The way we find meaning and purpose in life is often deeply connected to what we do for a living. So what happens when we stop doing whatever it is we do? In western cultures the convention is that retirement happens when you reach a certain age, largely defined and changed by the prevailing government.
So – even if it’s far off for you – have you thought about the best time to retire? When you are fed up with working so hard? When you feel out of place in the workplace? When you can’t seem to function like you used to, and just want to sit in the garden and relax?
Specialists like psychologists and neuroscientists are challenging this convention, saying that in fact the best time to retire is - never. Laura Carstensen argues that we arrange our careers entirely wrongly for the rhythm of our lives, by forcing people to cram together their most productive professional years and the raising of small children, then leaving people with too little to do in their later years.
Other cultures do not share our concept of retirement. The Japanese, world leaders in the art of the long and happy life, do not even have an equivalent for our word ‘retire’. Why, they ask, would you suddenly stop doing what you are good at, leaving yourself short of purpose and meaning in your life? (A response of ‘because I hate my job’ begs the question ‘so why have you chosen to spend your time doing something you hate?’. But that’s for another day).
For the Japanese it is usual to have a second and third source of income and activity, so that when one of them completes, you continue with the others. Thus people carry on doing the things they love, creating beauty, building community, helping others… into their 80s, 90s, and even well into their 100s, because it would not occur to them to stop.
They are also inspired by the concept of ikigai (life’s purpose, or raison d'être), expressing the idea that our unique talent is our reason for being here and for getting up in the morning.
A Moodscope member.