WHY are so many New Retirees UNhappy?

by Wendy, Retirement Enthusiast/Coach

Why UNHappy?

Why UNHappy?

Why Oh Why are so many retirees unhappy?

I post story after story from anxious, depressed new retirees on my site. Those stories get lots of feedback from other retirees, most of whom agree with the feelings of being lost, useless, unmotivated, and just sad. 

I hate this. I mean, I really HATE this.

This should be the time of our life, free to do what we choose to do and when we choose to do it. Financially free, or not, there is so much more retirees can do to explore the world around them and find new adventures daily.

BUT  -  many don't.

I know I felt the same anxiety when I first retired. But, like many of you, I got over it. It takes time... and if you are lucky, it comes sooner, rather than later, and you come out of the retirement transition period, unscathed.

I can help people with my Retirement Coaching and I do every week - -but still I wonder WHY OH WHY does this happen so often? 

  • Is Retirement fundamentally a bad concept until you are old-old? 

  • Is the idea of freedom something that humans simply can't deal with? 

  • Are humans designed to keep busy with "work" (whatever that "work" is to you)?

  • Is it our egos that can't believe we aren't missed at the workplace? 

  • ​Are we depressed as we finally figure out we lived shallow lives with employment as the priority?

  • When do we finally allow ourselves to live, really live -- smell the roses, take in small daily adventures, engage with others in a meaningful way, stop and think about our lives and where we are headed next?

    So what do YOU think?

    Seriously, WHY does this happen to so many retirees? Comment below and talk to me!

    P.S. I bolded parts of the comments below where I thought what was said was really good -- Didn't want you to miss it!

    Wendy, Retirement Enthusiast/Retirement Coach
    Download my free Retirement Coach book.

  • Comments for WHY are so many New Retirees UNhappy?

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    It's Normal for New Retirees to be Unhappy
    by: Bernard Kelly - Geelong

    The most common phychological reason why new retirees are unhappy is because they have just lost their identity. Until now, they had a routine, a job and responsibilities - but now all that has evaporated.

    Here are some tips that may help:

    1. expect to go through various stages of emotion

    2. structure your days - replace that sequence when you used to get out of bed, shower, have breakfast, pack a lunch and out the door?

    3. set small goals

    4. grow your friendships

    5. consider an encore job

    6. create a new budget

    7. schedule a volunteer workload

    8. give yourself time to work it out.

    I love this site!
    by: Vickie/Texas

    First I am so grateful that I am not alone in this time of life (dealing with retirement). I get every single comment.
    Some people get it/retirement right, others struggle for all kinds of reasons, etc.

    For my husband (who has been retired now for 2 years), its a matter of health issues and feeling well enough to participate in life.

    As for me I still feel pressured to be doing more with my time, its pressure from the time we live in: to do more, be more.

    I would like to see more education, more resources to help people -- not just get their money in order, more deposits in their 401k, etc.

    Of course money is very important but for those of us who were driven in our working life by time management, to all of a sudden stop, its like getting cold water in your face (that's what my husband says).

    Ah, but we relish that first cup of coffee in morning and not having to rush out the door, sometimes its really all about the little things.

    Thank You Craig C
    by: Shredder J

    OMG, thank you for voicing what I've felt when reading many of the posts on this site from unhappy, lost or depressed retirees.

    I'm not saying that their feelings aren't real - but they should put some of their energy into forging a new and purposeful existence.

    I love my life now. There are more aches and pains, and money is an issue - but overall I relish the ability to do what I want, or to do nothing at all.

    I appreciate your post so much. Snark on, my friend!

    Retirement
    by: Beatrix Australia

    Just a thought. Retirement is a major transition (stressor) in life, like getting a divorce etc. Everyone is different and react to transitions in their own way and their own time.

    Most people are not "whining, moaning etc. They are expressing how they feel and should be allowed to do so without being judged in a negative way.

    I believe people are on this site for advice and understanding not to be denigrated for not having a "positive"outlook.

    I will be retiring in 6 weeks time, not sure how I will react but thats me. I am not on anyones journey but my own.

    Thank you

    Why the Unhappy Retiree? It Depends
    by: Canadian Retiree

    I think I can answer your question with - it depends on one's circumstances.

