Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 792 Looking forward

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

"You always have to have something you are looking forward towards". I heard that recently as a bit of advice for retired people. It is one of those little bits of wisdom that seems to make perfect sense. It is always good to have some goal out there: something to accomplish, some place to go, something to learn, or something to try. Sounds good.

I don't want to argue with it but I do want to pause for a few minutes and think about it. That is what this podcast is all about: pausing to consider what it is we are doing with our life. Having something to look forward to is one of the pillars of the Cult of Happiness held by some philosophers a long time ago. I've forgotten which ones - which is good. We don't want to get hit on the head by a falling statue.

There were three pillars in developing and practicing this cult: anticipation, actualization and reflection. Anticipation is that happiness that we get from looking forward to the future: we are going to take a trip to an exotic location, we are going to get a degree, we are going to get a new bike, we are going to see our grandchildren, etc. We think about how it is going to be. We derive pleasure from the thoughts of these positive changes in lives. We are looking forward to them.

Then the day comes when we are on the Serengeti Plain. We graduate, get our new bike, and wake with our grandchildren in the house. We need to be aware of the pleasure we are experiencing at the moment. We need to take a deep breath, look closely at our surroundings, take comfort in our achievement, and enjoy the smile of our grandchildren. Our happiness is dependent on our realization that we have moved from the anticipation phase to the actualization stage.

Then comes the third pillar: reflection. We need to allow time to consider what has happened in the past. We need to take time to spin our mind in reverse; sit back and consider what has transpired. We did take the trip, we did graduate, we did get a new bike and we did spend some quality time with our grandchildren. The time in reflection enhances our lives. We can find comfort in the past. It can bring pleasures into our days years later.

This is when I resurrect the idea of the value of a good story. That is what we are left with from exotic adventures in the past. It is the story that counts. Reflecting on the sleepless night on the African plain, the class that made my graduation come a semester later, the bike that provided me with endless recreation, the grandchild that emptied my kitchen cupboards of all pots and pans. We have the story. We get to enjoy it at unexpected moments throughout life and that provides us with endless joy. We can never underestimate this last pillar of developing the cult of happiness. Are there any warnings that need to be attached? I think so.

"You never want the future to cheat you out of the present". I'm not sure who said that first but I know I have said it for a very long time. Being aware of life today and what joy you can glean from it at the moment is so very valuable. Postponing happiness is not a guarantee that life will soon be better. Retirement allows time for appreciation of the present on a daily basis. We can enjoy the trip, the achievement, the grandchildren or the rain, the sun, the chair, the garden, the music or the silence. We need to hone this skill of enjoying the moment.

We are so lucky in that we can appreciate company or delight in solitude. We can live at the moment and that can never be undervalued. If we wish to spend part of our day planning for the future we can. But we can also take time to enjoy idle moments with our grandchildren babbling like babies, pushing them on a swing, or admiring their first appearance at a school concert. We can take a few weeks, a few months or a few years to sail the seas or walk across the desert. We can return to college for another degree or convert all of our short stories into readable format for our unforeseen and probably nonexistent fans.

We do need to include something out there that we can anticipate or look forward to but we also need to be very mindful of the moment. We want to enjoy these moments on a daily basis and not let the past or the future cheat us out of the present.

This is Retirement Talk.

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