Chapter 10 - Lecture
We all need incentives
Without clear things to look forward to, life loses its flavor. We naturally punctuate our working lives with weekends, annual holidays and other breaks. These provided us with incentives but also a healthy rhythm of work and reward. We’ve looked at how important it is that we maintain a clear sense of purpose and remain active in retirement. Following through on this - we need things to look forward to.
Part of the vacation fallacy - the idea that we cannot enter a permanent holiday-like-state even if we have saved enough - is that the enjoyable aspects of vacations start to lose their appeal over time. We need some lean time and some bountiful time. It is the contrast of these that gives life its richness.
Throughout most of life, we yearn for more free time. Undirected though, the abundance of free time actually hangs heavily on many retirees. This is why we should develop clear lines of productivity along with what the rewards are we’re working towards - whether these are the small daily treats, weekly ones or big, highly anticipated life events.
For the unlearned, old age is winter. For the learned it is the season of the harvest. - Hasidic Saying
By design, retirement should be a time of less work, but it can even become our most rewarding phase - the harvest season of life.
A time of great reward
Striking a generally more rewarding balance requires adequate resources. We can stretch our resources with just our frame of mind. Recalibrating our sense of reward to draw more from meaningful things rather than superficial ones, not only costs less, but it’s ultimately more satisfying.
The old adage of experiences over possessions becomes more relevant to us in retirement.
The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes. - Frank Lloyd Wright
In chapter 5, we’ve explored how life after full-time work should be a time of growth and self-development and that a key part of this is continued learning and expanding our knowledge. This aligns well with rewarding ourselves and exploring new things. We can physically explore through travel, both near and far. We can explore new realms and knowledge in books, museums, online or through other experiences.
With an open mind and a willingness to try new things, you can find rich experiences right on your doorstep. Have you tried Korean barbecue? Or a guided tour of your local historical monuments? Or meditation?
You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing. - George Bernard Shaw
During our full-time careers, the demands on our time require us to defer passions and interests. Sometimes these have been ignored for so long that we don’t even notice them anymore. Our third life chapter is a time where we can expand ourselves beyond the limits of a career and fill in the areas we may have sacrificed.
Your next life chapter should be a renaissance and reawakening on many levels. With a renewed sense of exploration, we can rediscover and rekindle deferred interests. Perhaps you enjoyed painting in your youth but never took it further. You may have planned an ambitious round-the-world trip once, but life got in the way. Often, we can dust those plans off.
When we do things out of the ordinary, our sense of satisfaction and perception of time are stretched. Like being in a flow state, unfamiliar activities heighten our senses and make time go by more slowly. This way, our most precious resource, time, doesn’t simply pass us by; it gets filled and enriched.
One of life’s most inescapable lessons is that most good and healthy things require short term sacrifice for long term reward. Inversely, unhealthy things bring momentary rewards with long term costs.
Exercise is a great example. It’s tough, especially in the beginning, but if you can stick it out long enough, you can start to see the rewards. Eventually, a feedback loop forms where your efforts, the training, become connected to the rewards, feeling stronger and healthier. In time, the exercise itself starts to feel like a reward.
To get to this point takes time and discipline. Retirement gives us more time, so if we can muster more discipline, we can choose healthy things to take on and learn to enjoy doing them and reap the long term benefits they bring. This can be applied across many of the subjects we’ve covered in the course like productivity, habits, relationships, diet and fitness.
Learning to be rewarded by our pursuit of healthy things isn’t quick and easy - which is why these rewards bring such great satisfaction.
Small, medium and large rewards
We need things to look forward to at varying intervals. An important aspect of reward setting is cadence. We use years, seasons, months, weeks and days as the building blocks of our life rhythms. We should set clear rewards within these varying timeframes, and couple these with suitable productivity too. What are you planning to get done today, and what rewards can you look forward to?
Starting with bigger, less frequent rewards, annual events like family gatherings or summer vacations allow us to anchor our long term view. These are often further apart than we’d like, so we rely on a few other breaks in between, like public holiday long weekends or that discretionary out-of-season trip.
The flow of weeks and even months can also be anchored with simple rituals like your Saturday morning beach walk followed by breakfast at your favourite cafe.
Genius is the ability to renew one's sense of emotions in daily experience. - Paul Cezanne
Our days can become richer too by highlighting the little things we can look forward to. This could be an after-dinner scotch or your morning tea and quiet time or a relaxing bath.
All of these rewards of various shapes and sizes can be even more rewarding if we recognize and plan them actively.
Dopamine, the hormone chiefly associated with reward, also known as the “feel-good” hormone, is triggered mostly through anticipation. Your vacation is rewarding but planning it can become its own reward too - and in that sense, it's a valuable task.
A life to look forward to
There is a catch to rewards. You will no doubt have looked forward to something that has let you down and inversely you will have had low expectations that have been surpassed. Our sense of reward doesn’t come just from what happens to us but from how we internalize it too. This means your mindset and attitude determine much of your satisfaction. We consistently find that the happiest people are those that have learnt to live in the moment, to savor life as it happens.
In chapter 2, we saw that gratitude is possibly the most powerful tool we can use for greater fulfillment and that the key to gratitude is that it precedes happiness. It’s not life’s rewards that make us grateful - it is our gratitude that determines how rewarding things feel.
Gratitude is our master setting for happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment. With the right outlook, one realizes that just to be alive is a gift and a reward. If we can couple this kind of mindset with active reward planning - the possibilities for a rewarding life become endless.
No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now. - Alan Watts
A grateful outlook, an intrepid sense of adventure and clear rewards to look forward to - is a recipe for a most rewarding life phase.
Your assignment for this chapter is to scan your reward horizon. From looking toward the distant future to bringing your view all the way back to the day ahead - what are the things you can look forward to in the short, medium and long term? This a question you can simply answer. It’s also one you can take control of. You can set the things that will reward you and even how rewarding you find them, through your sense of gratitude.
Our time after full-time work is the harvest season of life, and you can make it your most rewarding chapter yet.