Have You Planned How You’ll Spend Your Time Once Retired?

March 7, 2024

Read time: 4 minutes

Retirement planning usually focuses on saving enough, Social Security and Medicare, but there’s a big, nonfinancial planning element that too many people overlook.

While the ability to fund a secure, comfortable lifestyle is vital, emotional and physical health are just as important. And a big factor in maintaining good health in retirement is living with a sense of purpose. However, nearly half of retirees in an AARP survey reported that they hadn’t thought about their purpose in retirement.1

What We Lose When We Retire

It’s easy to find ourselves adrift once our work routine is removed. Whether we love or merely tolerate them, our jobs typically provide decades of structure, purpose and daily social interaction. When we retire abruptly, that structure vanishes. Without it, many retirees gradually become less active, which can lead to health issues like obesity, cardiovascular problems, weaker muscles and stiff joints. Social isolation, meanwhile, is a well-established contributor to depression and other mental health concerns.

How Sense of Purpose Relates to Health

Having a sense of purpose can make a big difference in retirees’ physical and emotional health—and even their longevity. A 2019 study of almost 7,000 Americans over age 50 found a high correlation between a strong sense of purpose and lower risk of early death.2 So what does it mean to find a purpose in retirement? You don’t have to set out to change the world. You’ll find opportunities to do meaningful things all around you. Some examples:

  • Volunteer: Engaging in community service or nonprofit work can provide a fulfilling sense of contribution.
  • Mentor: Sharing your knowledge and experience with younger generations through mentoring programs helps recipients and can help you feel like you’re making a difference.
  • Pursue hobbies: Joining a choir, a gardening club, an over-50 sports league or other group activities provides a social outlet, fun and a sense of accomplishment while keeping you physically active.
  • Travel: Exploring new places, experiencing different cultures and embarking on adventures can give you a fresh perspective on life. And, if you’re thinking about moving for weather or activities, traveling and spending time in places you might like to live or have a second home is a great way to test out a favorite city.
  • Keep learning: For many, being a lifelong learner is rewarding. Classes, workshops and online courses on a whole range of topics allows retirees to expand their knowledge and skills while fostering personal growth.
  • Pursue fitness and wellness: Having a 10K running race on your calendar can certainly motivate you to get out there and train. But walking, yoga, swimming or joining fitness classes also promote physical health and social interaction.
  • Advocate: Consider getting involved with groups or causes that reflect your values. Retirement gives you the bandwidth to make a positive impact on the issues you really care about.
  • Start a small business or consult: You may find that you still have the itch to go to work. Pursuing entrepreneurial ventures can provide a valuable sense of autonomy, challenge and achievement. Consulting in your area of expertise is another way to work, but on your terms and time frame.
  • Be a caregiver: Providing support and assistance to family members, friends or neighbors in need can certainly give retirees a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But remember to take care of yourself as well, with activities that replenish your energy.
  • Spend time with family: Whether you’re a grandparent, mom, sister or brother, retirement brings more downtime to create memories with immediate and extended family members.

Getting Started Now

You don’t necessarily need to wait until after retirement to get started with elements of your post-retirement life. Sticking your toe in the volunteering world or taking up light running toward the end of your career can lead to a sense of continuity once you retire and lean in more to these activities.

It’s never too late to find your retirement purpose. If you retire without yet having identified a purpose, use your newfound freedom to explore interests and passions that may have been neglected during your working years. And if you’re really stuck, remember that a therapist or life coach can help you get on track.


1AARP Report: Only 2 in 5 Older Adults Feel Prepared for Retirement
Association Between Life Purpose and Mortality Among US Adults Older Than 50 Years

This article is intended for informational and educational purposes only. The views expressed do not take into account any individual personal, financial, or tax considerations. Any opinions contained herein are based on sources of information deemed reliable, but we do not warrant the accuracy of the information.

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