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Creative retirement

It may seem idylic to think of retiring and sitting and watching the world go by for some, but for most people it is not a good way to go.

Scores of people spend their working days dreaming of the moment they are eligible for retirement. They may have retirement counted down to the minutes and seconds, particularly if they've been in a job that hasn't been the most enjoyable.

Unfortunately many people find that once they retire they do not know what to do to fill their time. Boredom actually may be a side effect of retirement, and some people actually want to go back to work.

Others just seem to wither away. Some also seem to die much too early.

Much of the focus when planning for retirement concerns finances. All other factors take a backseat. Therefore, there may be emotional issues that arise during retirement, and retirees are not always prepared to deal with such issues. Having a post-retirement plan in place can mean the difference between happiness and having a hard time adjusting. The truth is that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don't know what you're going to do to make yourself happy, it's not going to matter.

Not that long ago, planning for a long retirement wasn't a pertinent problem because the chances were a person wouldn't live to see much time after a life of working before death. Age meant a different thing then. For instance in 1900, total American life expectancy was 47 (42 for men). By 1940 people expected to die in their mid-60s. And for those that did reach retirement, often a life of hard physical labor meant worn out bodies that didn't fit well with an active lifestyle. Sitting in the rocking chair on the porch was literally was all many could do.

Today life expectancy in the United States at birth is nearly 77, and it continues to go up. People also stay healthy longer not only because of healthier lifestyles, but because of advancements in medicine and wellness care.

Some studies show that disabilities in people over 65 declined 15 percent between 1982 to 1994. Many in the know say that if you haven't had a lot of pressing health issues by the time you're 50, you should plan, financially and actively, to live into your 90s.

That's one good reason to put thought into what you will do in retirement. Depending on when one retires it may last 20 or 30 years. Maybe 40 if you retire in your 50s, although studies in the last few years show those who retire earlier than 60 have a higher and younger rate of death than those who continue to work into their 60s.

A study by Shell Oil in 2005 showed that the death rate for workers from the company who retired at 55 was 37 percent higher than for those who kept working until 65. Those that retired after 60 showed no difference than those that retired at 65. In addition, it didn't matter what job the person did at the company, nor their socio-economic status, the results were pretty much the same. Shell followed retired workers for as long as 26 years to make the study. Other similar studies have shown like results.

But what do these early deaths have to do with creative retirement? No one can be sure, but it seems if the mind and body get too relaxed, or have little to stimulate either, things can end much earlier than for people that are active in their life.

In the book Successful Aging, the authors (John Rowe and Robert Kahn) say that a person's mental and physical health as they age isn't as dependent on how long other family members lived or the fact that some people end up with "good genes."

Actually it appears that long lives comes down to choices, lifestyle choices. Those choices include diet, exercise, self imposed mental stimulation, close personal relationships (both in friends and family) and going after an active life style.

It can also relate back to the work a person has done their entire life. Those that start self-employed businesses at any age, and who have been used to working in a social atmosphere with others will tell you one thing: they miss the human relationships and interaction they had while working with others. Any satisfaction one can get from work is enhanced by the social aspects of work as well.

Retirees realize this same thing if they isolate themselves. Those long relationships at work, the ones where you shot the bull around the water cooler or ate lunch together each day are valuable all through your life, not just in the working years. Think of the retired guys and gals who meet as a group each morning for coffee at a local restaurant. Human relationships are important.

Depending on when you plan on retiring thought and planning need to go into what one will do after retirement. You can call it a "to do" list or even a "bucket list" if you want, but one needs to be created.

Everyone knows someone who has retired who plans on just playing golf or fishing all the time. But often you run into those same people a couple of years later and they say they are still doing that but something seems incomplete. It wasn't long ago that the ideal retirement was often thought of as just a time of leisure. Today gerontologists say that model has been replaced by a productive retirement model. Keeping busy is not just enough - people want meaning from their golden years.

More and retirees are volunteering, or they're using retirement to launch a second career or start a business. Some continue to work part time in the business they knew so well, adding their years of expertise to the resources of an enterprise.

Retirement is also a time to rekindle interests that have been put aside because work time pushed those endeavors back. Taking time to learn to paint, to woodwork, to do research on subjects you have had a lifelong interest in, to learn to play a sport you never got to participate in, etc. can all be a plus.

For instance, a program called "Bumps for Boomers" recently came into being at some of the Colorado ski resorts. There they teach lessons on skiing for retired people, some as old as in their 70s. People who always wanted to learn to ski, but didn't have the time or weren't close enough to go to a resort regularly, now can do it if their health is good.

That's just one small example of what can be realized.

New research that has been done emphasizes the importance of meaningful retirement to both the mental and physical health of retired people. Here are some ideas to follow.

- Establish goals about what you plan to do. After working for years, the idea of setting goals can seem counterintuitive. Afterall that is what you may have been having to do year after year in the business you worked in. But goals can give life direction and have you looking forward to things in the future. Goals also motivate retirees to get up in the morning now that a commute to work isn't part of the daily schedule.

- Donate time to worthy causes. Giving back to others, whether to the community or to a charitable organization, can feel good and give retirees some structure. Volunteering your time at a place can give life some sort of purpose outside of a job.

- Start a home-based business. Just because you retire doesn't mean you have to fully retire. Now may be the opportunity to start a business venture you have always dreamed about, whether that is something hands-on or just serving as a consultant.

- Try new things. Part of goal-setting is to add things to the list you've never done before, which can boost feelings of excitement. You may discover a new interest that becomes a passion. Now that you have time to explore new hobbies, they might prove more rewarding.

- Meet with people. Part of what makes work fulfilling is the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with others who are not members of your family. It's easy to fall into a rut when you are not being mentally stimulated by conversation from different people. And mix it up. Don't just have meaningful conversations with people your own age; look to younger people who are willing to engage in conversation too. New, fresh, young ideas never hurt anyone.

- Plan, plan, plan. Think about when you plan to retire and about five years before begin to make the list of what you want to do. And remember that list is not set in concrete; crossed out ideas can be good because each of us evolve as time goes on. And remember, nothing is too silly to dream about doing when you plan to do it properly.

- Finally realize it's alright not to love retirement. So many people find that when retirement comes, it isn't what they thought it would be. Some have a hard time eating crow about that even if it is just admitting it to themselves. Just because the grass seemed greener in someone else's yard, doesn't mean it always turns out to be that way. It is okay to accept that maybe retirement isn't entirely what you expected and to make changes that can enable the experience to be better.

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