The value of planning for ‘purposeful activities’ in retirement

Ecology group of people cleaning the park


Purposeful activity is important for a successful retirement. That’s the finding of Michael Longhurst in his book Enjoying Retirement (recommended reading). It comes from his Retire 200 study—an in-depth study of 200 Australian retirees.

‘It makes sense that those who keep themselves busy will fare better emotionally than those who lie around doing nothing,’ he says. And, if an activity has a purpose, it will prove to be more rewarding.

His study also showed that it’s important that, whatever this purposeful activity is, it should last for more than five hours a week to have the desired effect.

Defining ‘purposeful activity’

In the study, the term was used to ‘describe an activity that has a goal or purpose’. While golfers may protest it, golf is not described as a purposeful activity.

However, voluntary work at an opportunity shop would qualify. As would working in a paid capacity. To get the results, it had to have significance in some form.

The advantage of five-plus hours

From his study, Longhurst found that more than five hours a week of purposeful activity ‘was associated with significantly higher satisfaction with life, and with lower levels of depression and stress’. These are important at any stage of life and particularly valuable in retirement.

And these activities were either planned before retirement or came after boredom hit during retirement. In other words, ‘retirees who found their lives lacking variety or rewarding activities could choose to commence purposeful activities virtually at any time during their retirement years’.

The purpose and satisfaction link

Perhaps the most important finding is that 86% of the respondents said that being involved in purposeful activity was very important to their life satisfaction. This remained so even if the individuals were committed to more than 30 hours per week.

In contrast, a study from the US found that between 1998 and 2012 the number of retirees who said they were ‘very satisfied’ with their retirement fell dramatically.

In 1998, 60.5% of respondents in the study said their retirement was ‘very satisfying’. In the 2012 study that had fallen to 48.6%. And this was not linked to their financial status.

It’s difficult to know how broad this trend is, but it may be that purposeful activity—which can be interpreted as a reason to get out of bed in the morning—can counter this.

The reason why? 

Longhurst suggests that the main reason for an increase in satisfaction occurs because ‘many of the social and emotional rewards previously provided by the workplace can also be provided by purposeful activities in retirement’.

Remember, though, that retirement isn’t work. You will have much more control over your retirement.

Hyrum W Smith, in the preface to his book Purposeful Retirement, reckons, ‘Retirement is no longer an end. It’s a new season to live purposefully.’ Longhurst’s study demonstrates that purposefulness is important for life satisfaction—particularly in retirement.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Purpose

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