How often do you catch yourself saying “I’ll sleep when I retire” (or the slightly less optimistic “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”)?
We are all often guilty of working too hard for too long, not taking care of ourselves, and chasing what we think we want from life: success, money, a girl (or a guy), a family, and so on.
And in all the “I need to pick up the kids’ lunch before I can drop the dry cleaning off before the early morning meeting” – we forget all about what makes life enjoyable: having fun, and, well, enjoying ourselves.
We preserve ourselves for the future, for a life we might never even get to live with the tempo we impose upon ourselves work-wise. We forget all about play, become a bit dull, and age a bit before our time.
And then when we retire, the damage finally catches up, and our lives are cut shorter.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start having fun – even if you’ve just hung up your work shoes and cashed your first pensioner’s check.
Science is on your side, after all.
What do we know about the science of fun?
The latest report from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing by University College London, which has been studying ageing in England for the past eight years, has found that those who claim to enjoy their lives live longer.
What the term “enjoy life” means is irrelevant at this junction. All that matters is that those who liked what they were doing were less likely to get sick and die from one year to the next.
In other words, if you enjoy working 12 hours every day, really enjoy it, you might just be okay.
But if there is nothing in your day that sparks that fuzzy feeling of enjoyment inside, you might want to look into changing your lifestyle.
What can you change?
Funnily enough, the one thing that seems to work really well is making friends. The 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing has shown that those who have more friends tend to live longer than those who don’t. So if you plan to spend your retirement as a hermit, you might want to rethink that decision.
Friends can have a more positive impact on our lives than even our close relatives and children. That’s why surrounding yourself with the right people becomes even more important as you age.
Luckily, your 60s or 70s are no real excuse not to socialize. Even if it’s a cliché bingo night – surround yourself with those who make you smile, and the benefits won’t fail to show themselves.
What can you do?
Granted, there are significant challenges that come with ageing. Your health will never be what it was, so some of the fun activities you could safely enjoy as a youngster might be a bit more off-limits.
To protect yourself and make sure that whatever you do, help is nearby, you can install specific devices like medical alert system in your home. This will also give you an added sense of security. Once you have your safety net, move on to the fun stuff (pun intended).
- Smile. No matter what you’re actually doing, smiling, laughing and guffawing will boost your happiness hormone production, and help you live longer. Not to mention the enjoyment factor.
- Exercise. And this can be literally anything you like doing – walking, jogging, playing a sport, joining a dance class, travelling, gardening, even playing Wii with your grandkids if you can keep up.
- Eat and drink the good stuff – red wine, dark chocolate, blueberries, etc. All the foods that are high in something that can benefit you (antioxidants, for example) should be a welcome staple on your everyday plate. Also, cooking is a great activity for the body and mind.
- Keep your mind sharp. Speaking of the mind, doing puzzles, crosswords, or any type of mind games (the non-psycho kind at least) will keep your mind young. We often succumb to the desire to do less as we get older, but that certainly doesn’t mean that our brains deserve to be lulled into oblivion.
Ultimately, what you consider fun is totally up to you. What you contemplate doing in your free time is not as important as actually doing it. Make the decision to make your life worth living and enjoying. No one else is going to do that for you.
In the words of Hunter S. Thompson: Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”