Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 546 – What now?

Hi, this is Del Lowery with the 546 th episode of Retirement Talk. This is a revisited performance of the second episode ever aired entitled "What Now". I have  made  some changes that might better clarify and illustrate the topic. "What Now" of course relates to retiring and what comes after that. Some of us have big dreams.

I knew a guy in Alaska who retired and set off to sail around the world. He had a new boat made in Norway. He flew there to pick it up and sailed south and east. He didn’t get far; the Caribbean. He got attacked by pirates. I’m not kidding: gun to his head and everything. He felt lucky; lucky they didn’t kill him. They everything they could move off his boat but let him and his partner live. He sailed into the nearest port; sold his boat and flew home. He decided to do  something else in retirement.

A friend of a friend of mine took off on a similar trip only to capsize in the South Pacific. I mean upside down; locked in the cabin with his daughter and fiancee. Just imagine that moment: You’re battling a storm; flip upside-down, inside a boat, in the middle of the ocean. The boat righted itself. He turned around and sailed home. I don’t want to mock the idea of sailing around the world.. I’m sure some people do it successfully. I just don’t know any.

The world is big; the choices are endless. How can you choose the path that will bring you the greatest satisfaction or happiness? Sailing isn't for everyone.

So once the big decision has been made and you have decided to retire now what? What we are looking for is some sense of happiness in whatever we might pursue. I don't think many of us would argue with that. It might lay in the form of golf, reading, writing, gardening, volunteering, traveling or just living at the moment. I don't think any of us want to be unhappy.

Years ago I came across some happiness advice that has never failed me. It made sense, it worked for me and I loved the name of the originator, Baruch de Espinosa: or, Spinoza. Spinoza lived in Holland in the 1600s. His family had been kicked out of Spain in 1492 at the beginning of the inquisition. This is when Ferdinand and Isabel married, uniting Spain into one big country. (Columbus wasn't the only story that year.) They gave all the Jews a choice: either give up their religion and become a Catholic, leave, or get burned at the stake. The de Espinosa family moved to Portugal and then to Holland; smart move.

Spinoza was a brilliant guy; too brilliant for some. He eventually got excommunicated from the Jewish religion and died at age 43. Once, on a trip to Europe, I found the synagogue from where he supposedly got excommunicated in Amsterdam. I asked the young kid with keys to the synagogue if he knew about Spinoza. He feigned ignorance. “No I never heard of him,” he said. I thought he was lying. He seemed to be a very bright kid; maybe 16 or 17 years old. His eyes told me he knew about Spinoza. Then I remembered Spinoza had been kicked out of the religion, excommunicated. His name had been erased from the record. He was to never be read, spoken of, or named again – forever. Maybe the kid was telling the truth.

Well, when it came to happiness, Spinoza claimed that we all desired it ,but don’t really know what it is and thus find it difficult to attain. He claimed that every time we pursue something and think it will bring us happiness we are disappointed once we achieve it, or “capture the flag”. Once we get to our goal and receive the applause, the money, the big house, or the large screen HDTV we find ourselves discontent in short order. Many times we crushed the following day. The happiness we thought would be ours is not. We feel let down, disappointed: “Now what”?

Our problem lies in defining, or thinking of happiness, as a solid state; or as a position or place. It isn’t. Spinoza claimed that happiness really is a transitory stat. It isn’t in having a better garden than we now have, but it is in the act of creating, or moving towards, having a better garden. Happiness lies in making the transition; moving to a greater state of perfection.

What does all this mean for someone who is retiring – or really, just anyone?

We need to understand this. We need to internalize it. Where do we wish to go? Movement towards what? And then what? And then what? We need  direction. We need an understanding and acceptance of the nature of happiness.

In the next episode we will continue to consider Spinoza's idea concerning the nature of happiness. Next to our health I can think of nothing more important to a good retirement - or a good life.

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