money in retirement?

 Some of you may need a little extra money to pursue your interests in retirement, but many of you don’t. Regardless, perhaps hobbies can generate a little additional income. While we will cover pursing a second career or alternative work in retirement in future episodes, making money from hobbies is the best of both worlds. Some hobbies where you can make money might include teaching how to play a musical instrument or a second language. Many of our clients are looking forward to doing woodworking. While it is a competitive field, you might be able to make a little extra money while enjoying using your gifts to something that you love. Other money-generating hobbies might include antique-collecting, photography, cooking and catering, writing and blogging. At some point, I might like to blog about my travel and golf experiences – if I can get paid for it (and deduct some legitimate business expenses), then that is icing on the cake.

Wrap-Up: Leisure in Retirement

We have covered a lot about what a fulfilling retirement may entail. The aspect of Leisure in retirement is certainly a big part of retirement. Arguably, it is the traditional concept of retirement, but it should not be the only one. There is the risk of focusing too much on Leisure because it may not give us that deeper meaning that we need in our lives.  Nevertheless, Leisure activities should be a big part of our retirement.  Finding Leisure activities that can provide pleasure, engagement, and perhaps meaning can help you live a fulfilled life in retirement.  Leisure might consider relaxing activities but it may also more specifically include travel and hobbies.  There are a lot of options and considerations here in designing the ideal retirement for you. In future episodes, we will look at the other domains of well-being in retirement, including Connecting, Renewal, and Work.

[1] From a more academic perspective, author Michael Frisch defined 16 areas of life that composed our well-being. They include the following: health, self-esteem, goals/values, money, work, play, learning, creativity, helping, love, friends, children, relatives, home, neighbors, community. (Frisch, M. (2005). Quality of Life Therapy: Applying a Life Satisfaction Approach to Positive Psychology and Cognitive Therapy. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 8-9). 

[2] Retirement guru and author Ernie Zelinski said that obtaining personal fulfillment in retirement rests on four fundamentals: 1) find out who you truly are and be that person, 2) pursue activities that have a personal interest and creative elements, 3) make optional use of your leisure time, and 4) maintain physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. (Zelinksi, E. (2015). How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. This Press, p. 36).

[3] Gerontology expert, pastor and retirement guru Dr. Richard Johnson includes six categories of leisure. Although we place some of the categories into our other categories of retirement, I like Johnson’s categorization. They include the following: social interaction, spectator appreciation, creative expression, mental stimulation, physical exercise, and solitary relaxation. (Johnson, R. P. (1999). Creating a Successful Retirement Finding Peace and Purpose. Ligouri Publications, , pp. 73-74).

[4] Bellah, M. (2019). The Best is Yet to Be. Best Years Press, p. 53.

[5] Anthony, M. (2008). The New Retirementality. Fourth Edition. Wiley, p. 131.

[6] Johnson, R. P. (1999). Creating a Successful Retirement Finding Peace and Purpose. Ligouri Publications, p. 74.

[7] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm. https://reporter.newsarchive.vumc.org/index.html?ID=4030.

[8] Sedlar, J., & Miners, R. (1993). Don't Retire, REWIRE! Harper Collins, p. 51.

[9] Indeed, according to Zelinski, Pablo Picasso said that “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” (Zelinksi, 2015, p. 66). 

[10] For the YouTube video and perhaps a bit of nostalgia, visit the Christopher Cross "Sailing" video on YouTube..