Here is an article I found interesting regarding retirement and the age-old bucket-list. This article is written from the perspective of a therapist. It considers a different viewpoint of how one can achieve fulfillment and happiness in their retirement.
It’s Time to Rethink the Bucket-List Retirement
by Dr. Marc Agronin
For many seniors, the bucket list has become the ultimate celebration of aging. Healthier, heartier and richer than generations of retirees before them, they’re spending their golden years chasing once-in-a-lifetime adventures—sky diving from 13,000 feet, hiking the Great Wall of China, swimming with sharks or skiing the Andes. For them, it’s the chance to do things they put off for years while working and caring for family, and to make the most of the moments they have remaining.
What’s not to love about a life of dream vacations and big thrills? Unfortunately, quite a bit.
As a therapist, I’ve talked to numerous seniors as both patients and colleagues. Rather than feeling exhilarated by a life of bucket-list adventures, they often end up feeling depressed and disconnected.
As they travel the world to soak up experiences, too many seniors inevitably lose track of what really matters—their connections to family, friends and community. They feel like strangers in their own homes. Eventually, the bucket list becomes something of an addiction: The high from an adventure doesn’t last, so seniors find themselves piling on experiences to keep the thrills coming, further alienating them from real life back home.
The explorer comes home
There’s a way out of this trap. Retirees should think about using all of the advantages that make a bucket list possible, such as wealth and vigor, to build something much deeper and more meaningful. Instead of taking a dream vacation to chase fleeting thrills, they should use their time to create something more lasting instead—whether that means building bonds with family or their community or reimagining travel adventures as an opportunity to share experiences and wisdom with grandchildren.
All of this can be seen in the tale of a patient of mine, whom I’ll call Dora to protect her identity.
She and her husband spent several months and considerable treasure each year after retirement traveling to a bucket list of exotic locales, but found themselves feeling increasingly alienated from family and friends who did not share in their adventures. Their children complained that they seemed more interested in spending time with itinerant acquaintances than with their grandchildren. Several friends became reticent to invite them on weekend outings, fearing that any such plans paled in comparison with their many adventures.
Dora and her husband began to see life between trips as boring interludes. They were world travelers untethered from any deeply satisfying social, civic or spiritual connections and responsibilities.
During her first appointment, Dora regaled me with stories of her travels but also described symptoms of depression. She saw these trips as both thrilling and empowering triumphs over her aging self, as escapes from her fears and perceived failures.
But in time, she also began to see her bucket list as an antidote devoid of any enduring communion with family or friends. It didn’t give her any roles as a guide or mentor that had been so satisfying earlier in life. She felt like a spectator to the lives and locales of others, collecting hundreds of photos that were destined to sit unseen in the myriad flash drives she brought home.
The solution? She and her husband all but gave up the bucket-list approach. They are now spending more time with family and friends, and feel much happier and more connected.
It is easy to see, of course, the powerful forces that make the bucket list so enticing these days. Along with longer lifespans and more cash to spend, retirees have more freedom from day-to-day obligations, now that so many family members live at a great distance from each other. The world has also gotten flatter and the Internet has made arranging travel easier, making it possible to live out fantasies that would have been almost unthinkable 20 to 30 years ago. Besides, the experiences can, of course, be extraordinary.
But chasing bucket-list thrills ignores a deep psychological truth: You don’t need to make yourself happy in old age. We get happier naturally as we grow older.
Several key surveys, including the U.S. General Social Survey and the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, have found that well-being starts out quite high in early adulthood, reaches a nadir in midlife and then increases to a peak in our later years. The increased happiness doesn’t come through doing but simply through being. It is the natural result of lower expectations and ambition, less emotional volatility, increased gratitude and acceptance and enhanced problem-solving skills.
In fact, the need for a bucket list goes against our deepest instincts as we age. Older brains are less influenced by novelty-seeking and more by conscientiousness; they are less impetuous and more emotionally stable. They are somewhat slower in data processing but more experienced and careful and less ideological.
What’s more, in living out one’s later years as a series of memorable and momentous adventures, people are making a choice to focus on what one can do instead of what one can be. And that leads to isolation and depression, as with my patient Dora.
So what’s the alternative? In some sense, having a bucket list isn’t in theory such a bad thing. The key is what’s on that bucket list.
Retirees, for instance, should ask themselves a series of questions when planning an activity: What is my mission? Is it simply to have fun? To spend time with a partner? To learn about history or a geographic location?
The answers will show the depth and meaning of the activity within one’s life, and predict its impact on others. Some of our dearest pursuits bring the most meaning and joy because they are done for others. Being mindful of our motives and our legacy enables us to see ourselves as part of a bigger picture that extends beyond our own lifetime.
Very often, thinking this way leads people to give up notions of traveling the world to seek adventure. Instead, they tap their strengths and become mentors and role models—whether as volunteers, community leaders or care givers. Though these roles are sometimes discounted as conventional, staid pathways, they offer meaning and excitement that adventure travel doesn’t.
I regularly hear this perspective from the older volunteers at the nursing home where I work: Their days are filled with life-affirming, gut-satisfying deeds.
Becoming more involved with family is another option. Forget the one-time swim with dolphins or sharks and instead spend time teaching a grandchild to swim or fish. These activities require considerable investment in time, energy and emotion. But they offer a way to forge life-sustaining connections and inspiration in an era when there are no longer many multi-generational households and most of our elders are increasingly segregated into their own communities.
Or consider taking bucket-list adventures, but imbue them with purpose. Instead of embarking on a trip to Antarctica, for example, why not a family excursion to a destination that will engage children and grandchildren and teach them about their history and heritage?
Vigorous and vital
This approach is embodied by my retired neighbors who take each of their three grandchildren on their own annual outing based on shared research, selection and preparation. As a result, these children are growing up with a vision of later life as vigorous and vital, not to mention all the personal time spent with their grandparents.
Then there’s a patient who had aspirations for a bucket-list trip to Europe, but felt he could not easily bring along his wife, since she had memory problems and was more than he could care for alone on a trip. Instead, he planned a family pilgrimage to his ancestral home in Spain that included his wife, children and grandchildren—all of whom got a view into their own rich cultural heritage and learned a lifelong lesson about the importance of caring for a loved one with a disability.
Are such trips as exciting as zip-lining in the rain forest, as a three-month sailing trip to nowhere? Superficially, no. But look a little deeper and I have no doubt that people who take a trip to Spain with children and grandchildren, or volunteer at a local community center, are much more content, much happier, than the passive voyeurs who whiz by, thrilled with the speed and all the photos, but sadly missing the bigger picture.
Dr. Agronin is a geriatric psychiatrist at Miami Jewish Health Systems in Miami and the author of “How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agronin, Marc E. “It’s Time to Rethink the Bucket-List Retirement”, Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2016, Web, 21 Oct 16. www.wsj.com/articles/its-time-to-rethink-the-bucket-list-retirement-1458525877