Retirement? Or Engagement in Life

depressedDoris was 69 when she retired from her job as a secretary. (In those years the term ‘administrative assistant professional’ had not yet been invented.) An extremely gregarious person, she was sad to leave her colleagues, who had become friends. But now was her chance to be free to do as she pleased. She loved not having to be up at the crack of dawn and taking three buses in order to get to work!

Doris deserved retirement. She had worked in office jobs since she was 14, when she had to quit school to help support herself, her siblings and parents. With newspapers filling her worn-down shoes, it was necessary for everyone to work. Even this young, Doris directed school plays and was part of a family band, playing the violin and ukulele and singing. On weekends, the family troupe toured Regina staging concerts for the far-flung prairie audiences. They even played in jails for adoring inmates. But since those long-forgotten times, she rarely displayed her musical talents, except for performing at her children’s birthday parties.

Her retirement was initially a dream come true. For the first couple of months, Doris would remark how fantastic she felt. However, after the third month of this newly found bliss, Doris didn’t feel well. She could hardly get out of bed in the morning; clearly, she was depressed. After a physical check-up, her doctor told Doris that she was perfectly fine and referred her to a psychiatrist. She called the psychiatrist, made an appointment and recounted her tale to him; In somewhat of a stern voice, the doctor said, “Madam, you don’t need psychiatry, you need activity!”

Taking the doctor’s advice, and at the urging of her family members, Doris joined a seniors’ organization; within a month she was practically running the entire office. However, she saw a need in the organization for something more, and she became determined to fill it.

Doris founded a Variety Show, and before long a large group of sedentary senior citizens were singing, dancing, acting and playing instruments. She even obtained a government grant and was given a bus for touring. Doris’ Musical Variety Show traveled around Ontario giving shows for other seniors’ organizations. The group loved their new involvement; it gave them purpose and meaning, knowing that they left their audiences with feelings of joy and hope. Doris was even featured in newspapers and interviewed on TV.

At the age of 70, Doris was famous!

Retirement? We can’t retire from life. Human beings need to be engaged in life. Until the day we die, we’re learning and growing. Boredom is the worst form of stress; it’s insidious and creeps up on us – before we’re even aware of it, we start experiencing mental and physical health problems.

To be stress-free and enjoying life, humans need to be active and to be with other people. Research from the Harvard Nurses’ Study shows that those with friends, those who engage in social activities, interests, those who  join community organizations are the ones who experience better health and wellness. They live happier and they live longer as well. Find something of interest to you: perhaps working with a charitable foundation or a special project to help others, or even part-time, paid work. Whatever it is, engage in life again.

I urge you to dream large. Make your retirement a time of activity and joyfulness, filled with meaning and purpose. That in itself would be a magnificent legacy to leave for the next generation.