    I retired - due to cancer - about a year ago from a 20 year job that took up a huge part of my life for those 20 years. I made friendships at work and focused on my job and my daily commute, while not really thinking about when I was going to retire and what I would do in my retirement. I wasn't really ready to retire and missed my job terribly. Quite a few of my fellow coworkers have retired, and they seem happy, but one of the reasons is they have grand kids to take up their time.

    My husband and I have no kids, grand kids, or even family close by to visit. I realized after all those years my life was my job, I didn't make much of a life outside my job. My husband is retired, but his health is not good and he does not have the energy to travel. That was one of the things we had planned to do in retirement and now it looks like it's not on our list anymore. We think about upgrading our home but that seems like a huge task with his health issues. I'm taking art lessons at the moment which is helping and also doing a weekly exercise class. It helps get me out of the house and meeting people. I thought about going back to work, but so far have not done that.

    In short, perhaps, loneliness contributes to an unhappy retirement. I know it does for me.

    sense of purpose
    by: Anonymous

    Now that I have plenty of time to do whatever I want to do, I am wondering what I can do to utilize my talents to contribute as I have in the past. I feel as though I am just taking up space and resources now.

    Let's Be Honest
    by: Craig C

    The questions posed in your article are ones that I have struggled to understand since I first became aware of your very valuable site.

    I have responded to quite a few of the comments posted by folks who are unhappy with their retirements, but I fear that my comments are getting snarkier as I try to understand the plethora of whining comments posted by these clearly unhappy and disillusioned retirees.

    The litany of complaints got under my skin and, frankly, I have zero empathy for those who are so confounded by their retirements that they throw up their hands in abject despair. My irritation has its genesis in the fact that I always looked forward to the day that I could retire and have not been disappointed by retired life even a little bit.

    What did these complainers expect? Judging by some of their posts, they seem to have anticipated something structured like their former jobs. You know, deadlines on projects, gossip at the water cooler, staff meetings and performance reviews to tell them how they are doing.

    What galls me is how they often infer that if I, and all of the happy retirees, don't feel the same way, we are, somehow, malingerers and malcontents. Nonsense!

    I am not buying all of this workplace nostalgia. Perhaps I failed to adequately appreciate the many joys of the workplace. These complainers are people who see themselves as defined by their jobs and often declare just how much they miss their jobs.

    If they were as good at their jobs as they claim to have been, they should be competent enough to organize their lives to take advantage of their free time. Even with all of the free time at my disposal, I don't get everything done that I should have accomplished.

    The complainers grouse about their boredom and that baffles me. I am in the same situation as they are, but boredom is never a problem. Why, I ask, are they so bored? Where are their imaginations?

    There must be things that they hadn't done before they retired that are still waiting to be done. So do them now. Try doing good deeds.

    Just like the old job, you are rewarded for your good deeds -- particularly by how you see yourself. There are literally hundreds of community projects. large and small, that could benefit from the talent of retired workers who are bored with their well-earned retirements.

    At last I have the free time to attack the many postponed household chores and projects on my neglected "to do" list. Of course, I can't break for coffee with the other employees and participate in the sharing of rumors and complaints, but I could not possibly care less. I am an unrestricted free agent and report only to myself. How cool is that?

    Some of the unhappy retirees grumble that volunteering on projects that benefit society is not fulfilling to them personally. They prefer the ambience of the office or shop. That's ludicrous in the extreme.

    I would ask these people to reminisce about those sacred jobs for an honest moment and recall all of the occasions when they angrily bellyached about how they were being disrespected by their jerk of a boss or unfairly treated in a performance review or passed over for a raise or promotion. Now that's nostalgia.

    Did they ever angrily tell themselves that they should just quit those jobs and probably would have were there a job available at another firm?

    Happy in retirement
    by: Jeff Both Natimuk Australia

    Hi All, In responding to "unhappiness" in retirement I am sure pleased to advise that I am very happy in retirement.

    I believe it is up to each individual to make the most of his or her life. Many times unhappiness or boredom can be self inflicted.

    The enjoyment I am experiencing is due to my wife, family, hobbies, travelling in our motorhome community involvement and exercise.

    My career in a corporate world lasted 38 years which was great in setting up our retired life. I have just had my 70th birthday and am looking forward to many more years of fun and excitement.

