The heightened level of enjoyment lasts at least a year after a retiree stops working full time, researchers report in the journal Age and Ageing.
There is conflicting evidence about changes in enjoyment and happiness when people retire, coauthor Tim Olds of the University of South Australia told Reuters Health by email.
On the one hand, people may lose social connections and their sense of purpose in life when they retire, he said. On the other hand, retirement offers a chance to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.
“We found that you’re likely to be happier when you retire,” he told Reuters Health in an email.
That’s not because retirees spend more time doing things they like and less time doing things they don’t like, Olds noted.
Rather, it could be that retirees get more pleasure from even mundane daily activities “because they have more autonomy and time-flexibility,” Olds said.
The 124 study participants all intended to retire within three to six months. The group was roughly half men and half women, with an average age of 62.
At the start of the study and again three, six and 12 months afterward, Olds and his colleagues asked participants to recall their activities in the last 24 hours. They grouped activities into eight categories: physical activity, social, self-care, sleep, screen time, quiet time, transport, work and chores.
Participants also completed surveys about their health, wellbeing, sleep quality and loneliness.
Compared to pre-retirement levels, average enjoyment ratings were significantly higher throughout the study.
“Changes were partly due to shifts towards more enjoyable activities . . . but were mainly due to retirees getting more enjoyment out of doing the same activities post-retirement,” the authors found.
Overall, enjoyment ratings were associated with wellbeing and better sleep quality.
Physical activity and social activity had the highest enjoyment ratings while work and chores had the lowest, according to the report.
Still, participants who continued to work part-time after retirement reported that their enjoyment of it increased substantially, the authors noted.
“People have a different experience when working after retirement,” said Kenneth Shultz, a social gerontologist and professor of psychology at California State University in San Bernardino.
“You don’t have to deal with the pressure of a career job, and people tend to not be emotionally invested in it,” said Shultz, who was not part of the study.
For those on the edge of retirement, however, work appears to be an unpleasurable drag, according to Olds and colleagues.
During those last few months before retirement, they write, “enjoyment decreased when the trip to work began, was momentarily elevated during work breaks, and rose again at the end of the working day.”
The study participants, they conclude, “were . . . working for the ‘eternal weekend’ of retirement.”