The ups and downs of retirement

A few weeks ago I posted “The Joys Of Not Working”. I wrote about both the joy and the responsibility that comes with being retired. Having to fill your time with activities of your own making is t…

Source: The Ups And Downs Of Retirement

Author: trevorharley

I am Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Dundee, Scotland. I am the author of several books, including the best selling texts "The psychology of language" (now in its fourth edition) and "Talking the talk: Language, psychology and science". I am currently also writing books on the science of consciousness and on the philosophy of science as applied to psychology (the latter with Richard Wilton), with both due to be published in 2017. Several other books are in the pipeline. My research interests are varied and I have published widely in some of the leading peer-reviewed psychology journals. My interests include language production, how we represent meaning, computer models of the mind, sleep and dreams, consciousness, mental illness, personality and motivation, the effects of brain damage on behaviour, and how the weather influences behaviour. I believe passionately that scientists, particularly those paid from the public purse, have a duty to explain what they do to that public. I also believe that we can reach a wide audience by the use of social media and new ways of explaining what we do. In my spare time I use stand-up comedy to talk about my research; a few years ago I appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe. One of the strangest things about being a comic is that I am often severely depressed (as well as anxious and obsessive). I have been on many types of medication, with varying degrees of success. When depressed I am always struck by how pointless everything seems: nothing seems worthwhile, and those things that I usually enjoy (playing the piano - even if not very well, looking at the natural world, reading, watching movies) no longer entice. My interest in things is a very accurate barometer of how well I am. I have realised that some mental illnesses, particularly severe mood disorders, are in part a loss of purpose and meaning in life. Becoming well involves recovering this purpose. I am also very keen to help remove the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. All of my life I have been puzzled by the question of what is the best way to spend my time. This blog is my search for answer to that question. In it I talk about my life, psychology, mental illness, purpose, living a better life, time management, existential despair, death (making me a death blogger I suppose), being creative, writing, and trying to write when depressed. I try and blog once a week or so; long silences usually mean I'm too depressed to write. For more information about me, see the home page of my website at I welcome comments on my blog, or if you prefer you can email me at You can follow me on Twitter at @trevharley.

3 thoughts on “The ups and downs of retirement”

  1. I found this post on the ever-interesting It’s a reminder that we can fill our days with activities we enjoy. Are they all meaningful though? I worry about such things. I am currently finding it difficult to find time to write, and being ill doesn’t help. But I hope others find Kathy’s post enjoyable and useful.


    1. Trevor, Thanks for the ping-back and the comments. This post was written as a kind of kick in the pants for some of my readers who write me about not being happy in retirement. They are already down. Hence, the idea of finding activities they enjoy. I have written extensively about the importance of finding new meaning and purpose in retirement as I believe that is the key to a happy retirement. It is also the key to happiness at any other time of life. In western society we have primed people to believe they need to retire and how it is going to be perpetual vacation. It most certainly will not be perpetual vacation unless you want to be bored out of your mind. Rather, retirement is a chance to discover your true potential and put your dent in the universe. For me, the blog afforded the opportunity to write and much to my surprise, also provided an opportunity to help others, thus putting my dent in the universe. K


      1. I agree that the idea of a perpetual vacation is destined for failure. I’ve never really enjoyed “holidays” that much, anyway. Or rather I like the idea of them, but as soon as they begin I feel listless and start wanting to getting back to do something more purposeful.

        Everyone needs purpose and meaning, not just those who are retired, although they might need it more. Some find it through their work; that makes sense if your job is something fulfilling, less so if it doesn’t, as you so aptly say, “make a dent not he universe”. We need things that give us pleasure, but a life of pure hedonism is not enough. In fact I’d go further and say I think nothing but hedonism is probably bad. We need purpose and meaning.

        My struggle, as my blog shows, is with finding what purpose and meaning are, let alone what activities, for me, are purposeful and meaningful. I believe that activities such as writing so as to help others lead better lives, to educate others, or help them realise their potential, and volunteering to help others, are meaningful, but sometimes I have my doubts.


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