    Cheers for now

    New Generation, New Retirement Issues
    by: Kathleen, New York

    I think the reason for so much retiree unhappiness is multi-fold. I believe that we have had so much put on our plates over the last few decades with work essentially being 24 hrs a day/7 days a week/365 days a year because of internet and cellphone email work expectations. Add to that family expectations with parents and kids and we have been stretched very thin. Then retirement comes along and one goes from 120 mph to 20 mph.

    This 24/7/365 level of productivity is something that our parents did not experience so it is new for our generation. When the work is gone including the emails etc in off hours, it creates an enormous void.

    Retirement also forces people to be alone with their thoughts without the distractions that they had when working. This can be very uncomfortable for people. I recall someone once saying that "the space in an empty mind gets filled with anxiety" so we have to learn to fill the mind with entirely new thoughts since we no longer have the work distractions. Filling up the mind with new thoughts takes a lot of positive internal conversations with ourselves and many people just don't know how to do that.

    So, for me, I, first, had to redefine what is considered being productive. I had to learn that the 24/7/365 standard I had been living by was unrealistic and not the proper definition of productivity. I had to say to myself that being productive was now going to the gym in the morning, engaging in conversations with the cashier at the market or whatever else I chose to do that day. It took a lot to believe that was an acceptable level of productivity by consistently reminding myself in the internal conversations that whoever said the 24/7/356 work standard was normal had to be nuts! That was so far from being normal and healthy and now I am redefining productivity to a normal and healthy level.

    Secondly, I had to accept that the social network I had at work was really just a "work" network. Because we were so pressed for time and had very little time to socialize while working and raising a family, our "friends" became our work friends. However, when work was gone, so was the common denominator with our friends and the end of my social network.

    Our parents, many times, lived and worked in the same areas where they grew up so they still had their social networks intact when they retired. Our generation left our neighborhoods for school and/or work so our only social network became our work friends. So retirement is not only the loss of our job and the loss of productivity but also the loss of our social network. All of that leads to unhappiness and has to be redefined.

    Finally, I found that I had to think about the retirement period in chunks of time. Because we are living so long, someone who retires at 62 could live another 30 plus years. When our parents retired, it was believed they would live another decade at most. So, it can be overwhelming (and cause anxiety and unhappiness) thinking about keeping yourself engaged for the next 30 years if you are not working.

    I was fortunate to have my youngest son going through similar changes as I am going through only we are 40 years apart. He is graduating from the university this year and we would have conversations about what he would do for a career "for the rest of his life." He would get overwhelmed thinking about making that decision. I found myself saying to him to not think about the "rest of his life" but only the next five or ten years or so - to look at things in smaller chunks of time because life has a way of changing plans. That thinking has taken away much of his stress.

    I started applying that same logic to my situation as well. Instead of thinking, "what am I going to do for the next 30 years to keep busy", I broke it down into smaller chunks of time. My chunks of time will be smaller than my son's because my abilities at age 62 will be very different than they are at age 65, 70 and 75 etc. This has really helped break down that overwhelming feeling of what I am going to do for the next 30 years. I say to myself simply "What am I going to do for the next six months or year" and that's it because, at this point, the aging body will definitely change life plans.

    So, in my opinion, there are a number of issues that are causing people to be unhappy in retirement and many of them new to our generation.

    Torn between a desire to improve the world -and- a desire to enjoy the world
    by: Matt I

    Wendy, Great that you have your site, as it helps to discover how many struggle with the transition into retirement.

    My view is that most Americans have spent their lives in a relativity stable organized process of life that filled our days because routine is comfortable and secure. Retirement requires effort to create a new life style that needs daily attention to remind us how really fortunate we are even to have the chance to enter this phase of life.

    Most of the worlds population spends their day trying to survive to get through the day with the basics --food, water, and shelter.

    They say you are judged by how you spend your leisure time. Americans are conditioned to spend their leisure time based on previous work sponsored vacation benefit amounts 2 to 4 weeks a year.

    I arise in the morning ---torn between a desire to improve the world----and a desire to enjoy the world ---this makes it hard to plan the day.

    Why Are So Many Retirees Unhappy?
    by: Anonymous

    I suspect the unhappy retirees are those who had no other interests in their lives but their work. No hobbies, no interest outlet beyond what they did every single day for decades.

