The bottom line is this: You don’t work, you die.
The fantasy for many is to be independently wealthy and to not work at all. You know, win the lottery and coast on easy street for the rest of your life. But that would be a HUGE mistake. Humans are meant to carry loads, and if we don’t we quickly get depressed. It’s like this: An Alaskan Husky dog will just not be happy with the life of a lapdog for a single, disabled man who leaves the dog home alone in a small apartment for 10 hours each day. He will chew the furniture legs and destroy couch cushions. He will pee on the floor and then track it around. That dog has been bred to pull sleds all day every day, and to sentence it to just lying on the floor all the time is nothing but cruel. Same with us–we are not happy if we are not pulling a load. We may object to the load, but we actually need it.
OSU researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Even people who described themselves as unhealthy were found likely to live longer if they kept working, the study said.
And that is a very common finding! It is the rule, and that fact is well-known among geriatric researchers. We see age-related cognitive decline when there is not regular, challenging cognitive tasks (though that is certainly not the only reason for decline). I recently went to a conference at a hospital where they were hawking a video game for the elderly–because this problem-solving game demonstrably decreased the incidence of age-related cognitive decline (regular Sudoku did about the same thing, and there’s a very good reason I have that game on my iPad and play it regularly–word games and puzzles also helped a ton). There is just no good reason to retire if you can still work!
Retirement is often the kiss of death. As Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof said, Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man? Well, the answer is “Yes.” See, the vast eternal plan is for us to be happy, and sitting on the couch all day watching soap operas is not conducive to happiness. So we keep working in order to live. You don’t work, you die. That is the rule of all life. To gain muscle, I have to lift weight. And those weights are heavy! Watching TV while sitting on the couch will not make me buff.
When we look at big lottery “winners” we see a large proportion of them who say they wish they had never won, that this trial had never come to them. Think about that for a moment. For these folks, marriages dissolve, kids get estranged, and depression becomes a constant companion. They mourn the loss of meaning in their lives. Life stinks. Suicide is a HUGE issue for older people in general (but mainly after retirement). A friend of mine has a rather aggressive form of cancer and so is on disability. So he goes to “work” most days volunteering at a church-run charity. He does that for a very good reason, even if he doesn’t know the specifics–he knows it intuitively. And he is right.
I have MS and can’t walk. I often get asked why I don’t just stop working (I still see patients) since I am so obviously disabled and SS disability is pretty much automatic. It is because I don’t want to die. Maybe someday, but not now. If, in the future, I had to stop seeing patients, I would sit in my wheelchair and welcome people to Walmart. But I would not sit home and watch Days Of Our Lives. I plan on dying at work!
In other words, we were meant to carry loads, and the lack of load makes us unhappy and eventually kills us. I will die eventually, but I have NO desire to hasten that event. I would love to see research comparing the depression scores scores of lottery winners before and after the winning. That would be procedurally very hard to do. But we already have a pretty stinkin’ good idea of what we would find. Maybe we could take measures of a large group of them and then a matched group of regular people. But we already have good data on before and after retirement, so we pretty much know what the result would be. The truth is, Social Security at age 65 makes no financial sense for the country, but it also make no personal sense.
I write this blog not just because of my writing skills and my interests, but also because I want to stave off cognitive decline. And so while it costs me money for the web site and for the hosting, and I don’t like paying the bill each year, it is probably money well spent for me.