While swinging back forth in my hammock I couldn’t shake-out of my mind the images of Christopher McCandless story in John Krakauer’s, Into the wild. I’m toggling between “Good for him and what an idiot”. Fast forward to an article I read with great interest “ The Man Who Quit Money, the story of Daniel Suelo who gave away his life savings, and began to live, by Mark Sundeen. In the past decade Daniel has not made one single monetary transaction. He has not received nor spent a single dollar since he put his final 30 dollars in a phone booth and walked away. He chose a world outside of money and is happy. A rare bird indeed.
I lead seminars, one of which is on living “Off the Grid” for Creative Boomers flush with bucks. It can be done successfully but one needs plenty of cash and patience otherwise it is likely a failed experiment at best. Which brings me to my point regarding retirement. All that matters is what lies ahead and the degree of happiness one experiences in it on a daily basis.
As a people I fear we are becoming immune. Constantly bombarded with bleak economic news becomes tiresome. We dream of winning the Lottery instead. We tire easily of folks like myself encouraging future retirees to save early, save aggressively, save consistently. We tire of being told to live slightly below our means, and cutting back on entertainment. We tire of economic uncertainty. We sometimes tire of change and the challenges it produces in our lives, we hearken back to simpler day in our past. It never really was exactly the way we picture it. We can however benefit from recognizing the importance of our connection to the land and being authentic.
Much of our behavior is controlled by unconscious habits. Habitual neural networks are burned in brains over a long period of time. It is not merely a habit of routine. Perhaps Daniel Suelo and Christopher McCandlerss discovered this early on in their odysseys. Nor is it merely a matter of will power, stop doing things today for tomorrow. Rather I think of it more like a muscle you flex everyday that tires easily. Its like we say to ourselves that when the right trigger comes along I’ll leap into action like a gladiator. The trouble is so few things we hear about economically makes a real impact on us. Its pretty tough to be gladiator all of a sudden when you haven’t even been lifting weights. Naturally some folks are caught flat footed when triggers like turning 60 come about. Our ability to be authentically happy at this age and beyond is achievable and extremely rewarding on all levels of human experience.
At the end of the day, once retired we discover that in terms of our actual life not much has really changed. With the possible exception of punching the clock 9-5. This can be huge opportunity for some folks who know what to do with themselves. Engaging in meaningful activities and caring relationships with yourself and others is a good first step into authentic happiness. Which brings me to the little known secret of retirement. One can tap into a higher level of authentic happiness then previously experienced in one’s past by consciously being more into the flow of life.
I can see a readers eyes glazing over and rolling up into the back of their heads as I write. I’ll simply share my experience and that of others regardless of how hokey it may sound. For me it starts with being in tune with nature daily. I start with the weather because it always changes forcing me to be observant and often times determines what activities I’ll be engaging in when (sequencing). I have a weekly, day by day structure to my life with built in flexibility. Half day Monday’s and Friday’s, weekends off, ability to change the sequence of events on any given day, and a mulligan once a week which ironically I rarely use in the event I want to blow off my daily responsibilities on a particular day. I think of it as “planned spontaneity”.
For me it starts by watching the sunrise, listening to the birds with a good cup of coffee. Sometimes music, reading, bird watching, sometimes not. My goal is by the time the sun fully clears the mountains and warms my face I’m anxious to start my day. In the event it takes longer to become ready to get started on the day, so be it, I’m patient with myself. If the weather is rainy, cloudy, windy etc. I simply observe, tune into those sounds and images. The first half of my day is spent on my creative work, writing/speaking, photography, and basketball related activities. I follow this with exercise, food and mundane tasks at midday.
Then late afternoon I’m back to creative work or activities producing the inspiration helpful to my creative work. All throughout the day I’m consistently adjusting and monitoring my activities based on my feelings at the moment, I rely heavily on my intuition for decision making, I walk in the woods, sit by the river, nap in my hammock, always doing my best to stay in the flow of life. I go with with the flow and let the day unfold as it was intended. I get lost in what I love doing. My best ideas in virtually every aspect of my life present and past, surface on days I float through. Its a kind of lazy man’s daily meditation with extremely powerful long lasting results.
It’s funny but when interacting with others I can’t help but notice how my relaxed state of being positively impacts others thereby further increasing happiness in my life. But even if I never spoke to another soul for the remainder of my years, I’d still be able to get back into the flow. I must admit people and life events do burst my bubble from time to time but I don’t let it interfere with my ability to eventually get back into the flow of life. I respect, recognize interruptions in the flow and expect this. In the beginning I feared interruptions to being in the flow would not only kill the buzz but also keep me from being able to return to my desired state of being. Fortunately this has turned out not to be the case whether or not these interruptions (necessary ingredients of life) lasted for minutes, hours, days, or even weeks.
Being connected to nature much of the day, being observant of subtle changes within and outside myself, and performing creative work help get me into the flow. Having plenty of things to look forward to, structure, a flexible schedule, and the wisdom one acquires with age makes me happy in retirement. This experience will be a little different for each retiree trying to get consistently into the flow of life. But it is easily within one’s reach irrespective of one’s financial situation.
So the next time your at cocktail party and someone asks what are looking to do in retirement you might reply; as little as possible, live in a mansion, travel around the world non-stop; or be in the flow of life, happily.