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A man is riding a bike on a hill.

As featured in:

A man is riding a bike on a hill.

What is the ideal age to retire? Never.

A man in an apron is serving food to a woman.

(This week’s BLOG POST is an excerpt from an post)

If you want to live a satisfying, long life, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin has some advice for you: Stay busy.

What is the ideal age to retire?


Even if you’re physically impaired, it’s best to keep working, either in a job or as a volunteer. Lamont Dozier, the co-writer of such iconic songs as “Heat Wave,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” (and with fourteen number-one Billboard hits), is 78 and still writing.

“I get up every morning and write for an hour or two,” he says. “It’s why the good Lord put me here.”

Too much time spent with no purpose is associated with unhappiness. Stay busy! But not with busy­ work or trivial pursuits, but with meaningful activities. Economists have coined the term unretirement to describe the hordes of people who retire, find they don’t like it, and go back to work. Between 25 and 40 percent of people who retire reenter the workforce.

Harvard University economist Nicole Maestas says, “You hear certain themes: a sense of pur­pose. Using your brain. And another key component is social engagement.

Recall Sigmund Freud’s words that the two most important things in life are to have love and meaningful work. (He was wrong about a great number of things, but he seems to have gotten that quote right.)

I interviewed a number of people between the ages of seventy and one hundred in order to better understand what contributes to life satisfaction. Every single one of them has continued working. Some, like musicians Donald Fagen of Steely Dan (age seventy-one) and Judy Collins (age eighty), have increased their workload. Others, like George Shultz (age ninety-nine) and the Dalai Lama (age eighty-four), have modi­fied their work schedules to accommodate age-related slowing, but in the partial days they work, they accomplish more than most of their younger counterparts.

Staying busy with meaningful activities requires some strategies and reshifting priorities. Author Barbara Ehrenreich (age seventy-eight) rejects the many tests that her doctor orders because she doesn’t want to waste time in a doctor’s office for something that might only add three weeks to her life. Why?

“Because I have other things to do. Partly this seems to start for me with the kind of trade-off decision: Do I want to go sit in a windowless doctor’s office waiting room, or meet my deadline, or go for a walk? It always came down to the latter.

Sources: Ideas. Ted. Com

-Daniel Levintin, PHD

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