Why it matters that you matter in retirement—Part 1

Happy family of five people sitting at the dining table outdoors while senior man looking over shoulder and smiling

Image: gstockstudio/Bigstock.com

Knowing that you ‘matter’ is important at any stage of life, but it becomes more important when you retire. At retirement, some of the things that have given you a sense that you matter—particularly your job—are gone.

On things that matter, one Swiss research paper concluded: ‘Mattering implies that people are not only connected to others, but that they feel that they are important to others.’

The term ‘mattering’ was coined by sociologist Morris Rosenberg in the early 1980s. He’s cited in the research as saying: ‘The problem of retirement is that one no longer matters; others no longer depend upon [retirees]. The reward of retirement [may] be the punishment of not mattering.’

Four things about mattering that you need to know

1. Knowing you matter helps you adjust to retirement 

Knowing that you matter helps with retirement adjustment. Retirement is a huge transition and needs to be treated as such. Understanding what matters concerning your wellbeing before retirement was shown to help with wellbeing in retirement.

It’s important that retirees understand ‘how their life and their retirement projects matter to themselves and to others’.

2. Family and friends help you matter

In the workplace, it’s much easier to know you matter because you’re responsible to others and, usually, for specific tasks. Your achievement here helps increase life satisfaction. Just as you’re important to co-workers and supervisors, being involved in your community can also build on your sense of mattering.

But it’s support from friends and family that helps give a sense that you matter and enhances your sense of quality of life. What it does is replace connections in the workplace with connections outside.

3. Providing care to others helps you to matter

Volunteering to help others have a better quality of life doesn’t only bring personal satisfaction, it also builds a sense that you matter—at least to an individual or the group of people you’re helping. You matter at least in the sense that others rely on you for your support, but also for those close to them and those who organise the kind of support you give.

And the bonus is that while it’s something that makes you matter, it also adds to the lives of others.

4. Activities that reflect your work life can help you matter 

Think about the skills you’ve developed during your work years, particularly the things you’ve enjoyed doing.  You’re already skilled in these areas. Think through how you can use them in practical ways to set yourself up to use these skills—perhaps in self-employment or in helping others.

Could you be a mentor? There are often mentoring opportunities. I know that one of the universities in Melbourne has looked for mentors for students in the areas they’re studying. Mentors tend to love what they do and can share that enthusiasm.

5. Becoming proficient at something new can help you matter

Call this self-improvement, if you like. You could go back to school—get a higher degree (I received an email recently from a 70+-year-old friend who has just received her PhD she’d started at the age of 69, so it does happen), or to learn a craft.

You could start a new hobby or perfect an old one. You could support a charity or a cause in practical, hands-on ways. Or you could … (insert here what your creative juices tell you).

It matters that you matter in retirement and it’s mostly found in interaction with others on various levels and in various ways. That’s when you become important to others.

To quote T S Eliot, ‘To be of importance to others is to be alive.’

Part 2 of this three-part series looks at how a comment by a retired photographer helps to identify a series of ways to help you matter.

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

Category: Attitude, Emotional Health, Lifestyle

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