As the son of a baby boomer, retirement has been a regular topic of conversation at my family gatherings recently. Everyone seems to have their own utopic vision of what it will be like when they no longer have to go to work…..except my father. Despite the fact that he had been financially able to retire for several years, he continued to go to a job he didn’t particularly like every day.

Finally one day I got him to admit why. He said “once you retire there’s nothing left to do but die.”  His view of retirement had been shaped by many he saw in his own life that, shortly after retiring, fell into a state of loneliness, poor health and depression and he didn’t want the same thing to happen to him. That’s why I think we must change the idea of what retirement is supposed to look like. Our culture pounds into us a portrait of retirement that is unrealistic and unrewarding. Sure, leisure activities like fishing and golf are enjoyable but, let’s be honest, there are only so many rounds of golf you can play and only so many fish you can catch.  If you have nothing more substantial than vacation planned when you retire, studies have shown your overall health and happiness will soon decrease.

I do not believe God made us to be idle creatures. Proverbs states “The soul of the sluggard craves, yet has nothing, but he that is diligent will be fully satisfied.” I believe the satisfaction described is more than just material satisfaction. I believe that our souls are fed when we are productive.

That’s why, when people visit our office to get help in planning for their retirement, their financial readiness is only a part of the overall conversation. Our goal for our clients is to get them to a place in life where work becomes optional. We believe this “work optional” status should be the goal for everyone currently thinking about retirement. In your later years, work should not be something you have to do, but instead something you want to do. For some, this can mean decreasing their hours to part-time in their current career. For others, it can mean changing jobs or doing volunteer work in an area they’re passionate about. Studies have shown the result of doing any of these will be a greater sense of meaning in life compared to those who simply leave their job.

The impact of continuing to be productive extends beyond just a greater feeling of self-worth.  It can actually make you live a longer and healthier life. Physical inactivity, which can sometimes be the bi-product of retirement, is the fourth leading cause of premature death. Having a job often forces us to get our bodies moving.  Working also helps keep our minds sharp and has been shown to prevent cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia. And if that wasn’t enough, working improves mental health. By staying socially connected to people though a job, depression is greatly reduced.

This past spring my dad did finally retire, but I’m happy to report he hasn’t slowed down one bit. He has simply replaced one set of responsibilities with another. Whereas his workplace used to be behind a desk, his workplace is now an empty church building that he is helping to remodel. And I bet if you were to ask him, being retired is a lot of hard work.

Luke Davis