Old and Fat – Facts of Life
How Not to Freak Out About Dying

How Satisfying is Your Old Age?

An old friend recently asked me that question or, rather, something similar: “Are you happy in your old age?” he asked. “Are you checking off items on your bucket list?”

Since I was pretty sure I understood what he intended to get at, I explained that happiness and bucket list are not categories I relate to but that I could take a stab at answering whether old age is going well, if it is satisfying to me.

Many people plan their retirement. Moving to a warmer climate is a common choice as is playing golf or tennis every day or, if they have the funds, traveling – some by RV who then make their homes for awhile wherever they happen to be.

I have a friend, a professional chef who, in his middle years, often said he was saving two things for his old age: mastering pastry cooking and learning to understand Wagner's music. I never had any old age goals, certainly not such interesting ones.

Since I was forced into retirement long before I was ready and had never given a moment's thought to what I would do when I stopped working, I've been playing it by ear these past ten years.

If I take seriously the dire predictions of retirement “experts” and “coaches” who (as far as I can tell when they email asking to be featured on TGB) mostly want to part people from their money, I'm headed for big trouble not to have availed myself of their help and direction.

Well, too late. I'm doing it on my own and it's working out nicely.

How lucky for me that I had already begun this blog when the axe fell on what became my final paid job or I might have flailed around. Time Goes By organizes my days, opens doors to interesting people and keeps my mind engaged with new ideas.

For several years it took up too much of my time but I've gradually been rearranging how I work so that I can enjoy other interests.

And there is something bigger too.

In these ten years, I have come to feel strongly that because I am healthy, free of such heavy responsibilities as family caregiving and with some fiscal prudence have no need for paid employment, I have an obligation to give something back.

To me, that is not so much a moral commitment, nor a duty or a burden. It is, instead, a longing to leave this planet a little bit better off than it otherwise would be. It is a sense that if I am taking up space here and am capable, I want to contribute.

I have volunteered in small ways and now, since last summer, I am playing a role in a much larger venture - creating a Village in my town (as I have recently written about here and here).

When fully developed, hundreds of people will benefit. Their lives will be better than they would be without the Village and what's more exciting is that this is not a short-term or one-shot deal.

If this group does our job well, the Village will continue past our generation to that of our children, grandchildren and beyond. We will have left behind us something good and lasting.

So, getting back to the question at the top of the page, this – with the work on the Village – has become, possibly, the most gratifying time of my life. How lucky is that?

There have been other satisfying periods when I was younger but they were usually tinged with wanting something else or something more – a better job, higher salary, a bigger apartment or a boyfriend or husband.

Not this time. Now, the work itself – building a Village and the effort that goes into producing Time Goes By – along with some friends, good food and a few other personal interests keep me fulfilled.

No bucket lists here and although it may be semantics only, “happy” has always felt too lightweight and fleeting to bother with. Fulfilled works nicely for me and I'm working on contentment. That may take a while.

And you?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: Plastic Janes


I feel much the same as you, Ronni, as I too, was kind of forced into retirement after losing my teaching job due to a natural disaster. I have worked part time since, but now at 70, really work only for myself, tutoring and creating hand sewn baby baby quilts to sell. My life is my own right now for the first time ever and I enjoy planning my days according to my own wishes. It's a good life.

I note that over these last few years, Crabby doesn't appear as much as she used to. Here, Guilty isn't much in evidence any more. If I want to read, I read. I do want to see more of this land we live in, and travel is important to my husband and I. Giving back to both of us is important too. He's at the Automotive Museum and I am at the American Cancer Society's Discover Shop here. Not only do I get to be their book lady two days a week, I update their Facebook page. Tho it's called giving back, I note it's more like giving a gift to me.

At 83 and contented, I've found my "life" as the history person of the local library where I help folks all over the country...connecting two with birth mothers after adoption. The variety is endless. Every day new and mostly exciting. Lunch twice a month with high school classmates (from the '40s) No end of possibilities. NO complaints. Best wishes to others seeking contentment at this stage. Betty

It would be interesting to know how many of us actually planned for retirement and, successfully followed through with those plans as opposed to those of us whose retirement was thrust upon them due to illness or job loss. With so many variables that inject themselves into our lives between the time when we start thinking about retirement and actually doing it, it's amazing that any of us live as well as we do. Am I happy, generally no. I would much rather be somewhere else pursuing a hobby/avocation that i started before I retired. Unfortunately things did not work out the way i planned. However, as time goes by, and as long as I can keep my sanity, I will learn to live, if not happily, at least successfully with what I have been given. Maybe, in the end, that's all we can hope for.

