Retirement expert Eric Thurman on how to find lasting joy in retirement.
- Posted on Mar 5, 2019
The number of Americans over age 65 is projected to jump to 98 million by the year 2060—more than double the number in 2015—according to the Population Reference Bureau. Yet, with more people than ever nearing retirement age, MarketWatch reported on research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute demonstrating that less than 50 percent of those are satisfied in retirement.
Eric Thurman experienced this dissatisfaction firsthand. A successful businessman for decades, he worked as an International President for a publishing company. On his 65th birthday Thurman was on a business trip in India, and had a ten-year plan for his career. He was excited about the professional future.
Then, his wife’s cancer came back with a vengeance and within a year she was gone. Thurman’s plans were decimated. He resigned from his job, moved out of the house he’d shared with his wife and didn’t know what to do next. He hadn’t planned on retiring so soon, and he certainly hadn’t planned on becoming a widower.
“I [realized] that that kind of wake up happens to everyone at some point,” Thurman told Guideposts.org.
He realized how strongly his identity was tied to his career and that sitting around doing nothing was not his ideal way of life. So he decided to dig into research on retirement and figure out how to live successfully in this next phase of life. Thurman wrote a book full of his tips called Thrive in Retirement: Simple Secrets for Being Happy for the Rest of Your Life.
Many people view retirement as a time in life to do nothing. But in Thurman’s experience, doing nothing is not a path to lasting joy.
“[There’s a] popular notion is that [retirement is an] endless vacation and you just have fun,” Thurman said. That is good for a while, because we all could stand to have deep refreshment. But how long can you do nothing?”
When Thurman talked to people about what they wanted in retirement, he heard one response over and over: to be happy. From his research and conversations with people, he identified purpose as being essential to happiness. And purpose is not found in doing nothing. According to Thurman, purpose requires engaging in something bigger than yourself that serves others.
“We have confused happiness and fun,” Thurman said. “Fun is temporary. If you're really happy though, that's lasting and enduring. Look at all of life, and say, how do you add purpose, pleasure, peace?”
Thurman uses the phrase “unretirement” to refer to people who officially retire—and pick up another job. This situation is becoming more common. In 2015, the American Association of Retired Persons reported that the number of employed people over retirement age will grow more in the coming years than any other age group.
Thurman said working past retirement isn’t a bad thing, and for some, may be crucial to finding purpose and happiness.
“Clinical depression is widespread for older adults, and it's [because of] that lack of human connection,” Thurman said. “Being back at work is a huge benefit just for the people contact. You may develop close friendships, but even if you don't develop close friendships, you do have some interaction with people, and that's healthy.”
“Psalm 90, verse 12 says, ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom,’” Thurman said. “Wisdom is about knowing how to number your days.”
Thurman has spent a lot of time thinking about the time he has left on earth.
“Wisdom for me is having two numbers,” Thurman said. “One is tomorrow, the other is age 100. Wisdom for me is, I'm ready to die tomorrow. I have put my affairs in order. [The other is] am I able to live well to a hundred?”
These two numbers “bookend” Thurman’s approach to life. He recommends living for the short term and long term to create a happy third phase of life.
One of the most common mistakes retirees make, according to Thurman, is assume they are done growing once they stop working.
“If you're in retirement for 20 or 30 years, you're going to go through tons of changes,” Thurman said.
Taking up a new hobby or learning opportunity is key to retirement success, according to Thurman.
“Scientists have a handful of definitions for whether something is alive,” Thurman explained. “A couple of the things that are indicators are whether it adapts, and whether it grows. If something adapts and grows, it's alive, and I want to be alive all of my life. I don't want to die before my body dies. I want to keep adapting and growing through my whole life.”
Thrive in Retirement is available wherever books are sold.