Retirement might not be as enjoyable as you expect

Enjoyable retirement

I recently appeared as a guest on The Australian newspaper’s Money Café podcast, where we discussed the FIRE moment. The acronym stands for Financially Independent, Retire Early, which involves living as frugally as possible, investing as much as possible so that you can afford to retire as soon as possible.

A listener that works in the mental health sector wrote into the show to say that she would actively discourage people from retiring early. Instead, perhaps work less, she suggested. She believed that working was beneficial to a person’s wellbeing and mental health.

A UK study from 2013 found that retirement increased the probability of suffering from clinic depression by circa 40% and a physical health conditions by 60%.

Retirement might not be as enjoyable as you expect

Imagine having the whole day to do whatever you want. No deadlines. No emails. No meetings. No obligations. Sounds appealing, right? The problem is that for many people, the retirement honeymoon wears off quickly. It is not uncommon for people to deal with a variety of feelings:

  • Loss of self-worth. For many of us, our occupation contributes a lot towards how we define ourselves and our self-worth. Once we have retired, we no longer see ourselves as “a lawyer, a surgeon, a CEO…”, which can lead to a loss of identity which is often connected to ones self-worth. 
  • Miss daily routine. The daily routine of travelling to work, meetings, deadlines and so on adds structure to our day. Without this structure, people can start to feel bored, aimless, and isolated.
  • Hobbies and interests aren’t enough. Hobbies and interests can be great pastimes whilst we are working, as they allow us time to relax and socialise. However, once we stop working, we might find we need activities that offer more than just relaxation.
  • Expectations are different to your spouses. If your spouse wants completely different things from retirement this could create conflict.

I think most people are underprepared for retirement.

There are two important needs that work satisfies  

Speaker and coach, Tony Robbins has adapted Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to derive 6 human needs to be fulfilled/happy being (1) certainty, (2) variety, (3) significance, (4) connection/love, (5) growth and (6) contribution.

The last two needs are often fulfilled by our occupation.


Growth refers to the desire to constantly improve and learn more. If you are constantly striving to learn more at work, expand your capability, do work you are proud of, strive for promotions and so on, then it’s likely growth is important to you. If so, you will need to consider how you will fulfil this need in retirement. That could include finding paid or unpaid employment you connect with, studying, taking up a new hobby, travelling the world and so on.


Contribution refers to a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others. As Tony Robbins says, living is giving. This need can be fulfilled by your occupation if you work for an organisation or business that pursues a cause that you identify with. If this describes you, you’ll need to consider how you will fill this need in retirement. Some solutions to this might include helping/looking after families and/or friends, volunteering or starting your own charity for a cause you are passionate about. How will you contribute in retirement?

And maybe ‘Connection’ too

Many, many years ago, I wrote a paper in my third year of university for my economics major about a Dutch professor, Geert Hofstede. One of Hofstede’s thesis was that people go to work for a social connection just as much as anything else. Therefore, unless you have an extensive and close friendship/family group you might find yourself feeling a bit isolated and lonely in retirement, particularly if your spouse is still working (or you don’t have one). Perhaps continuing to work in some capacity will satisfy your need to stay connected.  

Working part-time is incredibly good for wealth accumulation

Of course, an alternative to retirement is semi-retirement. This could consist of continuing with your existing occupation/employer but reducing the number of days that you work. Alternatively, you may be attracted to a new occupation – one that offers you more enjoyable work but less income.

Typically, there are 3 stages of a retirement strategy being (1) investment acquisition, (2) consolidation and (3) retirement.

The acquisition stage involves investing money in assets, including borrowing to invest in property and investing in shares and super.

The consolidation stage could involve the repayment of debt but mostly it’s more about allowing the investments enough time to benefit from compounding investment returns. Time is a critical ingredient for wealth accumulation.

Retirement involves living off your investment asset base.

The benefit of semi-retirement is that if you earn enough to pay for your living expenses, then you give your investment more time to benefit from compounding returns. The financial impact of this can be tremendously positive. For example, assuming someone has acquired enough investment assets by age 50, it is possible that they can afford to semi-retire as long as they don’t need to dip into their investments or earnings until age 60. Doing so allows their investment another decade to compound. Often this is better than working to age 55 and retiring completely.

What will you do to enjoy retirement?

I recall listening to a speech by a media personality who said when he told his wife he was going to retire, she responded by saying “I don’t care what you do in retirement, as long as you don’t do it at home”. It made me laugh but it does raise a good question; what are you going to do and where?

The point is to think carefully about what retirement looks like for you. Would you prefer to work as long as possible but just not full-time? Or do you have enough plans and goals to keep you fulfilled and therefore would like to retire in full as soon as possible?

Retirement planning involves more than just financial considerations.