Back in 1994, Wade Clark Roof wrote the following about Baby Boomers: “We are all leading lives of quiet desperation.”
Similar findings were noted by Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby, whose studies over a lifetime have shown that, while Canadian Baby Boomers made significant advances over their parents in terms of educational achievement and standard of living, there has been little or no correlation in terms of increased happiness. The primary challenge for them, he found, has to do with the issues of “purpose in life.” Seeking to make a difference in their communities, Boomers have always invested large amounts of time and energy into their work.
Now that a large number of Boomers have retired or are soon to retire, the question of meaning takes on even greater significance. As many retirement coaches have observed, retired Boomers often struggle with too much leisure time on their hands, even though they had for many years looked longingly for a life without the long hours, harried schedules, and heavy demands of their jobs. Indeed, one of the biggest problems retired Boomers face, now that their lives are not defined by the job, is what to do with all the ‘unstructured time’ retirement brings?
This is why an article by Derek Thompson in this month’s The Atlantic, caught my eye: “How Civilization Broke Our Brains”. Quoting researcher and sociologist John P. Robinson, who reviewed more than forty years of happiness, he discovered that genuine happiness is not a life without stress, as much as we may often complain about not having enough time to do everything we need to do and feeling ‘too rushed.’ The real cause of most discontent is the absence of any schedule. As Robinson says, “Happiness means being just rushed enough.”
Thompson quotes a recent Pew Research Center survey in which people were asked about the secret to happiness. Interestingly, of the people who responded to the survey, who by the way were of all ages, most “ranked ‘a job or career they enjoy’ above marriage, children, or any other committed relationship. Careerism, not community, is the keystone in the arch of life.”
Thompson then goes on to review a new book by James Suzman, Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time. It is worth the read. But for now I would like to invite you to consider the points raised above. Is it possible, for example, that the very thing many western people dream of – Freedom 55 – may not actually be the answer to but in fact the cause of the anomie from which a large number of Boomers suffer? Could it be, moreover, as Robinson asserts, that “happiness means being just rushed enough” and that the secret to a satisfying retirement is to structure time and energy into projects that bring both meaning and purpose? And, finally, what does it mean to be “just rushed enough”?