Plan beyond money to live happy in retirement

  • Ernie Zelinski

    Ernie Zelinski

  • Ernie Zelinski

    Ernie Zelinski

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted10/19/2015 10:00 AM

Many baby boomers genuinely fear retirement.

After working full time for their entire adult lives, they have no idea how they are going to fill their days and NOT waste their days away watching television and doing little else.


Naturally, they also worry that they have not saved enough money to live well in retirement. They don't want to become a burden to their children down the road.

Those who view retirement with trepidation might want to pick up a copy of Ernie Zelinski's book, "How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free" (VIP Books, $16.95). It can certainly change your perspective on the years ahead and help you view retirement as the beginning of life, not the end.

"The key to achieving an active and satisfying retirement involves a great deal more than having adequate financial resources; it also encompasses all other aspects of life -- interesting leisure activities, creative pursuits, physical well-being, mental well-being and solid social support," Zelinski explains.

Quoting a Florida physician, Zelinski said that many people experience a rapid decline in physical and mental health soon after retirement -- often due to idleness and feelings of uselessness. The secret to retirement success, he said, is staying active.

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"Retirement is the last opportunity for individuals to reinvent themselves, let go of the past and find peace and happiness within," he wrote.

Don't focus on what you are giving up by retiring.

"Leaving behind the demands of a job allows for a more balanced life comprised of a broader range of interests, activities, routines and relationships. Indeed, many new retirees become so busy that they don't know how they ever had time for work," Zelinski continued.

The mistake many make is focusing only on financial readiness for retirement. They think that they will figure out the rest when the time comes. But Zelinski cautioned that if you don't put effort into planning how you want to spend your retirement time (expecting fate to step in and handle it for you), you are more likely to find your years filled with boredom and depression.

And don't put all of your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes. Spending all of your time golfing or fishing or quilting or taking photos will not be enough to fill your days satisfactorily. You must plan a varied combination of pastimes, endeavors and activities.


Interestingly, Zelinski quoted a 2001 Cornell University study that showed that, particularly for men, making part-time work after retirement a part of the equation is beneficial for their psychological well-being, forestalling the onset of depression. This is especially true for those who have not engaged in satisfying hobbies outside of work.

Zelinski also emphasized the importance of retirees being creative and becoming highly independent, developing interests and a purpose that is all your own.

"It is a mistake to rely on your spouse's interests and purpose -- or anyone else's for that matter -- to give you meaning and fulfillment in retirement," he wrote. "But research has shown that those who live longest and are happiest are those with lots of good friends of varying ages. Having at least a few younger friends keeps you young."

Retirees also need to "get the work ethic out of your system and replace it with the enjoyment ethic. Unfortunately, the work ethic can be a powerful force that prevents some people from enjoying retirement. We have allowed ourselves to be conditioned by society, corporations and educational institutions to believe that visible work equals visible dignity," Zelinski explained.

So, he continued, "The freedom and the opportunity of leisure often bring on guilt feelings" that need to be consciously overcome.

Zelinski, in his book, advocates that retirees become "Connoisseurs of Leisure" or "Connoisseurs of Life" and turn retirement into an opportunity to recycle, reorient and rediscover yourself. Do not allow yourself to become bored because, "at best, bored retirees feel lost. At worst, they develop emotional conflicts and problems, including excessive drinking, overeating and serious depression."

"You must not commit the grave mistake of making the couch, the fridge and the TV your three best friends," Zelinski warned.

"Once you leave the workplace, you need to replace the purpose, structure and sense of community that it gave you by constructing your own structure. Personally, when I am at home, I get up, run or ride my bike, take shower, go to the local coffee place to meet friends and feel a sense of community and proceed with the rest of my day," he stated.

That is why he strongly advocated to his readers that they "plant" a "Get A Life Tree," which is his variation of a mind map or a thought web. Start at the center of a blank page by recording a goal, theme or objective like "options for my retirement," he counseled. Branches or lines should then be drawn from the center toward the edges of the page and on each line one should print any ideas that relate to the objective of the tree. Zelinski said to include activities that turn you on now, activities that turned you on in the past but you have stopped doing, and new activities that you would like to try.

On secondary lines from those primary lines, write the various activities that relate to the category: volunteering for charities, taking a college course, taking a yoga class, writing a book, going wine tasting, swimming, volunteering on a political campaign, etc.

He even suggested making multiple Get A Life Trees with different goals. One might be devoted to places you'd like to travel and what you would like to see and experience. Another might be "activities that will get me more physically fit." Many people, he said, end up with Get a Life Tree that extends over five or six pages.

Once you have mapped this out, you will have a vast number of possible activities you have personally chosen and each day it will simply become a matter of choosing which one you would like to pursue. You won't need to spend a moment in front of the television, unless it is watching a program that fascinates you.

Remember, he stated in the book, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a person dull, boring and despised."

Furthermore, he said, "If everything you do is easy and comfortable, life will become difficult and uncomfortable. All of us, including retirees, need to take risks and get out of our comfort zones in order to experience a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in life."

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