I have been happily busy since an early (partial) retirement and finally full retirement--writing 3 books, blogs, taking photos, etc., etc., all while dealing with health issues. My golden days far outweighed the dark ones. As of 1 1/2 years ago, though, the health issues have impacted my life in a way they hadn't before, and I'm having trouble finding my "happy." Health is the factor that is out of one's control, and when it affects your ability to walk, breathe, and drive it requires another new adjustment, which I have not yet been able to make. I do try to bring a bit of joy to someone every day and that may be the key in the long run.There are lots of people in worse shape than I am.

I can't find the right word to adequately describe how I feel about being retired. 'Happy' is too emotional and 'content' is too passive. I sought the right word in my Thesaurus and couldn't find it. I suppose that 'content' is as close as I can come.

I love the freedom of retirement, but never planned for it. I just slipped into it and made the adjustments to a changed lifestyle as they became necessary. I am still making adjustments as my body functions decline and I discovered that things that used to make me happy have little impact on me now.

I still find pleasure in small things but I cannot truthfully say that I am happy. However, I am never unhappy so what am I? I guess that leads me back to being contented.

Formulated the definition of fun for my mature self a few years ago: the absence of physical pain or mental anguish. If I'm meeting those 2 conditions, then I'm having fun.

How does that saying go -- "life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans"? Something like that. That's how life has gone for my husband and I for the past five years. Actually, it's kind of always gone that way, when I really sit back and think about it. Raising three sons, my husband's chronic health issues, and economic roller coaster rides, have often made life unpredictable. Still, we have been, for the most part, basically content. In our sudden and unexpected retirement this year, we are enjoying gong to thrift stores and used book sales and keeping ourselves in lots of inexpensive entertainment. I also sit on four boards, all of which are involved with reducing poverty, improving quality of life for those of lesser means, and helping to sustain the environment through the use of native plants. I, too, hope to have helped more than hindered the world and those with whom I have come in contact.

I agree with Darlene. I am content, and I am grateful.

I would so like to find some peace........do I mean peace of mind? Probably. I just keep plugging along. Dee

So glad you asked. Let me preface my thoughts with the disclaimer that we are in good health and financially secure and if this were not so, I may think differently about my old age. So, how satisfying is my old age? It is the best time of my life! I am not worried about work or paying off the house or the kids or having enough money to retire or much of anything else. That is it for me--I'm not constantly worried about one thing or another. I have time to do what I am interested in.

I wish I could say I'm satisfied with my life but the fact is since my husband died two years ago, I feel "old and restless." I can't find my new grove and muse and the pressure of being nearly 72 has me frantically searching for both. On the plus side I don't have financial or dysfunctional family issues to distract or stress me, so I know I'm lucky in that regard.

I can honestly say I'm happy. I did not "plan for retirement" (I never worked in a corporation but always as an independent contractor), and I know it's possible my money will run out before I die. But at 75, although in good health, I do not dwell on that. I have never been extravagant. I have lived very fully and continue to do so which to me not based on what money buys, it's being creative and part of a community of active creative people.

I just returned my 2 young granddaughter's to the other grandmother. They are 8 and ll years old. The youngest this morning during breakfast of their favorite "French Toast" looked at me and said
"Grandma what is good about being old."
Immediately the word
peace and contented came to mind.
Much is changing in this 79th
year - wish arthur was not so severe but at a very young age, housefull of children,
divorce, career and now in a small cottage surrounded by nature - I am at peace and contented...

It hit me yesterday what a benefit we who are computer literate have in the internet as we age and lose direct support of friends and relatives, from distance and death. I think it will keep us engaged and connected to the world in a new way that, for example, my Aunt Lois, who died several years ago at 104, lost, along with her mind, as she became isolated and nursing home bound. We are pioneers in this new way of aging, and the Village concept is a great outgrowth of this. We don't have a blueprint of how to age in these times and must create our own.

I carefully planned my retirement from teaching. I had the house and cars paid off. I have a small pension and lifetime health benefits from the district for whom I worked. My health has been, and i hope continues to be, excellent. We have two small grandchildren with whom I want to spend as much time as possible.

