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Retiring minds want to know | APA Monitor on Psychology

6 January 2014—Jacquelyn B. James, Ph.D., Center's co-director of research and Sloan Center's publication: Working in Retirement: A 21st Century Phenomenon were mentioned on APA new publication, January 2014, Vol 45, No. 1. (by Jamie Chamberlain, Monitor Staff).

The questions most people think about before retirement are "How much money will I need?" and "Am I saving enough?" But while financial security is certainly critical, people need to amass more than money for a successful retirement, experts say. They need to stockpile their emotional reserves, as well.


Research by psychologists and others has found that working or volunteering during retirement can help stave off depression, as well as dementia and hypertension. But other evidence suggests that such activities aren't the key to everyone's well-being. Psychologist Jacquelyn B. James, PhD, of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, has found that only those people who are truly engaged in their post-retirement activities reap the psychological benefits.

Working toward well-being

Soon-to-be retirees should consider whether or not to continue to work in some capacity, say psychologists. Many people take on new jobs after retiring from their primary careers with part-time work, a temporary job or self-employment — a trend known as "bridge employment" or "encore" work. According to a 2013 survey, 60 percent of workers age 60 and older said they would look for a new job after retiring, up from 57 percent last year. In its 2010 "Working in Retirement: A 21st Century Phenomenon" report, the Sloan Center on Aging and Work and the Families and Work Institute reported that 1 in 5 workers has a post-retirement job and 75 percent of workers expect to work or transition to a second career at some point after they retire.

The pursuit of happiness


But volunteering may not be for everyone, emphasizes the Sloan Center's James. People who feel duty-bound to volunteer during retirement do themselves more harm than good, she found. In a 2012 study published in The Gerontologist, James and colleagues looked at people's engagement in later-life roles, including volunteer work. They found that people who reported low to medium engagement with volunteer work had significantly poorer psychological well-being than those who didn't volunteer at all, while people who reported high engagement had greater psychological well-being.

"When we are doing things that are ‘shoulds,' or things that we feel like we have to do and are obligatory, those are hard on our well-being, no matter what age we are," says James. She is developing new measures of older adult engagement to improve and encourage more research on the topic.

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