Exploring Retirement

Welcome to the September 2015 edition of Exploring Retirement. Each month we feature articles on well-being in retirement as well as showcasing an activity to consider. In this issue I will be discussing self-determination, a theory of motivation based on innate needs, the fulfilment of which relate to psychological well-being.

As I will be in the United States mid-September until the beginning of October, the next issue of Exploring Retirement will appear a little later than usual, hopefully by Friday 2nd October. My apologies to our regular readers.

New writers are welcome, so if you are interested, please contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk. For ideas to write about, have a glance at the July 2014 issue of Exploring Retirement, available by clicking on "Past Issues" in the navigation bar on the left of this page. These are only suggestions, please contact us if you have a different topic you would like to share your thoughts on.

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

Self-determination and human motivation

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning when you no longer have to get out of bed in the morning? That was a question I asked myself when I first began to research retirement. This started me thinking about motivation and, more or less by accident, I stumbled across the self-determination theory of Professors Ed Deci and Richard Ryan. These two academics have been studying human motivation for many years. They are interested particularly in intrinsic motivation, that is the motivation to do things for their own sake and not for any extrinsic reward. Their research has led them to conclude that everyone has inborn "drives". Satisfaction of these fundamental needs enhances our sense of well-being while their frustration can lead to psychological illnesses, such as depression. In self-determination theory the first of these drives is the need to develop a feeling of competence at what ever task we may undertake. Deci and Ryan observed this inborn motivation to succeed even in very young children. Satisfaction of the desire to be good at whatever task we undertake provides us with feelings of accomplishment. As we make progress at the task we have set ourselves so we continue to derive pleasure as our achievements build up.

In the second strand of Deci and Ryan's theory, the satisfaction we derive from feeling competent is strongly influenced by another powerful inborn need, the need to feel autonomous, to believe that we are in control of our lives and make our own decisions. If we don't feel that we have control of our actions or if the control is taken away from us, the level of satisfaction we derive from being competent at a task is reduced.

A recent survey in the United States found that people who work past 65 are happier than their fully retired peers - with one big proviso. If you have no choice but to work, the results are the opposite. On a scale of 1 to 10, seniors who voluntarily pick up part-time work rated their happiness a 6.5 on average. This dropped to 4.4 for those who felt forced to take a part-time job. When autonomy was reduced, the satisfaction felt from doing a good job was also reduced.

The final strand of self-determination theory is relatedness. Here Deci and Ryan postulate that positive feedback on our performance from people we like and whose opinion we respect, enhances our feelings of mastery. Taken together, competence, autonomy and relatedness are major influences on our psychological well-being.

Self-determination and retirement

How does self-determination theory apply to retirement? Perhaps the defining feature of retirement is that we have much more freedom to choose how we spend our days. Most of us will have more freedom of choice when we retire than at any other time in our lives. Thus we can pursue competence in our hobbies and interests ,while at the same time experiencing a high degree of personal autonomy. We can engage in an activity purely for it's own sake i.e. we are intrinsically motivated.

Intrinsic motivation in retirement is important because studies have shown that an active retirement leads to increased life satisfaction, especially when our activities offer the opportunity to pursue personally meaningful goals. With intrinsic interests providing the energising of behaviour, and purpose in life providing the direction of behaviour, together they demonstrate the fullest definition of human motivation.

While hobbies like learning to play a musical instrument are great fun, they can be solitary. For the biggest boost to personal happiness, you should also have hobbies that are social. Receiving positive feedback from people who share similar interests and whose opinions you respect adds greatly to your life satisfaction and the resulting psychological well-being.

While many people demonstrate these inborn "drives" throughout their lives, including in retirement, there are also many people who seem content just "passing time". If, as Deci and Ryan believe, fulfilment of these drives are important for mental health, then these people may not just be missing out, they may be in danger of drifting into depression. A large part of the rationale for creating Exploring Retirement was to show that there are many varied, interesting and worthwhile activities that can engage us and that can lead to a rewarding later life, filled with opportunities to develop our competence, autonomy and relatedness.

Featured Activity: Open Age

Open Age was established in 1993, to champion an active life for older people. They are based in the Greater London area, working across Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham to enable anyone aged 50 or older to sustain their physical and mental fitness, maintain an active lifestyle and develop new and stimulating interests.

Open Age provides over 350 weekly activities from more than 60 sites, including the New Horizons Centre in Chelsea, The Second Half Centre in North Kensington and the Open Age Hubs in Westminster, as well as community centres, sheltered housing, church halls and libraries.

Activities cover everything from health and fitness classes such as dance, yoga, chair exercise and walking groups to creative and performing arts sessions and weekly groups with speakers. They also have daily computer classes and drop-in sessions at their Open Age computer suites, as well as from other venues. As well as all this, they organise group outings, with regular visits to attractions in and around London.

Open Age is a charity that depends on the help of volunteers. Volunteers are actively involved in planning, organising and managing Open Age activities as well as helping in the reception and admin services at their centres. Ways in which volunteers can help include sharing interests and skills with a group, organising speakers, doing office work, sharing computer skills, delivering publicity or helping to escort first-time visitors to groups.

Open age also run a job brokerage scheme for unemployed adults aged 50+. They lay great stress on having clients with a wide range of experience and skills, who are work focused with a high level of maturity and commitment, as well as a real understanding of the world of work. To learn more about Open Age click here.


Michael McSorley - Music to heal and inspire.

Michael has been indulging in some music therapy to help him pass the time while he recovers from an injury, hence the title of his article. To read how music has helped his recovery, click here

Jeanette Lewis

Jeanette provides two wonderful examples of self-determination from among her friends. To read their inspiring stories, click here.

Ronnie Carser - Recreational Walking

Ronnie Carser was Honorary Secretary. of the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs for some years, so walking in our beautiful countryside is very close to his heart. He recently contact Exploring Retirement to draw our attention to the situation for walkers in Northern Ireland. I had always assumed that we had the same "right to roam" as everyone else in the UK, but apparently not. To read Ronnie's article, click here.


Reflections is intended to showcase short pieces of poetry or prose that reflect on our life experience. This month features another poem by my late friend and colleague, Philip Clarke. Here Philip muses on an experience we all share, that deep inside we are still the child we once were. I'm grateful to his wife, Noelle, for permission to publish these poems.

To read Philips poem "Past, Present and Future", click here.


Our cinema goers this month have been to see "Amy", a documentary film about the life of Amy Winehouse. To read their review, click here