How to Find Your Bliss After Retiring


If you ask most people how their retirement is going, they answer, “I’m busy.” But, what exactly do they mean by that? There’s a profound difference between a retirement filled with tasks you never got around to doing and one that is AMAZING, EXCITING, and DELICIOUS.

I’d like you to consider that you can live a blissful, not just a busy, retirement.

As a financial gerontologist and a boomer myself, I’ve watched hundreds of people retire. I can tell you that many of them find their ultimate bliss after their employment ends. I know folks in Uganda teaching entrepreneurship, a couple who started a successful winery, a woman who created her own book club where each member records a book for the blind.

Whether you start to paint, teach, write a memoir, travel, or love to babysit your grandkids three days a week, what makes retirement blissful are those Freudian essentials, love and work, which he called “the cornerstones of our humanness.”

Counter-intuitively, without work, retirement can be a curse. Of course, the work I mean need not be for money, although it could be. I refer to work as absorption, as excitement, as contribution.

Where will your work-bliss come from?

Will you volunteer, start a business, write a novel, get a degree, or go back to another type of employment?

If you are not sure, you can start your exploration as if you were just starting out in life. Read What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles and Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar. Once you have an inkling of where you are headed, the internet will take you further. For example:

  • VolunteerMatch helps you find ways to contribute to any type of non-profit cause. That’s how I found Good Grief, a program for kids who lost parents and parents who lost kids. Being a “grief facilitator” twice a month means the world to me.
  • Buying an affordable franchise could be your ticket to a turnkey business, or visit the US Small Business Administration and org to learn entrepreneurship in later life.
  • You’re a good musician? Gigmor can help you find local gigs and/or other musicians to perform with.

I followed my muse and researched “volunteer art curator,” a long-held dream for me. I discovered short courses at Sotheby’s in New York, London and LA, a volunteer art curator assistant opportunity near my home and a curator internship involving art by developmentally disabled artists.

Hey, what about leisure?

I have many friends who have a PHD—Perfectly Happy Days—who are at leisure. They get a manicure, play bridge, golf and read at the pool. They do so mindfully and with passion. If that brings bliss to you, that is your work!

While you ask yourself, “Where will I get my blissful work?” also ask yourself, “Where will I give my blissful love?”

Did you know that folks with six or more friends live 2 ½ years longer, on average, than those with fewer friends? Did you know that the highest rate of suicide is among men in their 70s, who are socially isolated? Did you know that married people live longer than singles? Bette Midler was right: “You got to have friends.”

  • Ask yourself: With whom is it blissful to be? Of course, if you have grandkids they are probably first on the list…so don’t ruin it. Be a jolly part of the family. My mother in law would say, “When it comes to in-laws, whisper and wear beige.” A good idea if you always want a warm welcome in your children’s/grandchildren’s home.
  • Cultivate non-toxic friends. That’s not easy in our culture. It seems that complaining has become a competitive sport. If the first thing a friend says to you is, “Guess who died,” think about getting a different friend.
  • Get wired so you can stay in touch. If you still find computers difficult, check out your local senior center for courses and visit SeniorNet. Started back in 1986, this non-profit has trained more than 2 million boomers and seniors to use the internet.

Do not confuse bliss with contentment or happiness.

My mother used to say “Contentment is for cows.” That’s because she saw contentment as complacency…a do-nothing approach to life. That’s not so. Contented people often rule the world, and if they don’t, it’s ok with them.

But most of us feel discontented a lot of the time, especially after retiring. Some of us (me) will never be entirely content. Many studies prove that some folks have a happiness gene that makes them get over problems faster or take problems less seriously. They are naturally more content with life as it comes. Even without that happiness gene, you can have bliss. It’s different.

Bliss means you are ever involved, ever loved and loving.

Happiness and contentment can happen to you through genetics or luck or the circumstances of your life. But bliss is a status you need to cultivate on your own.