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What Happens After Retirement?

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The average American worker retires at age 61.

Along with the concept of retirement comes a variety of issues, from managing money and having enough income to meet all after-employment economic needs — to the social, psychological, and activity attributes of finding meaning and fulfillment after work.

Retirement can mean a focus on hobbies, traveling, volunteer work, part-time jobs, time for friends & family, exercise, leisure, and even romance.

Let’s start with some basics, such as where people chose to live after retirement.

Retire Outside the United States

According to the U.S. State Department, nine million American live aboard and five million of those people are retirees. The No. 1 reason people retire in a foreign nation is to stretch their retirement financial resources.

It is much less expensive to live abroad in specific countries because everything from housing and food to entertainment, transportation, healthcare and more are far less expensive.

People who retire sometimes choose to do so based on more than money, however. It may surprise you that the current No. 1 retirement destination for Americans is: Portugal.

Rounding out the top 5 choices are Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico and Columbia.

Mexico, for example, currently is home to 700,000 American retirees. (Some sources place the number closer to 1 million). How much money to retire in Mexico is often the first metric examined by people contemplating retirement in this warm, sunny country. The answer they find is quite attractive.

While much depends on the kind of lifestyle one wishes to maintain –- from upscale to stripped down and frugal –- the average American retired couple in Mexico can live well on a budget of $2,000 a month for both people.

It can be significantly lower than that or much higher -– it depends on how retirees chose to live.

But now let’s turn to another major category of post-work living. It’s finding a sense of meaning post-career.

Countering Post-Career Blues: Finding Meaning

Even people who hated their jobs sometimes find retirement a bit of a shock. Whether they loved or hated their jobs, it was the latter that organized their lives and provided a framework for daily living.

With that gone, many retirees struggle to find a purpose. In fact, one-third of retirees develop some form of depression shortly after the last day of their jobs, according to What they need now is to find a new sense of meaning. That can come in many forms.

For example, 70% of retirees found their issue with depression lessened or vanished when they decided to take up volunteer work, such as at a hospital, pet shelter, food bank or working with ecological issues, such as planting trees or beautifying a local park.

Another key area for the retirement “meaning issue” involves restructuring relationships. Again, retirees no longer plan time with loved ones, friends and the community based on their work schedule. Having an open-ended schedule can seem radically different at first, it takes time to recalibrate the way one interacts with valued people.

Mental and Physical Health

Yet another major area of retirement challenge is maintaining both physical health and a sharp mind. There are scads of studies that show post-retirement life leads to cognitive function decline.

All that thinking and planning required to maintain a job and busy life is now gone. If it’s replaced with watching a lot of TV and sitting on the back porch not necessarily thinking about anything, mental functioning can grow flaccid from sheer lack of mental exercise.

Experts suggest activities like reading a lot of novels, taking a course at a community college, learning to play a new instrument or picking up some hobby that requires a lot of thinking.

Just as the brain needs exercise, so does the body. Retirees are strongly advised to keep moving, walking, jogging, going to the gym, joining a health club and more to maintain optimal muscle tone, bone density and stamina.

Finally …

Now get this: According to the AARP, more than 1.7 million people decide to unretire after one year. Some go back to work out of necessity because they find they can’t live on their Social Security and other sources of income.

But many others are simply bored. They feel adrift and without purpose. So, they go back to work.

Whatever the case, like all human endeavors and experience, retirement is ultimately a state of mind. It’s all about what you make of it and how you choose to think about it.