Exploring Retirement

"The institutions and instruments which have been created to meet the problem of ageing, are in no position to provide us with a policy for that great majority of retired people who present no problem at all"

Peter Laslett: A Fresh Map of Life.

Welcome to the April 2018 edition of Exploring Retirement. In 2018 we will be exploring some of the roles open to people in "retirement". Not necessarily full-time, not necessarily paid but all of them interesting!

As awareness grows of the huge and growing number of active retirees, so new initiatives are springing up to cater for their needs. This month we feature the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative.

Exploring Retirement is fast becoming the most comprehensive source of ideas for an active retirement lifestyle on the internet.

Exploring Retirement is written by and for retired people, to assist active retirees make the most of their additional years of good health. If you are interested in writing for Exploring Retirement, 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.

We trust that you will continue to enjoy our monthly publication and please tell your friends about the site.

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

High Investment Activity

The term "high investment activity" was coined by Professor Roger Mannell about 25 years ago. Throughout his career, Roger Mannell has been interested in the social and psychological factors that influence leisure and lifestyle choices and in turn how these choices affect mental and physical health. Roger retired from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada in 2013. At the time of his retirement, he was the founding Director of the University of Waterloo - Royal Bank of Canada Retirement Research Centre.

Professor Mannell's studies described the behaviour he observed among older people aged between 55 and 88. He noticed that most people, when faced with a choice of how to use their free time, often chose the “easy option” such as watching TV. He referred to this behaviour as a failure to overcome “psychological inertia”. Psychological inertia is the tendency to continue to be involved in activities out of habit. rather than finding new activities that are more engaging but require a greater investment of effort. Importantly, Professor Mannell found that, when people did act, the greater challenge to their skills produced a heightened sense of well-being.

An engaged lifestyle during adulthood has been shown to be correlated with a variety of benefits, including enhanced longevity, reduced risk of dementia, enhanced cognitive resilience in the face of brain pathology and enhanced mental flexibility. The explanation for such relationships is not well understood. It does however appear that engagement in an array of stimulating activities has self-enhancing effects on both mind and body.

In their best seller "Successful Aging" Rowe and Kahn identified sustained engagement in social and productive activities as central to healthy aging. The Manitoba Aging Study found that social and productive activities were positively related to happiness, function, and mortality, whereas more solitary activities (e.g., handwork hobbies) were related only to happiness. Other studies have shown that active engagement in cognitively stimulating leisure activities is associated with enhanced memory function, decreased depression and increased life satisfaction. Participation in leisure activities has also been associated with a reduced risk of dementia.

Professor Mannell's findings on high investment activity are very much in accordance with Csikszentmihalyi's research into "flow", the sense of effortless action, when participants are so engaged in what they are doing that they lose awareness of the passage of time. Professor Csikszentmihalyi has shown that flow occurs when high level skills are used to meet high level challenges. The people most likely to seek out high investment activities will be those who have experienced flow elsewhere in their lives.

It should not come as a surprise therefore, that with the advent of the third age, there should be an increasing number of talented individuals who wish to fill this new stage in their life with stimulating challenges. Two of America's greatest academic institutions have responded to this new call by providing exciting programmes for learners in the third age who wish to "strive for noble causes and to make this world a better place."

Quote - Unquote

"What is the use of living,

if it be not to strive for noble causes and

to make this muddled world a better place

for those who will live in it after we are gone?"

Winston Churchill

Featured Activity: Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative

In their book "The 100 Year Life" Gratton and Scott speculate on the future of work, as the average life span continues to extend toward 100 years. They imagine a society in which older people will want to continue to contribute to society, but in new ways that they find personally more meaningful. The Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative is one of the first attempts to tap into this emerging demographic. The Initiative involves Faculty members from Harvard's professional schools of Business, Education, Government, Law, Medicine and Public Health.

The Advanced Leadership Initiative is described as "a new third stage in higher education, designed to prepare experienced leaders to take on new challenges in the social sector where they potentially can make an even greater societal impact than they did in their careers". The Initiative set out to develop a bold, academic innovation, intended to become a new facet of higher education and that will change the concept of "retirement", helping to change the world for the better.

The course curriculum includes:
  • An intensive integrated curriculum on Advanced Leadership themes and major global issues
  • A requirement for extensive reading and preparation of assignments for each session
  • Attendance at Faculty lectures and facilitated discussions, with useful frameworks and tools for leading change

As well as the above, the course includes 2-3 day "deep dive" sessions, each focused on one major global or community challenge (such as health care, education, and communities or environment) where Fellows might fill a gap. Fellows are expected to contribute ideas based on their experience and knowledge for immediate solution-seeking with major figures in the field under discussion and with affected constituencies.

Fellows are expected to engage with the intellectual resources of Harvard University to produce projects of significance that can serve as a central focus for their next productive years. This means a plan for action that will unfold over time, rather than a finished product such as a doctoral dissertation – although a few Fellows’ projects have taken the form of books or films.

With this Initiative, Harvard is seeking to tap the experience of a socially conscious generation of leaders and help redirect and broaden their skills to fill critical leadership gaps in solving major social issues. The program started in January 2009, with a select group of Fellows from diverse sectors with a track record of achievement and accomplishment. They came have come to Harvard to begin the transition from their primary income-earning careers and to prepare for their next phase plan as change agents for society.

To hear some of the people involved in the Initiative talk about their experience of the programme, take a look at this short video.

Featured Activity: Stanford Distinguished Careers Initiative

While Harvard is located in the North-East of the United States, Stanford is situated on the West Coast. The University is located in the middle of Silicon Valley, an innovative and entrepreneurial environment that seeks new ideas to change the world.

The Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute provides an opportunity for highly accomplished individuals from all walks of life who are eager to transform themselves for roles with social impact at the local, national, and global levels. The year long program aims to utilise the wealth of innovation and knowledge from one of the world’s finest universities to create a new, enriching professional and personal journey for the next stage of life.

Participants are offered a highly personalised curriculum which includes discussion seminars that highlight both the intellectual richness of Stanford and personal transformation; think tanks on major societal and intellectual issues; and the construction of a purpose pathway for each fellow. Faculty advisors are available to provide guidance and support.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the program is the set of relationships formed – both during the year at Stanford and for many years to come. Participants have community space on campus to interact with each other informally. Social events ranging from walks and hikes to participation in the arts and athletics programs at Stanford are offered. Dinner meetings with leaders from across the university and Silicon Valley also provoke dialogue and debate on important issues.

Take a look at this short video which sets out Stanford's vision for the Distinguished Careers Institute.


Michael McSorley

Michael loves sport of all kinds and this month he reflects on Ireland's recent victory in the Six Nations Rugby. Reading Michael's article was a revelation to me of the lengths some fans will go to to get tickets for a big match.To read Michael's essay click here.

Jeanette Lewis

This month Jeanette takes a look at how we make a life plan for the third age.To read her article, click here

Photo Gallery

In October 2016 we featured some nature photos from my friend Drew Todd. Another friend of mine, Henrietta Price, recently sent me this amazing photo of a heron that visits a small pond on her property. There is a heronry several miles away from where Henrietta lives on the Ards peninsula. This wily bird visits Henrietta's 11 year old pond to feed on the spawning frogs! For any techies out there, the shot was taken with a Bushnell Natureview motion sensor camera set for stills, tied about a metre up a small tree.

We would love to make this a regular feature. If there are any more aspiring photographers who would be willing to share some examples of there work, do get in touch. Contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.