Exploring Retirement

- the online magazine for retired people

"Increased longevity will challenge us not only to revise expectations but also to discover unexpected possibilities, arranging life in new and satisfying patterns, and to explore how newly perceived possibilities relate to earlier life choices. In the process we will encounter gradual - or sometimes sudden - shifts of consciousness and identity that accompany awareness of the new situation".

Mary Catherine Bateson: Composing A Further Life.


Welcome to the first edition of Exploring Retirement, an online monthly magazine for anyone recently retired or who expects to retire in the near future. Each month we will be providing articles on well-being in retirement and also featuring an activity for you to explore. Where appropriate, we will also include short video clips and links to related topics.

The increase in longevity to which Professor Bateson refers appears to come as an extension of every phase of life and not, as many people think, as added years at the very end. People today spend longer in education, will spend longer in work and can expect to spend longer in retirement. This website is designed to assist these active retirees make the most of their additional years of good health. In the past many people found when they retired that there was very little help or guidance available. The Exploring Retirement web site is intended to fill that gap. No one knows it all, we are all explorers in this new land. We hope that by sharing what we have learnt with you, that you in turn will want to share what you know with others.

Feedback from readers is welcomed, whether you want to add your thoughts on well-being in retirement or share your experience of an activity you have enjoyed since you retired. E-mail editor@exploringretirement.co.uk

In this first issue, our feature article looks at research into whether or not people who retired experienced an increase or a decrease in their well-being as a result and what were the factors that influenced the outcome. A lot of people who are about to retire worry about how they will cope with the changes; they should find the results of this study reassuring.

Happiness in retirement

Research conducted by the Centre for Retirement Research at Boston College found that approximately 80% of the people they surveyed said that they were as happy or happier in retirement than before they retired. That is good news for anyone worrying about impending retirement, but what about the 20% who said they were less happy since they retired? The same research found that these people were usually unhappy in retirement for reasons that were not related to being retired, for example

Being forced to retire proved to be the most important determinant of retirement well-being, even when income was held constant. Being told in effect that you are not wanted, can have a devastating impact on your self-esteem that can endure for years after the event. Involuntary retirement, in theory, should no longer be an issue with new legislation intended to outlaw age discrimination. However, if you have been forced to retire under the old regime, you must try not to let it sour the rest of your life. Don't live in the past but plan for a fulfilling future instead. This site will help you get some ideas.

The Holmes-Rahe Scale of Life Stressors ranks retirement just below losing your job in terms of its potential effects on well-being. This is understandable in terms of the sudden loss of role/status, the possible drop in income, the disruption to well established routines and the possible disruption to well-established relationships. However, as the research quoted above shows, after an initial period of adjustment, most people bounce back to the same or better levels of well-being than they experienced before they retired. We should not though, ignore the problems many people face with the transition phase of retirement. What are the key factors we need to take into account in dealing with this important change in our lives?

Professor George Vaillant is the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest, most comprehensive examination of ageing ever conducted. Since the 1930s, this research has studied more than 800 men and women, following them from adolescence into old age, and seeking clues to the behaviours that translate into well-being and healthy longevity. Professor Vaillant has used the results of this study to identify four key areas that he believes we need to plan for, in order to get the most from retirement:

  1. Replace work colleagues with another network - study after study has shown the importance of having a strong social network to our well-being.
  2. Re-discover play - doing things for the fun of it is all the reason you need.
  3. Get creative - whether it's painting the Mona Lisa or baking a cake.
  4. Lifelong learning - it's more than keeping your brain active - the more interests you develop, the more interesting your life can become.

Professor Vaillant summarises his findings in this way - "Life is not easy. Terrible things happen to everyone. You have to keep your sense of humour, give something of yourself to others, make friends who are younger than you, learn new things and have fun".

(Aging Well - Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development by George Vaillant)

Retirement Readiness Quiz

If you would like to try a short quiz to determine your readiness for retirement, click here.

Featured Activity


The idea of a University of the Third Age, providing community based education for older people, originated in France in 1973 as an initiative of Toulouse University of Social Sciences. In the French model the U3A is linked to a local university.

Early efforts to introduce the concept of the U3A in the UK were the work of a number of Cambridge academics and, in particular, Peter Laslett, who had also been involved in the development of the Open University. Laslett envisaged a loose structure with branches being founded and run by their own members with no financial assistance from the state. Today local U3As are self-governing and democratically run.

Since its foundation in 1982, the University of the Third Age has established around 759 branches in the UK, with a total membership of nearly 300,00 (December 2012). In Northern Ireland there are nearly 5000 members and branches of the U3A can be found in every one of the six counties. New members are welcome and anyone can join. The annual membership fee is between 10 and 30 pounds (check with your local U3A group).

The purpose of the U3A is educational in the widest sense, including leisure pursuits and social purposes. Groups meet at weekly, fortnightly or monthly intervals. Educational qualifications are not required for admission and none are awarded. What is essential is that members contribute actively from their own experience. There is no distinction between those who learn and those who teach: the leader in one group may well be a student in another. U3A activities are many and various, ranging from arts and crafts to yoga. If you are interested in an activity but it is not offered, you can start your own group, all you need is to find one or two others willing to join you. My local group in North Down is very active, with over 900 members - take a look at the long list of activities on offer on their website. They certainly seem to satisfy George Vaillants four requirements for a happy retirement.

A recent development of the U3A concept is the virtual U3A, which targets older people who are isolated geographically, through illness or perhaps because of personal commitments (carers, for example). The address of the virtual U3A website is included below.

U3A Video

The U3A in New South Wales, Australia have produced a short video to explain what they are about. The video shows examples of activities and features members talking about the U3A and what it offers them. Click here.

Further reading material on the University of the Third Age, can be found at the following web links:

History of the U3A

U3A - Northern Ireland

U3A - UK

Virtual U3A