Priorities In Life Change With Retirement

Suppose you were invited to a multigenerational gathering, such as a big birthday party or holiday feast. You might find baby boomers, now between the ages of 60 and 78, listening to music and knocking back the booze. Generation Z, currently between the ages of 12 and 27, will likely be quietly focused on their phones.

The different habits are partly due to evolving technology. But they are also a sign of more significant changes. By the time retirement rolls around, we find our preferences have altered over the decades. We might barely recognize our younger selves. What we care about and how we enjoy ourselves now is a reflection of our altered priorities.

The paradox of aging

This paradox is a gift of the gods. Despite deteriorating health, loneliness and sometimes dwindling finances, retirees maintain a sense of subjective well-being. They are often happier than before, experiencing fewer regrets and less buyer’s remorse. Extensive research has demonstrated many positive qualities develop along with changing interests and responsibilities.

Older generations tend to place greater importance on relationships, whether with friends or family. Those are the connections that appear to provide the most meaning and purpose. They may evolve in their nature; for instance, parents tend to become less intensely focused on “parenting” their adult children and may even begin to see them more as peers.

Friends become even more central, particularly long-standing ones. There is a special pleasure that comes with spending time with those who understand the context of your entire life and do not require constant explanation. Similarly, community matters more. A support group has a powerful role in warding off isolation and creating solidarity.

After a lifetime 9-to-5 grind, quality of life may improve in retirement. “Working” hours will likely be shorter; physical exertion, including from the daily commute, will let up. Circumstances vary, but retirement generally ushers in a more comfortable financial situation, both in security and status.

Time horizons shrink

Twenty- or thirtysomethings who look ahead often perceive an endless horizon. Having no boundary in sight affects their goals for what seems a far-off future. As the years creep by, perspectives change about the length of time someone can realistically expect to live.

With less time to waste, seniors may discard more peripheral social ties to focus on the connections that matter most. In youth, it is normal to try to absorb as much information as possible. Older people have already learned many of life’s lessons and may be content to shed the burden of preparing for the future.

Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford’s Center on Longevity, has developed a socioemotional selective theory that is derived from the aging paradox. She has spent her professional life studying and explaining the mystery. She has concluded that rather than embracing every challenge, people tend to focus on their top priorities of the moment. The approach pays off: “When you live in the now, that’s good for your health and your emotional well-being,” Carstensen notes.

Moreover, life’s experiences give seniors better coping skills. According to gerontologist Bob Knight, seniors realize that “tuning out, avoiding problems and daydreaming don’t work,” so they stop doing so.

Priorities that evolve

Many retirees have become more adept at compromising, negotiating and picking their battles. There is a palpable benefit in learning to navigate interpersonal pressures. Additionally, being able to admit you are wrong or to change your mind may lead to making amends or dropping old grudges.

Here are some additional possible changes in priorities:

  • Focusing on what provides joy and fulfillment.
  • Putting people before things.
  • Lightening up and simplifying.
  • Desiring to make a difference or leave a legacy.
  • No longer needing to impress others because self-confidence is stronger.
  • Saying goodbye to the fear of missing out, commonly referred to as FOMO.
  • Increasing altruism, volunteering and/or helping others.
  • Cultivating self-sufficiency to preserve independence.
  • Attending to well-being through good habits and lifestyle choices and adhering to medical advice.

Some values remain constant, but it is never too late to adjust priorities.

Reach out to Roz Carothers and her team at Triplett & Carothers to learn more.