Feel Guilty About Enjoying Retirement?

OK, I’ll admit it. I am good at feeling guilty. It’s a talent I’ve had all my life, and I work hard to maintain it. Seriously. But, as I get older, I am trying not to be so good at feeling guilty. I’m working on letting go of the things that make me feel guilty and figuring out why some things set me off. It’s tough! 

So, it was no surprise when I started to feel guilty about leaving my job a year earlier than planned. Now that things have settled, I feel guilty about enjoying myself so much. I feel guilty when I choose art over housework (which is every day). I feel guilty when supper isn’t ready at the end of the day (thanks mom for being so perfect!) I feel guilty when I sip my morning coffee and watch the snowfall, glad I don’t have to drive or walk to the office. I feel guilty because I am no longer contributing much financially to the household. 

While researching for a previous blog, I was surprised to come across the article “Getting Over Retirement Guilt.” Steven M. Albert, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, says, “It seems to be a mix of guilt over good fortune (being able to retire comfortably), shirking duties (no longer having to work or be productive), spending money that may be needed for the future (not adequately appreciating money available), and having access to benefits (like Social Security and pensions). It may also involve a kind of survivor guilt — making it to this point intact and with resources, unlike others less fortunate. “

It seems that I am not alone in feeling guilty about enjoying retirement. Who would have thought? Many retirees battle with the “Should Demon”. You know the one. I should do this. I should do that. I should be more productive. I suppose I should…whoa! Hold on a minute. More productive? Define productive, please. You’ve been productive for decades. It is time to relax and celebrate just how productive you have been. One early morning, my 30-something neighbour was having “a bit of a gathering” and I heard a comment that made my blood boil. “Just because they are retired and sit around all day doesn’t mean they should complain when hard-working people want to blow off some steam.” Uh, pardon me? It’s 3 am. But then I started to ruminate. Is that how people see me? Someone who just sits around all day? That started the whole guilt cycle again. And let me clarify. I’m a lot more active now than when I was working, but it’s on my terms.

Guilt is a strange emotion. Sure, there are times when it can be a good thing, for example, feeling guilty enough to motivate you to apologize or correct wrongdoing. Just thinking of feeling guilty may be enough to prevent you from doing or saying something in the first place. But guilt is usually negative, and that is because it is a self-conscious emotion. Guilt can eat away at your soul and take you to places you would never usually go… usually in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep! I came across an interesting video about guilt as a useless emotion. Watch it here and learn about guilt, how to examine how it controls your life and how to give yourself permission to be fully here in the present. 

Recent retirees need to remember that retiring is a major life change. Of course, it will bring a lot of emotions to the surface, just like any major change. On his website, Intentional Retirement, financial planner and writer Joe Hearn, discusses many aspects of retirement. He says he has met many people who experience guilt during early retirement, guilt that manifests in two ways: those who feel they aren’t making the most of their time when they watch TV or run errands, and those who feel guilty because they are having fun. They are enjoying their retirement and doing things that make them happy. Does this sound familiar? How can we get over this sense of guilt and get on with the business of fully enjoying a well-deserved retirement? 

Lorrae G., Illumination, gives five reasons not to feel guilty over early retirement. In my opinion, these reasons apply to retirement at any age. You can read the full version online but in a nutshell, 

  1. By retiring, you gave a job to someone who really needed it.
  2. You now have more time to help family and friends, especially on the spur of the moment.
  3. Now you can spend your time helping out the community.
  4. We live in a country that allows or awards people who have put in years of work. It’s called the Canada Pension Plan. (This article refers to the American free enterprise system.)
  5. You can spend more time with family… including the four-legged members!

Let’s pretend that retirement is a new job, and you are the CEO. It is your job to make sure your business (you!) is functioning at its highest level. You are your own boss, so you can decide what quotas you need to reach or redefine the term “productivity.” Productivity may mean getting the laundry done. It may mean paying bills, shopping for groceries, or finishing a blog. It is up to you, and guilt does not need to be part of the picture. 

You have a lot of time to manage, and it will take a bit of effort to get re (ally good at doing so. On-the-job training, right? You were probably tired of running errands, buying groceries, driving the kids, and helping the family before retiring. You were probably too exhausted to enjoy any unscheduled time you did have. Forget spare time or quality time with family on the weekend, and you never really did get to recharge before returning to the work grind on Monday. But now, you have time to do all those things, and time left over to do things for yourself. Like playing pickleball, going for a walk, painting a picture, trying a new recipe, visiting a friend, reading a book, or watching TV. Doing things that make you feel good will feed your fire and make you a better person. You will become someone who can face life head-on with a smile and a relaxed attitude. After all, you have just put in around 30 or 40 years of working, so you “should” enjoy retirement. Guilt-free.

Don’t let guilt take over your retirement. Enjoy yourself, you deserve it. You put in your time. 

Some quick reads:

Getting Over Retirement Guilt | Everyday Health

Feel guilty retiring (gardenweb.com has some interesting comments, solutions, scenarios from others who have gone through the guilt of retirement.

DailyOM – Making Big Change Easier is an interesting short read about making small changes.

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