COLUMN: Michael Hand- Retirement is overrated

I WOKE up this morning to the sound of heavy rain and hailstones. It was a wet, windy Monday in April and I was delighted to be going to work.
I thought to myself how lucky am I that I am still working at 66 years of age, when most people my age are retired, because if I were to sit at home all day looking out at that weather, I would be miserable.
I could have driven to work but I chose not to. I put on wet gear and did the 20 minutes’ walk over the beautiful peace bridge in Derry, because it is good for my physical and mental health. I felt the benefit of that walk when I got into work, as Billy Connolly said: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothing.”
I have no thoughts of retiring as long as my health is good, although I have reduced my work to three days a week. I choose to work mainly for my mental well-being. It must be a family trait, I have an aunt who only recently retired as a postmistress at the age of 84. I believe that retirement is overrated and it could be very dangerous for your health if you have not put a good plan in place.
Recently I met a woman I know and she was in a bad mood. She told me that her husband was driving her crazy. He was a long-distance lorry driver and had just retired. She told me that he spent most of the day watching westerns on the television. She had got used to her own way of going when he was working and she was now struggling to adapt to him sitting there looking miserable in front of the TV watching cowboys.
In my work as a mental health practitioner, I come across quite a number of men who are struggling to adjust to retirement and end up depressed. Women appear to manage it better because they are better at connecting and have a great ability to find jobs to do, even if they may be jobs that don’t need doing! Men struggle because often their whole identity was defined by their job. Work gave a structure to their day, it was their main way of interacting with others and it gave them a sense of purpose. If you don’t replace those essential ingredients when you retire it’s a recipe for depression.
Whenever I am in the company of retired people, the question is invariably asked: “How are you enjoying retirement?” The answer is always: “I love it; I am so busy that I don’t know how I had time to work.” If that is an honest answer then they are very lucky. However, I am suspicious that in some cases they don’t really believe it and are trying to convince themselves. Because I come across many people who are bored, sad and lonely in retirement with no sense of purpose, just trying to pass the day.
I would encourage people to get a plan in place before you retire as to what you are going to replace work with. There are certain ingredients that are crucial for good mental health. We need to have a sense of purpose, and it is crucial to find something that satisfies this, like voluntary work or community activity or caring for grandchildren. It is crucial to have interests, hobbies and activities that we look forward to. There is a great range of activities out there and it is important to put in the work and find something that floats your boat, be that golf or playing the ukulele. As humans, we need to connect with others, and we need to find ways of connecting with others on a regular basis. This does not come naturally to men, yet they need it as much as women do. One super idea that works well for men is the Men’s Shed. It’s a concept that came from Australia and works on the principle that men connect better side by side, rather than face to face. At the Men’s Shed, they find useful tasks that men can do together and in the process connect and nourish their mental health.
Whenever retirement was first introduced, the average age that people lived after they retired was five years. Nowadays we can live 30 years after we retire so we need to plan for it in the same way as we planned for our working career. When we do plan well it has the potential to be a wonderful stage on life’s journey. I would strongly recommend gradually reducing your workdays as you get older rather than suddenly stopping altogether which is a huge adjustment and if you enjoy your work and have the health to do it, don’t feel pressured to retire just because you reach a certain age. Clint Eastwood is still making movies in his 90s because clearly, he loves what he does!


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