    Once that stopped it left a big void they have no idea of how to fill. Even so, if that's the problem, then the best thing those folks can do is - go back to work. Even if it's volunteering on a steady basis, so they have days that are structured.If they need the regimentation, then stick with it to whatever degree you need.

    For the rest of us, it might take awhile to get over the 'guilt'...the feeling that 'I should be doing something.' If you allow yourself to simple allow the routines to break, learn to relax without feeling like you should be busy every minute, before too long your life can become easy and 'yours'.

    Even for those of us with a pain or two - so what, other people have it so much worse - or virtually no money beyond the budget - again, so what? Lots of free things to enjoy. The library is a biggie.

    It's still all wonderful because our days are our own. Nobody else can tell us when to do something or what to do. It's basically like newfound freedom.

    Personally, I've learned to absolutely love it. Every minute. Even the painful ones.

    Happy fulfilled retirees aren't seeking more ideas
    by: Kathy S

    It is definitely something I noticed on your site. Most of the stories are unhappy ones. If you think about consumers of anything, they are much more likely to write a bad review than a good one, unless they are prompted by the product/service provider. Satisfied consumers go on with their lives.

    Happy fulfilled retirees aren't seeking more ideas about how to live their life. They wouldn't find your site because they don't need it.

    There seem to be lots of financial preparedness informational sessions offered as you get closer to retirement. What is missing is the big discussion as to how this huge lifestyle change impacts your life and how to prepare for that. Some people lose their jobs earlier than expected but still, as you move into your mid to late 50s even, people need to start thinking about the next chapter. The unhappy people writing in do not seem to have given this any thought. They are all surprised.

    There's a new career line for you or some of us. Work with financial companies doing seminars on retirement from the lifestyle/activity/productiveness aspect.

    Kath

    Simple explanation why new retirees are unhappy.
    by: Bernard Kelly - Geelong

    The simple explanation why new retirees are often unhappy is because - for the first time in their lives - they are not receiving direction.

    As a toddler, as a child at school, at college then first job or the military, and then into their careers and/or raising children, there was always a structure, showing the way forward. There was always someone who had been there before.

    But retirement is so difficult, because we're in a totally new lifestyle phase - there are no elders telling us what to do. For the first time ever, there is not a cohort of senior retirees who can show us the way.

    So we're all peering into the mist, and unless you have been somewhat self-employed in the past, it is difficult to create an understanding and self-belief that you - yourself - are now in total control of your next 25-30 years.

    Why so many retirees are unhappy in retirement
    by: Mary Ellen

    I retired from teaching almost 5 years ago.

    When I was working most of my friends were also my work colleagues. I didn’t socialize much with them outside of school but seeing them every day fulfilled my need to connect. Now I don’t have that connection anymore and I’m living in another state. I don’t have social anxiety but I prefer to keep mostly to myself. So I only have my son and his family to interact with, and sometimes it isn’t enough.

    I’m probably going to get a dog since I’ve always had one. The dog will force me to get out of my house and actually talk to people, something I don’t do now. Plus I sleep better with a dog next to me, and I’m more relaxed in general.

    While I would never want to work again doing ANYTHING, I do miss the social aspect of work.

    I suspect the fact that people are living longer healthier lives puts the burden for writing the final chapters squarely on them, and that’s a relatively recent problem.

    Since 1960 people’s lifespans have increased over 10 years, and I know I struggle to find meaning for my life once my work ended. Obviously others do too.

    We must change our destination
    by: Michael D. Bell, REALTOR®, Venice Florida and the Catskills in NY!!

    Wendy - I think it's fairly simple. The new retiree had a work life that consumed at least 8 hours a day. Often more for some, depending on your job and commute time. We scheduled our personal routines and hobbies around those 8 hour shifts.

    Suddenly, it is overwhelming to have 8 more hours to fill. Many were content with the non-work time we had to do the shopping, clean the house, read books, bike ride, vacation, etc.

    So, the question becomes, now what?

    Plus, our interests and desires change. You may have wanted to travel, but then realize you're no longer interested in travel. You wanted to learn piano, but now have no interest in playing piano.

    We also reach the destination - "retirement" - and realize the journey was more exciting than the destination.

