6387fc9fb9d23a52c0a20cae47c9629fI’ve heard it more than once: “I’m retired, but I’m busier now than I ever was.”

Many retirees who think back to their work life will remember early morning meetings, working through lunches, getting home late at night (and working some more), all the while miraculously having enough time to raise kids, do household chores, run errands, feed the dog and keep appointments.

Yes, it was exhausting, but they got it all done, day in and day out, week after week, for years. So why in retirement, with 40 to 50 “free” hours previously taken up by work, is life just as busy?

According to a recent Psychology Today article, “The Need to Be Busy,” humans are the only species to feel the need to be busy.

According to studies, “Give lower-order animals sufficient quantities of food, love and shelter, and the animal will likely grow to be fat and happy; the animal would have no issues about lazing around and frittering away the rest of its life.”

Not so with human beings.

Without the structure of a busy work life, we try to re-create that structure in our retirement. Some retirees have a list ready and waiting to complete: work out more, volunteer, tackle that painting job, clean the garage, spend more time with grandkids, indulge in hobbies, visit with friends—and the list goes on. And when that list gets done, a new one begins.

Other retirees can’t or won’t say no. Friends or relatives ask them to join organizations, do projects or baby-sit a grandchild. Before they know it, they’re committed, sometimes for many hours each week.

That’s OK. Because studies have shown that busyness equals happiness for most of us.

The American dream of retirement is to slow down and take it easy, but many retirees seek activity to maintain a positive emotional state.

While retirees tell themselves it’s OK to do “nothing” and they deserve some downtime, they don’t believe it, and that is why they choose to occupy that time with activities. In this busy world, it is tough to give ourselves permission to take a genuine break and do nothing.

An alternate theory as to why we stay busy in retirement is that it is a place to hide. Activity, they say, can be a “numbing behavior” that prevents us from experiencing our real feelings.

I know when I retired from my first career, I gave myself permission to fail in my encore career endeavors.

Pretty progressive, I thought, allowing me to take risks I may not have taken earlier in my career. But I never gave myself permission to do nothing.

Do nothing? Who would I be if I wasn’t that competent, overachieving go-getter?

Would I still be a good person? Would I feel shame?

Lissa Rankin M.D., New York Times best-selling author of “Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself” says it best: “Many of us wear busyness as a badge of honor. I’m busy, therefore I’m important and valuable, therefore I’m worthy. And if I’m not busy, forget it. I don’t matter.”

So, according to experts, being busy creates happiness but may deny us the ability to know our true selves. I suppose there is a happy medium somewhere— just one more reason why planning for retirement is so valuable.

Who knew there were choices like this to make?

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