Exploring Retirement

Welcome to the December 2014 edition of Exploring Retirement! Each month we provide articles on well-being in retirement and also feature an activity to explore. This Christmas edition means we have been on the world wide web for two whole years! From the very first we took a decision to provide an entirely free publication without pandering to commercial interests, to ensure our site remains free of irritating advertisements. With monthly visitor numbers now well over 1,500, we must be doing something right! Exploring retirement is written by and for retired people, at low cost but, we trust, of good quality. We hope you continue to enjoy our monthly publication and please do tell your friends about the site. All of us at Exploring Retirement wish our readers a Very Happy Christmas!

Retirement leisure

In this issue, the feature article looks at "serious leisure", which may sound likes a contradiction, but it is a concept that describes very well how many active people adapt to retirement. If you feel this describes your own approach to retirement, do please e-mail us and tell us more.

Michael is involved in a campaign to save our local symphony orchestra from cutbacks in government funding which threaten its closure. This month he uses his column to tackle the perception that classical music is elitist.

Jeanette's reflections are on how we choose to use our time in retirement. As always, she offers practical advice that can help you use your time wisely.

More people have been taking up our offer to write for the magazine. This month we are delighted to feature an article sent to us by Alan Hewitt, in which he describes his recent visit to Moscow and St Petersburg. Alan's insights into Russian life and culture make fascinating reading.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining their principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

If you enjoy writing and would like to have some of your material considered for publication on the Exploring Retirement website, do get in touch. E-mail editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

Serious Leisure

In retirement we normally have more time to pursue our leisure interests. What people pursue in their leisure time has been the subject of many years of study by Professor Robert Stebbins from the University of Calgary. Professor Stebbins has developed a perspective that considers leisure pursuits under three main headings -

  • Casual leisure describes activities that are performed principally for enjoyment. This is what most people associate with the idea of leisure. Examples of casual leisure might include going for a stroll in the park, reading a newspaper or watching television.
  • We normally indulge in casual leisure activities when we need some time to unwind, relax and de-stress. Professor Stebbins makes the interesting point that casual leisure is often associated with creativity. It is common experience that the solution to a problem that may have been bothering us comes to mind when we are not thinking about anything in particular. However, too much time spent idling can be detrimental to both our mental and physical health. As in most things in life, there is a happy medium.

  • Project-based leisure is a short-term, moderately complicated, creative undertaking carried out in our free time. Project-based leisure provides us with a sense of achievement as we make progress towards a defined goal, as well as developing our knowledge and skills. Many creative hobbies fit the definition of project-based leisure e.g. painting, music etc.
  • The obvious psychological benefit from project-based leisure derives from the feeling of making progress towards a goal. With a reasonably complex project there will be a number of intermediate goals which we can work towards, thereby obtaining a sense of continuous progress.

  • Serious leisure is the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer core activity that is highly substantial, interesting, and fulfilling and where, in the typical case, participants find "a career" in acquiring and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge, and experience.
  • Serious leisure provides a sense of meaning and purpose, equivalent to that which many people experience from work that they regard as a vocation. Examples of serious leisure are often to be found among the people who organise activities for others. In his research into serious leisure Professor Stebbins has observed six characteristics. These are -

  • Requires effort
  • Demands perseverance
  • Provides a new role
  • Enhances psychological health
  • A sharing of interests with like-minded people
  • A sense of identity
  • Another Canadian academic, Professor Roger Mannell, investigated serious leisure activity in retired people between the ages of 55 and 88. Professor Mannell found that when faced with a choice of how to use their free time they often chose the casual leisure options such as watching TV rather than overcome their "psychological inertia" to engage in activities that required an investment of effort. However, when they did act, the greater challenge to their skills produced a heightened sense of well-being.

    Professor Stebbins has identified the following contributions to well-being, that serious leisure can provide-

  • Personal enrichment
  • Developing new skills
  • Self-expression
  • Self-image
  • Self-gratification
  • Recreation
  • Possible financial reward
  • Enhanced social interaction
  • Professor Stebbins notes that each of the three forms of leisure has it's benefits and it's drawbacks. He regards the blending of the three forms of leisure as providing an optimal leisure/retirement lifestyle. The primary goal of leisure education should be to help people engage in all three forms.

    Featured Activity: Amateur Astronomy

    Amateur astronomy is a good example of a hobby that can easily become serious! There is something addictive about looking at the night sky and pondering our place in the vast universe. Many amateur astronomers are retired -who else can afford to sit up half the night waiting for a break in the clouds? While it is often portrayed as an interest for loners, it can actually be very sociable with local grouping of like-minded individuals meeting regularly in major towns and cities.

    Amateur astronomy is a hobby that can be pursued at many different levels and with a wide range of expense. Beginners are strongly advised to seek advice before spending their hard-earned cash. This is were local astronomical associations can be particularly useful.

    Naked eye astronomy is, of course, completely free and provides a basic knowledge of the night sky. Being able to pick out major constellations such as Orion and the Plough (the Big Dipper in North America) helps you navigate the heavens. This provides a good foundation when you come to locating more difficult objects such as nebulae.

    In Ireland, the Irish Amateur Astronomical Association organises regular lectures in the winter evenings, with both amateur and professional astronomers as guest speakers. These meetings offer anyone interested in astronomy and space science the chance to keep up to date with developments. This is especially welcome in a country were the skies are rarely free from cloud!

    Throughout the year the Association runs an outreach programme visiting various venues, often with a Stardome (an inflatable planetarium) as well as displays of meteorites and other astronomical paraphernalia. During daytime sessions solar observing is usually on offer - weather permitting of course - and this allows members of the public to see the sun through special telescopes designed for safe viewing, filtered to emphasise features on the Sun's surface, such as sunspots, prominences and so on.

    Astronomy AssociationAn assortment of telescopes for public viewing

    Night time observing sessions are held outdoors in "dark sky" sites and feature telescopic observations of the Moon, planets and deep-sky objects as well as displays of meteorites and other astronomical phenomena.

    Other social highlights include Star Parties, visiting places like Birr Castle in County Offaly, where, in the early 1840's, the Third Earl of Rosse designed and built the largest telescope in the world. The Leviathon of Parsonstown, as it became known, was the first telescope to record the spiral nature of many galaxies.

    Birr CastleThe telescope at Birr CastleSpiral galaxySpiral galaxy

    Useful Web Sites

    British Astronomical Association

    Irish Astronomical Association

    European Space Agency



    Classical Music - Michael McSorley

    This month regular contributor Michael McSorley discusses classical music. There is a perception in some quarters that attending a concert of classical music is an "elitist" activity. This point has recently been made in Northern Ireland as the symphonic Ulster Orchestra campaigns against cuts to its budget that threaten its existence. Michael is a long time supporter of the orchestra and this is a subject on which, not surprisingly, he feels very strongly. To read his thoughts on how classical music is perceived, click here

    How leisure choices reflect retirement happiness - Jeanette Lewis

    Jeanette takes a look at how the way we spend our leisure time in retirement impacts on our sense of well-being, and how we can reassess our choices, in order to take better charge of our time. Click here.

    A Visit to Russia - Alan Hewitt

    Alan describes his experiences on a recent trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Click here