Retired? Take It Easy

Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and more and more, retirees feel the need to preserve their youth by volunteering, exercising, traveling, entertaining -- just about everything.

Ellen Graham wonders: Whatever happened to the retirement ideals of shuffleboard and rocking chairs? Recently retired from the Wall Street Journal, the 59-year-old felt the pressure to be one of those active retirees, but she has found the joy of leisure to be much more rewarding.

In an essay she wrote for the WSJ, titled "What Do You Mean You Want To Take It Easy?: Older adults are expected to be busier than ever before. But busier isn't always better," Graham offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the pressure that many retirees face to volunteer, run marathons, climb mountains, throw partie, which contradicts the ideals their parents' generation had for retirement, of relaxing, going on cruises, or reading.

Graham suggests that retirement is "me" time, after years of working, taking care of kids and aging parents, dealing with a household. In retirement, people finally have choices and should do whatever makes them happiest.

"I think what has occurred to me -- and a lot of other people, based on the response I've had to the article -- is that we have been so geared to having our agenda set by others through our lives, many of the women have had careers and raised children so they've been busy, and now we're sort of on our own-- the kids are grown up, our parents have passed away, and we're stuck with setting a new agenda. We're too young to sit on the porch, but the problem is trying to defy aging and take on a bit too much," says Graham.

She notes it is easy to be busy just to stay in the game or to join new groups for joining's sake. Instead, she stresses the importance of having a kind of reflective quiet time. In her article, she says it is okay to kick back and relax, and her readers wrote back thanking her for it, she says.

Though people in retirement age tend to make the most of their time while they still have their health, Graham says it is important to listen to their bodies and not to whatever image the media portrays.

"If that means the greatest pleasure you get is swimming 50 laps every morning, go ahead with it. But for others who aren't so inclined, at the same time, they should be able to sit in their rocking chairs, watch TV in the middle of the day, or read," Graham says.

The way to strike a balance is to be more European in spirit, Graham says. She has found that retirees in the old continent are not compelled to seem as productive as we do.

"I've really made a vow this year. I've had an exhausting experience with volunteer work, and I decided to pull back a little bit, and concentrate on exercising," says Graham. "It's nice to be giving back to society, but for those of us who have been working hard for over 30 years, I think we've paid our dues. My strategy for this year is doing what I want to do, and taking care of my health."