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Work: The Fountain of Youth
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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about retirement: when to take it, what to do afterward, impact on finances, the meaning of life and all that stuff.

Recently an article was published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, describing a study of quality of life for elders during the last 10 years of their lives. The results were clear: seniors who worked for as many years as they possibly could enjoyed a much better quality of life during their final decade than those who spent most of their time in front of the telly or in bed.

The study did not say whether or not the jobs were paid or volunteer, full time or part time, self employed or not.

The study does confirm, however, something I have observed anecdotally over the 50 years I have been gainfully employed: people who retired and went home to play golf or putter around the house or sit and knit did not live very long after retirement. A year or two and they were gone.

The retirees who put their time into volunteer activities or went back to work part time or had other ways to spend their lives in a meaningful way (mostly service-oriented), lived much longer, healthier lives.

Over and over I have seen the pattern. I don’t know for sure, but there seems to be a combination of factors needed: a regular routine expected by the body and necessary for good health; activities that are mentally challenging; and, maybe most important, a purpose for live, a reason for living.

What they don’t have is a lot of stress—“have to” do this, “must” do that. Within a time frame set by someone else. There’s a sense that the post-retirement life style is established by one's own choice. “I have alternatives; if I chose, I could do something else.” True, oddly enough, even for those retiree who have been forced back to work by their altered financial circumstances—perhaps they say to themselves that there’s always Medi-Care and Medi-Cal and Social Security if I have to stop working. Younger people don’t have that safety net and the underlying fear “what if?” is a toxic stressor.

The end result is that when I think of retirement, I think in terms of what I’m going to do next, not that I’m quitting in order to do nothing. "Nothing" ends in decay, dissolution and death. I’m going to give it all I’ve got for as long as I can and leave this world knowing that I tried to be of service, to live a life of meaning and purpose and possibilities, right till the end.

Who would have thought that work could be the fountain of youth?

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