The Third Third

Wasting Time in Retirement

It can be difficult to focus clearly on a study about “leisure in retirement” when said “leisure” can sometimes seem the source of one’s angst and anxiety about the state of the world and, in particular, politics today.  That is to say, it can be very hard to accept that you are actually, truly, really retired, that your hand is no longer on any rudder and that you are totally not in control.  It can seem a bit of a fool’s errand to “Go outside and play” while Rome burns.  Or even to spend the time and energy thinking about it.  And yet, apparently, people have been thinking about how retirees spend their leisure time while I’ve been thinking about how frustratingly impotent and invisible I feel in this election cycle.  They are probably much more fun to be with.

The study, Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List, produced by Age Wave  for Merrill Lynch analyzes how individuals and couples in retirement spend their newfound leisure time (they call it “time affluence”) and how they say they want to spend their time. They cite the following:

  •  Retirees will spend nearly $180 billion in 2016 on leisure travel (Time=Money?)
  •  Over the next 20 years, that number will surge to an estimated $4.6 trillion
  •  Years 3 to 15 in retirement see peaks in freedom, fun, emotional well-being, and choice
  •  In this 12-year (see above) “freedom zone,” healthy, active retirees seek new activities, peak experiences, deeper connections with family and friends, travel, learning, and volunteering.

Duh.  And, ka-ching. ka-ching.  Merrill Lynch and Age Wave have simply defined a new and growing market for investors and entrepreneurs who might be able to capitalize on these trends in this demographic boom (or boon, if you’re in the “peak adventure” travel industry).
This is all fine with me.  I’m happy to work on my pitiful golf game and to plan a trip rich in history and art, even biking or hiking,  as soon as I feel safe flying again, and I adore the time I get to spend with grandchildren.  There’s great comfort, too, in knowing I’m not alone in making this transition to retirement; the entire baby-boomer cohort is with me, and many share both the challenges of “adjusting,” and my desire for meaningful engagement and deep connected relationships.
But this is the kind of study that defines, indeed ghettoizes,  retirement in old, tired ways. For decades, the marketplace has been drooling over our longevity, plotting how to get its hands on the vast economic resources we’ve accumulated over the years, especially since there are so many of us. (Buy an RV! Take a cruise! Move into a Senior Village!) I so wish more time and energy had been spent thinking about how to capitalize on our human potential instead.  The person I am, the purpose and meaning I cultivate, the thoughts and ideas I have,  they’re not retired. That work continues.  And endures.  And, yes, fuels my angst and anxiety.  But that’s OK.

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