The Paradox of Leisure in Retirement

The Paradox of Leisure – A retirement that totally consists of leisure must be a good thing, right?

Psychologist Barry La Valley highlights an important perspective on this myth:

“We like our holidays and weekends when we are working, therefore imagine if that were now your life. Consider the paradox of leisure: we like leisure because it is a break from work. If you had leisure seven days a week for thirty years, where is your break?”

Yet the biggest surprise that we see time and again in working with retirees is that part of what makes leisurely pursuits so enjoyable is their contrast to and break from the rest of our obligations and ongoing pursuits.

In other words, leisure is a nice thing to enjoy as a break from work, but that doesn’t mean it is equally enjoyable when it is all there is.

It can be far less pleasurable, even outright boring, when it is the only thing we have to look forward to, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for what may literally be decades of retirement.

Notably, this doesn’t mean the only choice has to be the current job you dislike and want to get away from, or a life of too much leisure that leads to boredom.

The balancing point is one of work that is done for purpose and for meaning.

For those who have reached retirement, the decision about work goes through an important transition that is often ignored.

Upon reaching a financial position where it is no longer necessary to earn income from work, you have the freedom to choose any job you want, based not on what you need to earn, but simply based on whatever you want to do.

Such a path could include a so-called “encore career,” starting a new business, going back to school, taking on a volunteer position for charity, or simply revising a current job for part-time work that focuses on the tasks you enjoy and avoids the ones that you don’t.

And while income may not be “necessary,” even a modest amount of cash flow can have the ancillary benefit of helping to shore up an unlucky sequence of mediocre returns early in retirement as well.

At the end of the day it isn’t a good idea to think of retirement as the end of work.

Think of it instead as a moment of “financial independence” where for the first time, you can have the freedom to choose whatever “work” you want to do, regardless of the income it provides, simply based on whatever brings meaning and purpose and fulfillment. (And if it happens to include a little income, too, that doesn’t hurt).

If you could be engaged in any kind of work you wanted, regardless of the income, what would you do in your “retirement”.