    Once you can have something you always wanted, you often don't want it anymore. We no longer feel as though we are working towards something.

    If we create a new "destination" - a goal of some sort - I think that would make things easier for many retirees. When I was young, my Mom would say "go outside and play."

    Now, we have to tells ourselves to outside and play.

    UN happy retired
    by: Ned St Paul mn

    In this age, we have had to work to keep ahead and have not taken time to engage in other outside interests . I think a good share of our lives today become work and sleep day after day and if we do get a day off it becomes a catch up day and you are busier than on a work day

    A matter of choice
    by: Jane Curtis/Texas

    I remember going through it too. You have to have the desire to come out of it before you can actually start taking the steps to do so.

    When one retires there is no doubt... they have come of age... Some let whatever that age is; haunt them and hang over them like a big label across their face.

    You are not officially old. Not wiser but just plain old. Not experienced but old. Now, I say is the time to celebrate getting there. I went through it and it almost cost me my life. Remember, Wendy. You helped me through it. I came out the other side ... a little crazy but a lot happier.

    Now, I cheer knowing I am old enough to know better and too young to care. At this age we can get away with almost anything. No one expects us to still have any shenanigans in us... that is our power.

    Now we do know better, that is the secret. Just like most husbands finally learn that there are only two words that will melt a woman's heart instantly and they are the words; 'Yes, Dear": a few wrinkles on the face is an excuse to get away with....

    Why oh why?
    by: Annonymous

    I thought I was an enlightened person when it came to retirement and was so ready for it. But, anxiety and depression slowly crept into my psyche afterwards with no advance warning.

    I must have been unready for all the free, unstructured time and all my activities feel like just ways of killing time without real meaning or purpose. The anxiety is a primitive fear/feeling that I am unable to intellectualize my way out of and struggle with daily.

    Retirement gives us time to relive all of our past emotional traumas and to see and worry about the emptiness ahead. It's very tough.

    Data on a sample of retirees
    by: Richard Haiduck, Woodside, CA

    I have interviewed over 75 people at various points in their retirement. Each interview starts with the question, "How would you describe this stage of your life?"

    The result is a set of oral histories, told in the words of the retiree, and which provides valuable insights into their happiness, or lack of happiness. I am currently assembling these oral histories into a book that is intended to publish later this year.

    Although my sample of 75 is not intended to generate statistical data, I would make the following anecdotal comments from the many stories I have heard:

    1. Like all new things, retirement is a learned skill. It takes some time and effort and external influences to figure out what is right for you.

    2. Generally, those who have been able to phase down their work life over a couple of years have had more ability to ease into retirement and get used to the new rhythm of their life.

    3. There are an almost overwhelming range of activities from which to choose in retirement, but very limited road maps that introduce these ideas.


    The goal of my book is to inspire retirees by introducing a new range of activities as described in the words of the person who has actually followed that path.

    I will be interested to see what others have to say about the important topic that was raised here.


    There is no one answer
    by: Wee-zer

    There is no one answer to the question Why are so many New Retirees UNhappy?

    Some people do not plan for retirement and that includes money, what things will be done in retirement, no schedule to follow, no goals to gravitate to.

    Some people don't retire but lose their jobs for various reasons that are not their fault. Then the disappointment of not finding another job or a job that pays well or satisfies.

    Death of family members and pets. Children who have no time for the parents. Retirees having to take care of sick parents. Retirees getting roped into being the full time babysitter. Living in towns with little to do. Loss of work friends who are still working and have no time to socialize with the retired friend. Single retirees who are lonely.

    All our lives we have been marched around since babies. We went to school, played in sports, joined boy/girl scouts, had chores we had to do. College for some, jobs for others. Employers expected things from us and we had to produce or be fired. Some got married and had children and had to march them around to go to school etc.

    We have had full plates our whole lives and when we retire a lot of us are left with an empty plate and no idea how to fill it. No one is marching us around and telling us what to do, when to do it and how to do it.

    Some have retirement plans but they don't always work out due to health reasons or other reasons. Sometimes the things we thought we would do are no longer of interest.

    I think what we need is a place to go to like the Villages in FL where there are all types of clubs to join and fill up your calendar for things to do without having to buy into a home there. I want the amenities without having to move.

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