“I won’t retire, but I might retread.” – Neil Young
With more than 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day in the United States, retirement is on the rise. However, old notions of the viability and the actual practice of retirement have evolved enormously. Retirement provides the opportunity to find meaning and pursue joy.
The nearly 75 million people in this country born between 1946 and 1964 will soon be surpassed by Millennials to represent the largest generation in the workplace. While Boomers are ending their careers, Millennials are just beginning.
More than half of these Boomers have retirement savings of less than $250,000 and can expect average annual Social Security income of about $28,000 per couple. However, the average couple ages 65-74 spends about $55,000 annually. That’s not good news.
On the other hand, about 31% of those over 65 have more than $200,000 in their retirement accounts. That’s good, but it too may not be enough to sustain the golden years.
If you don’t have enough, you are likely destined to continue working a while longer to prepare for when you are financially able to do so. For those with enough, you may find the ability and desire to move to Arizona or Florida and golf everyday not all that appealing.
Perhaps it’s time to consider what New York Times columnist and author David Brooks calls the second mountain. This second mountain is where you stop pursuing happiness and instead focus on joy.
“The goals on that first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses—to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited into the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness,” writes Brooks in his new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. “It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.
“The second mountain is not the opposite of the first mountain,” he continues. “To climb it doesn’t mean rejecting the first mountain. It’s the journey after it. It’s the more generous and satisfying phase of life.”
This second mountain is about joy rather than happiness. While happiness is about victories for the self, joy is more about transcending the self.
“Joy is present when mother and baby are gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, when a hiker is overwhelmed by beauty in the woods and feels at one with nature, when a gaggle of friends are dancing deliriously in unison,” writes Brooks. “Joy often involves self-forgetting.”
Brooks says that happiness is what we aim for on the first mountain and joy is a by-product of living on the second mountain. This joy comes out of an enmeshed and embedded life. While happiness happens when a personal desire is fulfilled, the more permanent moral joy emerges when desire is turned outward for others.
Whether this is in the form of a vocation, volunteer work or further engagement in your community, the idea is to keep moving forward. And to actively engage with those Millennials.
Psychologist Erik Erikson said that as we enter old age, we face a critical choice between what he calls generativity and stagnation. Generativity is more than creativity. It means turning toward the rising generation and offering whatever we know that they might find useful—and learning from them in the process.
Joy can be found when serving a cause, purpose or people beyond yourself. Joy provides meaning in one’s life that rises above mere material acquisitions or ego gratifying experiences.
In Brooks earlier book The Road to Character, he referred to “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues are what he calls the skills one brings to the job market that contribute to external success. Eulogy virtues are those at the core of our being like courage, honesty, loyalty and the quality of our relationships that contribute to real joy.
For those approaching retirement age with finances in pretty good shape, you may want to consider focusing on your eulogy rather than your resume. This will likely result in moving beyond seeking temporary happiness to finding sustainable joy.