For A Longer Life, Try Early Retirement Beach Image
For A Longer Life, Try Early Retirement

Why Try Early Retirement

We have all seen it happen. A good friend, family member, or someone we work with finally reaches his retirement day and drops dead seemingly almost as soon as he retired. Year after year, while others around him were retiring younger, this meticulous planner kept on plugging away. With laser-like focus, he buried himself into his work and kept toiling while his younger associates moved on to their new phases of life. He, the “responsible one,” the one who thought he might be bored in retirement, kept on laboring even while his most precious asset – time – kept ticking past. Now, with only a precious few retirement years under his belt, he is gone.

At her funeral, people talk about how the dearly departed feared she would be bored if she retired. Her friends remember how she was stubbornly hanging on to her salary to make just one more large purchase, or to pay off some consumer debt before she left. Now, even though she was careful to dot her i’s and cross her t’s on her retirement plan, it is clear that she forgot about one thing: We all come with an expiration date.

What Science Says About Early Retirement

According to a study recently published in the Journal of Health and Economics, public sector employees in Holland who took early retirement had a 42 percent lower five-year mortality rate than those who continued working into their 60s. In another study, Dr. Sing Lin Ph.D. studied how many pension fund checks were sent out to Boeing retirees. He found that, on average, employees retiring at age 65 received pension checks for only 18 months before their death. The workers who retired ten years earlier at age 55 continued to receive checks into their 70s and 80s.

Jonathan and Sarah at Niagara Falls
Jonathan and Sarah at Niagara Falls

This data backs up additional studies conducted in England, Israel, Germany, and other European countries that demonstrate that there is a substantial health benefit to retiring early. One study in the United States found that seven additional years of retirement can be as good for your health as proactively reducing your risk of serious diseases such as heart conditions or diabetes.

Not all of the science is in, and other studies contradict these findings. Martin Seligman, in his book, Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death talks about studies that show men who traded corporate jobs for a life of leisure, lived significantly shorter lives than those who continued working or took up other productive “second act” jobs. The theory being that humans need challenges to feel self-worth and keep up their self-esteem. Without the stimulation of work, or something approximating work, people grow depressed and let themselves go, which inevitably leads to a decline in health and vitality.

What Is Early Retirement Like

I am aware that there is danger in conflating seemingly contradictory studies. However, in my direct experience, taking early retirement, taking on new projects and having experiences that I would never have had if I had kept working has made me feel like a new person. To me, it was essential to retire while I was still in good health and had the energy and drive to take on other projects. It is not that I didn’t enjoy my work: I just wanted to try something different and take on more challenges.

In meeting hundreds of other active retirees over the years, I have found that what makes for a happy retirement is getting out of your comfort zones, taking time to expand your universe and taking on new and exciting challenges. Reading between the lines, it seems logical that people who retire at any age without a plan for their time get bored to death. Literally. They derived their self-worth and most of their social interaction from work and never developed other interests. Now that they are retired, they get depressed, don’t have the energy to learn new things, or have new experiences, and their health declines.

Do I Regret Early Retirement

I am not a scientist, psychologist, gerontologist, or even a “life-coach” or financial planner. I am just a guy who retired at fifty and feels like he wants to live forever. Retirement gave me the freedom to be location independent and the time to pursue my dreams of seeing the world. The extra time has given me the flexibility to develop new interests and find skills that I didn’t know I had. All lives are a race against time, and in the end, time always wins. Knowing this gives me the motivation to expand my universe as wide as possible and cram as much living into life as I can.

If you are considering or being forced into retirement you need to remember that you are not your job. To have a successful retirement, leave the office behind and concentrate on other facets of your identity. If all of your interests and most of your social interactions revolved around work, develop new relationships and use your new-found freedom in productive ways. You aren’t retiring from life; you are just entering a new phase of life where, hopefully, you don’t have to concentrate on making a living. Yes, a lot of people choose to go back to work after retirement, but with new jobs, new challenges, new attitudes, and hopefully more flexibility. The most important thing? Keep moving and stay engaged.

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