Many people tend to view retiring as though they’re looking at a spreadsheet of finances. They do the math equation of how much money do you have, when do you want to retire, and how much money you’ll need for that, and the answer is to save as much as you need each year to have that amount when you get to the projected retirement age. And then once that question is answered, the goal is ultimately to simply never work again, forever.
Popular culture and the zeitgeist treats retirement as a time for reinvention or rebirth, a time to pursue all your hobbies, travel goals, spend time with family, and enjoy a life well lived. But one question that almost everyone seems to ask people who are either preparing to retire or are already retired is “What are you going to do to fill the time in your life that you once spent working?”
One option that doesn’t seem to enter into most people’s minds when this question comes up is the possibility that you could actually just keep working. Many retirees are living longer, healthier lives, and for many people it is more practical to continue working past the traditional age of retirement. And an upside is that continuing to work can benefit your mental and physical health, as well as improving your financial situation and allowing more flexibility.
While retirement is traditionally seen as the end goal for spending your adult life working, the fact is that it’s actually okay not to retire. In fact, roughly 20% of Americans aged 65 or older are either actively working, or currently seeking work. Having a job can help you to keep your time structured, and there are many health benefits to following a routine. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that, compared to people who were retired, adults over the age of 65 who were working were about three times more likely to report being in good health, and about half as likely to have serious health problems, such as cancer or heart disease. This makes sense, as even desk jobs will have some level of physical activity. Physical activity greatly reduces your risk of experiencing a fall, or suffering other health issues.
The attitude of thinking about retirement as an entirely new life can be overwhelming. It may be helpful to, instead of framing retirement as a complete reinvention, think of it more as a course adjustment to the current life path you are on. Your experiences throughout your life shape you into the person you are today, and that’s a great foundation to build upon.
Apart from the extra income, many people feel that work is something that gives our lives shape and purpose. Work can foster the feeling that we’re contributing to our families and our communities. The sense of belonging and social inclusion can help to stave off depression and improve overall mental health. Workplaces also offer regular interaction with others, and social interactions and casual conversations are excellent for keeping our brains engaged and alert, which can help to ward off developing dementia disorders.