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How do you retire well? Experts say active is the new normal

Experts say retirement isn’t what it used to be and that staying active is rapidly becoming the new normal.

'We are creating this gigantic, huge, vacuous hole in our lives,' author says of traditional retirement goals

Social gerontologist Suzanne Cook says a leisure-focused retirement is becoming less and less the norm. (Dr. Suzanne L. Cook/YouTube)

Experts are saying retirement isn't what it used to be — and staying active is rapidly becoming the new normal.

Neil Pasricha, an author and public speaker, says even the concept of retirement is a relatively recent social construction.

"Retirement was invented in 1889 in Germany by chancellor Otto von Bismarck, so it was invented not too long ago," Pasricha told CBC News in a recent interview.

"He said, if you are 65, arbitrarily making up that number, and you are infirm, so you were also sick, you could leave the workforce and get some money from the government."

Author Neil Pasricha says retirement can be more fulfilling by including a balance of social, structure, stimulation and story. (www.speakers.ca)

That was decades before the introduction of penicillin, at a time when the average life expectancy was 67.

"He was bridging you two years until you die. Now we all want to retire earlier and we are all living much longer," Pasricha said. "So we are creating this gigantic, huge, vacuous hole in our lives."

Pasricha says retirement fulfillment comes from following four simple S's — social, structure, stimulation and story.

"What you need is social, structure in your day, a reason to get out of bed in the morning, stimulation, learning something new, and story, which means being part of something bigger than yourself."

"I say never retire, instead find the four S's and always keep doing something you love."

Perhaps surprisingly, Pasricha says money ranks fairly low on the happiness scale.

"Money is a hygiene need," he said. "Above a certain minimum it does nothing for you on a happiness scale. You have to have a certain minimum, but above that minimum it will not give you any more benefits happiness wise."

Social gerontologist Suzanne Cook says redirection, instead of retirement, is really an opportunity to take a step back, to figure out what really matters to you. (Courtesy of Suzanne Cook)

Suzanne Cook, a social gerontologist and adjunct professor at York University, says there has been a distinct shift in how people approach retirement in recent years.

"My grandfather lived to age 99," Cook told Alberta@Noon on Wednesday.

"He was volunteering and was active in his community but I personally could not imagine having 35 years of retirement, very leisure-focused, as he did. We are really in a shift, this is a new trend where we are seeing people wanting to be active and engaged, contributing and participating in society."

Cook calls this redirection, as opposed to retirement.

"Redirection is really an alternative to retirement. The older adults who are doing this, having an expanded working life, they are very inspiring. Younger age groups can learn from them, they are role models. As we all age, we can all hope to continue to be contributing and participating and useful."

She says additional supports from a policy perspective may be needed, but it's already happening.

"I think that we need more practical resources and policy to help people to redirect, but there are work opportunities and work options. It's a time for people to reconnect with their passions, to use their skills in different ways," she explained.

"We are so busy with our [pre-retirement] full-time jobs and our family lives that we don't have that opportunity so redirection is really an opportunity to take a step back, to figure out what really matters to you."


With files from Alberta@Noon