Many of us have looked forward to retirement during those busy years of managing a career and bringing up a family.
The first few months may well be spent savoring the freedom of not having to get up at a certain time and manage the demands of a busy job.
However, the novelty of freedom can soon wear off, and we can be left feeling a little “flat.” If we’ve loved our jobs, then we’ll be missing a sense of purpose. If we’ve had children, they’ve probably left home so we have an empty nest.
We may also feel we’ve lost our identity and status when we retired. Our career created meaning and purpose in our lives… and now it has gone.
3 Pitfalls of Retirement
With time on our hands, we may find ourselves drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much and watching too much TV! This can lead to restlessness, dissatisfaction and even depression.
We are more at risk of health issues as we age, but if we have become sedentary and less active, then the risk is even greater. Increased stress and anxiety can also contribute to a variety of physical and mental health problems.
Even if our work colleagues were not our best friends, they did provide a built-in social network. That network has now vanished, which can be especially challenging for those who don’t have family or friends nearby.
If we are hit with one (or all) of these pitfalls, then we may feel a bit “flat” – as if we are in a void. As if we have fallen off a cliff and landed in a place without structure or purpose.
We may suffer from anhedonia which is the inability to enjoy everyday pleasures. That’s when sunsets, walking on the beach, meeting up with friends/family just don’t hit the happy spot. That’s when we start to worry that “retirement” may not be the golden period we were anticipating.
Why Anhedonia? The Neuroscience
Our brains are not wired to make us happy all the time – our brains are wired to motivate us to survive. They motivate us to take a step towards a goal and feel happy when we achieve it. Of course, that good feeling is transitory, and we’ll need to take another step to release it again.
Think of our ancestors who were wired to look for food and got a dopamine hit when they spotted an animal they could eat. They would bring the animal back to the cave and then light a fire to cook it and to keep themselves warm. They were always busy, and their life was full of purpose. The purpose being their daily fight for survival.
We no longer have to continually fight to survive but our brains are still wired in the same way as our ancestors’. Just as they had to go hunting to survive, we have to have something to aim for – a goal.
We need to find a passion, to set a goal and start working towards it. A passion which will alleviate boredom, keep us active and connect us with other people. A passion which will enable us to avoid the pitfalls of retirement.
How I Avoided the Retirement Void – A Personal Story
My retirement was complicated. I had been dependent on alcohol for many years. The structure of working and raising a family had (just about) kept it under control. If I was an alcoholic then, I was a high functioning one.
My worry was that during retirement my drinking would increase and that my bottle of wine a day could easily become two. I would have plenty of time on my hands to drink and to recover from hangovers.
I also knew that the health risks of alcohol were greater now that I was older.
You can read more about my 6 reasons to ditch the booze after 60.
The Alcohol Free Life
My first few months of sobriety were tough, very tough.
The benefits of quitting alcohol started to appear as promised. I lost weight, slept better, my skin looked great, eyes were clearer. I saved money, and I even learned to love mornings.
Yet in spite of all that good stuff, life felt rather flat. I seemed to have a lot of time on my hands – time I wasn’t quite sure what to do with.
I felt like I was facing a void.
I worried that this dull and miserable place was “sobriety” and was on the verge of drinking many times. If this was sobriety, then I wasn’t sure it was for me.
I decided to hang in there for a few months in the hope that the low would pass.
So I just kept going, day after day, but the low mood continued for at least three months. I tried to smile and use the “fake it till I make it” strategy. I agreed with my sober buddies that yes, sobriety was awesome whilst thinking, Really?
My Light Bulb Moment
Sitting with the void was hard but one day inspiration hit. I learned about liminal space and realised that I’d been in a transitional state. Since ditching the booze I had been on the threshold of a new kind of life.
That’s when the magic happened, and I had a light bulb moment.
I decided I would design and facilitate a workshop for people who wanted to quit drinking. After all, I had 25 years of corporate experience in training and development. That was the day that tribesober.com was born.
I began to feel alive again – my head was buzzing with ideas. I’d always loved learning new things and now I had to learn how to create a website and how to market the workshop. That was seven years ago and running and developing Tribe Sober means that I’m always setting new goals and working towards those goals.
A process which keeps my happy brain chemicals firing.
The knowledge that we are helping so many people to change their lives has also given me so much satisfaction and a real sense of purpose.
How to Stay Happy in Retirement
Recognise that your “happy brain chemicals” don’t just start working on their own – we have to do something to stimulate them. They motivate us to take a step towards a goal and to feel happy when we achieve it. Of course, that good feeling is transitory, and we’ll need to take another step to release it again.
The Key Is to Find a Passion
If your career has been all consuming, then you may have lost touch with what you really enjoy. Think back to your childhood – what did you spend your free time doing?
Be curious, try lots of things until you discover what lights you up. Here are 3 ideas to help your research:
Learn Something New
There are so many affordable online courses available these days. Check out Udemy.com for ideas. There is nothing like learning something new to release those happy brain chemicals.
What Do Other People Do?
If you go to meetup.com you’ll be amazed at the list of interests on there. No longer are “hobbies” confined to knitting and stamp collecting!
Join a Sobriety Group!
The “low risk” limit of alcohol for older people is just one drink a day. If you can’t stick to this limit, then retirement is an ideal time to get sober. Tribe Sober is an international community enabling people to thrive in their alcohol-free life.
Sixty and Me readers can claim a 20% discount on Annual Tribe Sober membership by using coupon code sixty.