Deferred Happiness and the Retirement Trap




  • The Wall Street Journal recently released a visual breaking down how people spend their time in retirement. The visual shows that the majority of a retiree’s time is spent on sleeping, relaxing and leisure, and watching television. (View Highlight)
  • Most of us create this beautiful image of what retirement will look like, but the reality is (likely) much different. Why? Well, the image we create is based on who we are today, while the reality will be based on who we are at retirement age. (View Highlight)
  • It’s a common plan—grounded in delayed gratification—that we defer happiness to some future (in this case, retirement). In most cases, that future is glamorized in our minds as an idyllic land of free time, health, prosperity, loving relationships, and freedom. (View Highlight)
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  • The visual shows that the majority of a retiree’s time is spent on sleeping (9 hours), relaxing and leisure (6 hours), and watching television (4.5 hours). Very little time is spent on reading (0.5 hours), socializing (0.5 hours), or exercise/recreation (0.3 hours). (View Highlight)
  • My friend Khe Hy once wrote about the all-too-common “when, then” syntax that says, “When I get [X], then I’ll be happy.” (View Highlight)
  • In my view, it’s not a rebuke of delayed gratification, but of (1) deferring ALL happiness to some future date and (2) believing that some external achievement or reward will drive lasting happiness. (View Highlight)
  • The lesson is that we can never make the mistake of thinking that an external achievement will create lasting happiness. (View Highlight)
  • Retirement is the most common version of this trap: We say we’ll be happy and do all of the things we’ve wanted to do…when we retire. (View Highlight)
  • The traditional concept of retirement is grounded in a foundational assumption that there should be a “before and after” within your life—that you grind away for years and years in the before and then get to enjoy the after. (View Highlight)
  • The goal is to design a life that you don’t need to retire from. A life that has the freedom to balance fulfilling work with the relationships, hobbies, experiences, and pursuits through which you derive joy. (View Highlight)
  • The designed life arc might look like this: • 20s: Start work, hustle to build a solid foundation • 30s: Identify and focus on highest leverage opportunities • 40s: Eliminate or delegate to increase freedom • 50s: Identify most meaningful work • 60s+: Focus on most meaningful work The idea here is that there isn’t a before and after, but a steady, incremental line of growth and progress that leads to more freedom and fulfillment over time. (View Highlight)