Don't get me wrong. I'm all for contentment. It's right up there with enjoyment, pleasure, and delight. But don't underestimate the power of discomfort. Underrate it at the risk of your own happiness.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how it was so easy to feel totally engaged and energized when I was on vacation in New York. I suggested that the big challenge in retirement was to capture that level of engagement when you're not on vacation, when you are just living your regular life. Having a wonderful life isn't enough. You've got to be aware that your life is wonderful.
Rosie contributed a great comment that suggested some techniques for feeling that engagement, such as practicing meditation and mindfulness. Her comment was spot on, because that is the whole challenge. Living in the moment. Being aware of it. And because in retirement, most of the moments are of your own choosing, being energized by just how awesome that really is.
Easier said than done. It's much easier to get used to it and take it all for granted. And that's where the discomfort comes in. I think to have a happy retirement, you've got to introduce some intentional discomfort.
It's easy when you are working, to look forward to those endless days of playing golf, watching TV, reading books, and lazing in the hammock. After working for years in a challenging career, this life looks pretty appealing. But when many retirees actually start living the dream of retirement, they often find they are bored, or miss work, or don't know what their purpose is anymore. They are no longer engaged.
When you're working and have exactly the right amount of discomfort, or what people usually call challenge, that makes for a generally satisfying work environment. Not enough challenge, you're bored, too much, you're stressed. Well, it's exactly the same in retirement. Why would we think it would be any different?
Just because we're not working anymore does not mean we've lost the desire to challenge our minds and our bodies. Just because we long for more free time to pursue our hobbies, does not mean we don't want to try any new ones. And just because we wanted to relax a little more, doesn't mean we wanted to relax all the time.
Discomfort is built into the workplace. Deadlines, complex assignments, and difficult bosses keep you on your toes. That kept you engaged. Now, in retirement, there is no boss telling you exactly which challenges to take on, it's all up to you. And with that freedom, you may gravitate towards easy, pleasurable, even mindless activities.
That may be exactly what you need initially as you detox from your career. But if you find yourself feeling less engaged in your new life at some point, it's time to find a hobby, a class, a volunteer activity, or a physical challenge that seems just a little bit too hard. You're the boss at your new job, the job of retirement. It might just be time for that boss to kick your ass a little bit.
From the New York Times: How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect