Active retirement and happy retirement: a new paradigm

Ernie Zelinski

An interview with Ernie Zelinski

Dr. Fred: Ernie, your book, The Joy of Not Working gave me a more freeing perspective on how I relate to work and leisure, especially as I was going through five career transitions. My partner Frank and I have found that another one of your books, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, to be a very useful resource in supporting our point of view on retirement – that this period of time gives Third Agers (45 to 75 years of age) a new way of relating to retirement based on renewal, rebirth, revitalization and regeneration. I'd like to ask you some questions on your work as it relates to this new paradigm.

Dr. Fred: Your work is oriented around the benefits of not working and enjoying leisure time. How would you define work and leisure?

Work is something you have to do to earn a living, a means of livelihood. Leisure is something that you do for enjoyment that offers freedom and has the absence of responsibilities and the absence of imprisonment that comes with most jobs, particulary those in corporations.

Dr. Fred: What are the problems with working?

There will always be problems with working. The key to having a happy life is to minimize the problems associated with working. This means trying to make your work as enjoyable as it can be and finding work that provides as much freedom as possible. These 7 Golden Rules are adapted from my latest book Career Success without a Real Job: The Career Book for People Too Smart to Work in Corporations:

7 Golden Rules for Job Satisfaction

1. Choose work that you truly enjoy.
2. Choose an area that allows you great freedom.
3. Don’t make your main purpose earning a lot of money.
4. Instead of getting a real job, create a funky unreal job or dream career outside the corporation.
5. Choose an area of work that you can expand to multiple streams of income.
6. Contract out anything that you dislike or are not good at.
7. Work as hard as you have to for a good living — and as little as you can get away with!

Dr. Fred: What does retirement mean to you?

Retirement to me means not having to work at a job because you need the money just to survive. It is okay to be retired and still work at something, provided you enjoy it and would do if for free just for the enjoyment.

Dr. Fred: Your message is that retirement provides an opportunity for happiness and freedom. I think that the prevalent view of retirement in our culture is the "good life" - not working, going on vacations, playing golf, and taking it easy. That path doesn't usually work out in terms of fulfillment. What you're presenting is that retirement is really about doing the things that truly matter to us - living an authentic, quality life. Would you expand on this?

The problem with "taking it easy" all the time is that it gets boring and there is no experience of satisfaction. Passive activities such as watching TV, gambling, napping and shopping are okay but only in moderation. For a happy and satisfying retirement, active activities such as learning a new langauge, learning a new sport, or adventure traveling are required to give this sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Dr. Fred: In my experience, most people, not just midlifers, have a problem with leisure time. They will do anything to avoid boredom and being in solitude. What do you have to say about this?

Yes, it is absolutely true that most people have a problem with leisure. But as Logan Pearsall Smith said, "If you are losing your leisure, look out! You are losing your soul." Leisure and solitude don't have to result in boredom. Boredom is something you experience because you invite it into your life. The best way to overcome boredom is to do something about it. To repeat the words of Leo Buscaglia, "If you are bored, it's because you are boring." In other words, the only person who can help you overcome your being boring is you. This means taking responsibility for your life.

Dr. Fred: In a chapter of your book, The Joy of Not Working - Unemployed: The True Test of Who You Really Are, you say "without work, you will discover a whole and new exciting world out there." Would you share what you mean by these notions?

What I am saying is that being unemployed can be one of the best things that ever happens to you. What's the problem with being unemployed? It builds character. If you are saying that you can't be happy being unemployed, what is this saying about the type of person you are? Besides myself, there are many people who have worked less than half of their adult lives. It doesn't take much in the way of brains or courage to go to work at a corporation where everything is laid out for you. It takes a lot more in the way of creativity, courage, and character to be unemployed and still be as happy or happier than people who are employed.

I often receive e-mails and letters from readers of my books who have found themselves unemployed and find that unemployment is a "Golden Opportunity." Go to this link on one of my Ernie Zelinski website pages to read one reader's comments about how she is joyfully handling unemployment.