All that said, I had hoped to find part time work using my marketing skills, but that hasn't happened. I did get to live in San Francisco for 15 months which I call my year of magical living. But no job with a nonprofit materialized there. So we returned to Fresno where we both volunteer our time and skills to a variety of agencies.

Not planned. I had just sold my house when I took a 90 day family leave from my job as a software project manager to care for my father in Oregon. He was just out of the hospital and possibly dying. He did not and I got to know him better than I ever had before. I returned to my work I found I really was really through with it and took an early retirement.

I bought a house where my son lived and found a job with a not-for-profit that I loved. Then the office was moved into recently remodeled building where the off-gassing from paint, glue, floors, and carpets did in several of us including me with asthma, headaches, vomiting. It eventually was abated but I was gone by then. I was 66 so I retired.

This cost some permanent income but I've learned to live on what I have and can still put something aside. I have a large family with the delights and problems that go with that, but I would have to say I am content, peaceful at heart, and that is my definition of happy. I love art and am once more exploring that. I read a lot and I can walk to the library from my new home. It's an adventure.

I did plan for my retirement. I saw the layoffs, the huge workloads placed on older workers, the way they were targeted in a million years and knew that I would not last until 65 although I did last until I was 60. I started paying off debt and saving money in my 50's; before that I was not very organized. I endured working at the medical center. It was never my choice of employment but it did give me a steady paycheck and health insurance. So, when I got laid off at 60, I was ready for the next stage in my life.

I came to SF to be an artist and finally I had the time to do just that. I did take a part time job doing medical billing to make up the short fall between my pension and my expenses. I studied art, volunteered at a local child care center and fell into my current "job" as an arts writer for the Examiner.com.

I also blog about art so I feel that I am finally getting to do what I wanted to do since I was a child - make art, write about art and teach art. I have a decent readership on my blog and Facebook although nothing like "As Time Goes By."

I am contented for the first time in my life. I am no longer under the control of sadistic, impossible supervisors and my health has improved - no more anxiety attacks, stress eating or sleeping disorder. Imagine that! I don't know if you could say I'm happy. The definition of that changes from person to person. But I am contented, engaged, and intellectually stimulated.

How cool is that?

I was forced into retirement 4 or 5 years before I was planning it. I have hobbies etc. that I use for learning. I have clubs that I use for social contact. And I volunteer in several places. Contentment is the direction. Like you, I think happiness is light weight, ephemeral. However, I think the last 10 years of work life were wasted when I compare them to the last 6 years of retired life.

We all march to a different drummer. Some need bucket lists while others want the freedom of playing it by ear. The bottom line is are we making a contribution in some way large or small?

Like you and many others, I got laid off in my 50s, and have been making it up ever since. Still work part time, which helps financially -- and helps in the self-esteem/self-confidence/self-worth area as well -- and luckily I still enjoy good health and so I'm doing okay. Still waiting for grandchildren though.

Can't say I'm making much of a contribution, but at least I'm not a burden. Happily independent.

In fact I feel this part of my life is a kind of reward. I didn't enjoy being young or middle-aged. Always felt out of sync somehow. It's a nice surprise to find that old age suits me.

"Giving back to the community and/or volunteering"...was more important in my 30s/40s than now. I find, in my 60s now, that I enjoy just BEING -- not doing. Health issues contribute to that, mostly arthritis and joint difficulties...but I truly feel no compulsion to contribute or make a lasting impression. Of course, I do have published fiction still being read which was a driving force in my earlier years. I still write occasionally, but not with the intensity I once did.

I agree about the "reward" element described by Charlotte. In fact I'm finding older age (I'm 77) something of an adventure, certainly something new.
I retired slowly - towards the end of my paid work career I was working freelance. Even now someone from my past rings me for some coaching or editing: I love that! (because of my poor memory I've mostly forgotten who they are, but it does come back)
Like Cara I have arthritis, and walk with crutches some of the time: but I'm blessed with the fact that living in a village, people tend to drop in to see me and chat. And of course I have an absorbing Life Online.
Do you remember a cartoon where a dog is working on a computer and says to the dog beside him "Online no one knows you're a dog"? I feel a bit like that as online it'e easier to escape the stereotyping that's triggered by white hair and crutches.

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