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A light-hearted look at the psychology of retirement


The chap next door has just passed over. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still fit and well and inspecting his geraniums with all the care and attention of a Buckingham Palace Guardsman: but he has just passed over from the state of work into the state of retirement.

I see him every so often, checking the lawn to see if there is another millimetre he can shave off it, re-arranging his tool shed, filing his files in alphabetical order and hanging his hacksaws with the skill of a museum curator.

I try to help where I can – I let him mow my grass verge the other day, out of the kindness of my heart – but from experience I know that he needs to realise that retirement is more a state of mind than a state of employment.

Perhaps it would be more useful to my neighbour if I sat him down and had a friendly chat about the psychology of retirement; it’s just that, from my perspective, it is a darned site more useful if he continues to manicure my grass verge.

Understanding retirement

So much about the psychology of retirement is about time. Many years ago I had a little spare time job as a guide for visitors to London and one of my fellow guides was a chap called Walter. He had passed over too; retired from his job as a philosophy lecturer, and did the occasional stint as a guide to earn some extra beer money. I was still young and driven and focused, and I did the occasional stint as a guide to help pay the rent.

One day we had an appointment to see someone and they were late. On being told we would have to wait 30 minutes I pulled the usual frustrated and angry faces whereas Walter sat back in a chair and said “Ah, it doesn’t take me long to wait half an hour”.

Looking back over the years, I now realise that Walter had managed to distil the full meaning of the psychology of retirement in a simple phrase.

A new relationship with time

Once you retire you take on a whole new relationship with time. In true Einsteinian fashion, time begins to stretch and warp and bend and shape itself to your new way of life. 

It is a process which takes a little while, but you will know when the transition is complete because it will be the day you utter the sentence that is the very national anthem of us contented retirees: “I don’t know how I ever found time to work”.

In this new environment of time you now inhabit, the scenery has changed. Bank Holidays fade into insignificance other than being markers of days when you need to have a good lie in because every shop, coastal road or stately home will be too busy to contemplate. 

“An accurate clock is about as useful as a chocolate teapot to someone who has passed over that divide from work into endless leisure.” 

Things that once might have been dismissed as a waste of time can now be viewed from a different perspective. If you have always rather fancied building a model of the London Gherkin out of spent matches, now is the time to embark on your odyssey.

Now is the time of life when you can afford to put off until tomorrow what you could have done today (but, as a word of warning, I should point out that this doesn’t always apply to things like paying the electricity bill or renewing the home insurance).

Traditionally, people have always been bought clocks on their retirement which seems a bizarre choice of gifts. An accurate clock is about as useful as a chocolate teapot to someone who has passed over that divide from work into endless leisure.

If a ceremony to mark the passing is necessary, it would be far better if it was a ceremonial attack on time. We could consign all wristwatches to landfill and rip the minute hands off every other clock in the house, in order to announce our new relationship with it.

As you like it

There is that speech in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, the one about all the world being a stage and the seven ages of man. He is not particularly positive on retirement but there again he was writing a few centuries before Lloyd George introduced Old Age Pensions.

His last couple of ages are characterised by declining physical manifestations until we finish up “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.

Shakespeare died when he was just 52, so even if Lloyd George and his pensions had been around, he would never have experienced the pleasures of retirement.

If he had, he might have been tempted to amend that famous speech:  “sans commute, sans stress, sans clocks, sans work”.

Do you agree with Alan? Have you uttered the national anthem of content retirees yet? Do you wonder how you found the time to do things while you worked? How are you filling the gaps? We’d love to hear your stories and thoughts, so please share them with us below.

This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.


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