Time is a lot like money, when you spend it on one thing, that’s time you can’t spend on something else. Which is why I think some people stress out about boredom in retirement. It’s hard for me to identify with the idea that you can be bored in retirement. There are so many things to do. Things that are way more fun than going to work eight hours a day. Which is why I don’t think the problem really is boredom, I think it’s regret. Or shall I say preemptive regret.
The first day you wake up without a job, you are faced with an unlimited number of choices of ways to spend your time. What's the problem with that, you ask?
At work, you have few choices. You have stuff you have to get done, stuff your employer needs you to do. You may get to decide the order of doing those things. Perhaps you like to gab with your co-workers in the morning and save the hard work until after lunch. Or maybe you like to get the tough stuff out of the way first thing in the morning so you can surf the internet a little in the afternoon. Whatever. You still have to get your work done, and besides balancing how long is safe to procrastinate while still managing to keep your job, you don’t have a whole lot of other choices. Your choices in the workday are limited.
But in retirement, your choices are unlimited. There’s not even a menu of set choices--the list is endless. There are probably choices you aren’t even thinking of. And when you choose to do one of them, there's something else you're not getting to do. As one of my readers once pointed out, in retirement you get to do whatever you want, just not all at the same time. When I first retired, I was overwhelmed by this reality, to the point that it immobilized me from making any choices at all.
That’s because it turns out we don’t like to have so many choices.
Lots of studies show this counter-intuitive fact, the most famous of which was conducted by Sheena Iyengar, Columbia University professor and author of the book, The Art of Choosing. She set up an experiment using jams in a gourmet grocery store. Customers were given the opportunity to taste a sample of jams. Some were presented with 24 choices, and some with only six. Turns out when people only had six to choose from, they were more likely to purchase a jar.
As journalist Alina Tugend writes in her New York Times article on the subject, “Research also shows that an excess of choices often leads us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide. There’s often that nagging feeling we could have done better.” Regret.
If you are sitting around with nothing to do in retirement, I don’t think it’s because there’s nothing to do. I think it’s because there is too much to do. How do you choose, especially if you are worried you might regret picking this over that?
Here’s my advice: It doesn’t matter. Just pick one. If, at the end of the day you are unhappy with the choice you made, guess what? You get a whole ‘nother day tomorrow to choose something different.
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