For many older adults, reaching retirement age signals an opportunity to slow down, pursue hobbies and interests, spend more time with family, perhaps travel, and generally reap the benefits of decades of hard work. But with greater longevity and health spans, when is the ideal age to retire? According to a prolific 78-year-old writer and neuroscientist – never.
Although we often complain about the demands of a regular job, many people find that after the bloom is off the retirement rose, they miss the sense of purpose and the social interaction of the workplace. After vast numbers of people left their jobs during the height of the pandemic, several years later, many older adults have “unretired”. Work may look different in the second or third act of life, however, and could include a part-time job, a volunteer position, or focus primarily on a passion project rather than a paycheck.
According to a recent Ted Science report, having too much free time can lead to unhappiness. Meaningful activities that provide purpose, social engagement, and stretch cognitive muscles are key to living one’s best life, especially among older adults. With so many businesses facing worker shortages, more employers are offering flexibility to accommodate older workers who don’t wish to retire.
Despite some progress in the work environment, there is still ageism at play in corporate culture, and about two-thirds of American workers say they have seen or directly experienced age discrimination. Older employees have much to offer their younger counterparts, and multigenerational teams have been shown to be more productive. The same holds true for recreational activities that include people of different ages and abilities. By creating more inclusivity in the workplace, and encouraging interaction and alliances between the generations, we all benefit from a greater understanding and appreciation for one another.
Even if paid work isn’t in the cards for older adults past retirement age, volunteering is an excellent vehicle to positively affect change in the greater community, and share knowledge and skills with others. Volunteers themselves benefit from a greater sense of accomplishment, purpose and even increased brain volume! Learning a new skill, or joining a book club can also help boost brain health, especially if the activity includes social engagement.
Read more about living longer and better by following this link to a recent book review of Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel J. Levitin. Or listen to Levitin’s Ted Talk here.