Dr. Fred: Money is a big concern for most Third Agers. You say that many financial planners recommend that retirees need to replace at least 80% of their income they made in their working years. What's the problem with this kind of advice?

I along with well-known actuary Malcolm Hamilton and syndicated columnist Scott Burns of the Dallas Star have been saying for years that the 80 percent figure is idiotic. Common sense says that if a person makes $500,000 a year that the person does not need $400,000 a year to retire. In fact, no one needs $400,000 a year to retire.

In Chapter 1 of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, I give eight good reasons why the large majority of retirees, whether they live in Canada, the U.S., or other Western nations, can live on far less than 80 percent of their pre-retirement income. Indeed, government statistics indicate that retirees live comfortably on 45 percent to 62 percent of their pre-retirement income.

For instance, my friend Jim took early Canadian Pension Plan of only $435 a month. This is his total regular income and he has no assets to speak of except for an Airstream trailer and an older car. His income is supplemented by a few hours a week with work that he gets from a mutual friend who manages a medical clinic. Jim lives pretty well and is one of the happiest people I know. He does admit that he wishes that he had a bit of money saved for emergencies, however.

Another friend George is 65 and collects about $1,450 in Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security. This is his total income. George lives in a subsidized apartment. Get this: George saves $450 to $500 a month.

The issue of how much money you "need" for retirement is best addressed by being totally honest with yourself about what are your "needs" and what are your "wants." My estimate is that over 95 percent of Americans and Canadians lie to themselves and others about what are their "needs." The problem with most people is that a necessity is any luxury that their neighbor has. Let's face it, all your needs have always been provided since you were born — otherwise you would be dead! So keep that in mind if you want to cut your expenses and overheads.

I recall talking to an artist who was making only about $1200 a month and had to cut back because his income dropped to $1000 a month. He told me how he surprised himself that he was able to cut back and make ends meet when he took a hard look at what he can do without. So if this guy can cut back, over 90 percent of Canadians and Americans can cut back if they stop lying to themselves and others about what their "needs" are.

Dr. Fred: You incorporate the powers of creativity and common sense in your work. How can creativity contribute to happiness and inner peace for those of us who are middle aged and beyond?

There is a great sense of satisfaction from having created something that is unique and which you can call your own. Many people work for 40 years at jobs and cannot pinpoint anything specific that is unique and which they have actually created themselves. This can even be the case with a worker who has made $150,000 or more a year. I know that I have created 15 books that are my own and that no one can lay claim to. This is something that gives me a great deal of satisfaction, particularly the books such as How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free (over 110,000 copies sold) and The Joy of Not Working (over 225,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages) that were rejected by all the publishers to which they were originally sent for consideration. Retirement is an opportunity for people to create something that is truly their own, even if it is just a painting or two that they did not have time to do when they were working. Dr. Fred: What are the key elements for the development of happiness for midagers?

From my latest book Career Success Without a Real Job here are
37 Elements of Happiness That Money Can’t Buy:

   • Health    • Longevity    • Self-reliance    • Personal creativity    • Real friends    • Achievement    • Satisfaction    • Loving family    • Respect of others    • Integrity    • Reputation    • Peace of mind    • Good character    • Sense of humor    • Ability to enjoy leisure    • Street smarts    • Patience    • Gratitude    • Compassion    • Empathy    • Emotional stability    • Greatness    • Warmth    • How to handle money    • Generosity    • Humility    • Appreciation of money    • Luck    • Charm    • Physical fitness    • Self-esteem    • Time    • Spiritual fulfillment    • Wisdom    • True love    • Courage    • A good night’s sleep

Dr. Fred: What new projects are you working on?

Because retirement has gotten a bad name lately, I have just about completed a book calledThe Joy of Being Retired: 365 Reasons Why Retirement Rocks (and Work Sucks)

I hope to have it published by Workman Publishing as an illustrated gift books and as a calendar. I will also be directing some effort toward getting this book licensed by corporations so that they can offer a page a day on their websites and newsletters to retirees.

Dr. Frank on Freelance Employment

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