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  • Larry Gard

Avoiding Boredom in Retirement


Older man relaxing on sofa looking at phone

One of the most common concerns I hear about retirement is the fear of being bored. Given the weeks, months, and years ahead that need to be filled with something other than your job, it’s understandable. To make matters worse, many of us know a relative or friend who was aimless and miserable in retirement. In this article I’ll share some suggestions for how to occupy yourself, but before doing so let’s look at boredom from another angle.


When you’ve spent decades being busy, having an afternoon with absolutely nothing to do can feel unsettling, especially if you were raised to value industriousness and productivity. While those internal notions about hard work may have served you well during your career, they can become a source of distress during retirement. It’s perfectly normal to have downtime once you’ve left your job, yet some people feel ill at ease during those periods. The key is to adopt a broader definition of what constitutes a good use of your time. Learn to welcome occasional idleness as a chance to recharge or reflect, or perhaps go one step further and embrace the Italian notion of “Dolce far Niente” which means “the sweetness of doing nothing.”


When idle, people sometimes mislabel their discomfort as boredom. Boredom is the belief that there is nothing interesting to do. And yet unless you’re clinically depressed, there are probably lots of interesting options available to you. One caveat: you’ve got to be open to the idea that something other than your former work can be fulfilling. Let’s look at some possibilities . . .


One strategy for finding compelling pursuits (shared by my friend G.C.) is to commit to trying something new each month, whether it’s taking an introductory class, trying a new restaurant, reading a new book, exploring a new neighborhood, or listening to a new podcast. You don’t have to stick with anything unless it’s satisfying, but you must do something new each month. An added benefit of this approach is that over time it’s a nice way to meet people (or reconnect with old friends you invite along). If you’re having difficulty finding new things to do, you might want to visit www.meetup.com to discover events and groups in your city.


If you’re inclined to volunteer, or even if you just want to get some ideas about the opportunities out there, check out www.volunteermatch.org. It’s a terrific database that allows you to search by geographic area. Results can be filtered based on broad interest areas such as animals, arts & culture, education & literacy, and the environment, to name a few.


Continuing your education is easier than ever, whether you choose in-person or online options. For example, Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI) offer non-credit courses for people 50 and older at 125 colleges and universities across the US. Interested in financial markets, food & health, or cybersecurity? The online platform Coursera (www.coursera.org) offers these and other no-cost courses from institutions such as Yale, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Duke. Open courseware programs are another resource for affordable online learning. For example, UC Berkeley provides classes through the edx platform (https://www.edx.org/school/uc-berkeleyx), while MIT’s free offerings can be found at https://www.ocw.mit.edu.


Sometimes my clients are reluctant to investigate or pursue the sorts of activities mentioned above. They assume these things will not be rewarding or significant compared to the job they held before. In some instances, these people can’t move on until they’ve come to terms with the loss of their career. I then encourage them to humor me and try some new things anyway. I remind them that their next chapter will be crafted page by page, and that just because an activity isn’t as high profile or demanding as their previous job doesn’t mean it won’t feel enjoyable, substantive, and worthwhile.

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