When I first retired nearly three years ago I spent most of my days in a state of amazement. It was a strange feeling to experience such freedom. I got out of bed whenever I felt like it, sometimes after seven hours of sleep and sometimes after ten. I stayed up as late as I wanted, knowing I could sleep in the next day or even work in a nap. I spent hours reading the morning paper, sipping my coffee, and eating a leisurely breakfast. Most days I didn’t get out of my pajamas until lunchtime.
I relished being practically the only one at the movies on a weekday and loved running errands when no one else was around. I enjoyed two-hour lunches with friends and never felt agitated if I got caught in traffic. I basked in the total absence of hurrying.
Then after about a year of floating through my days I got used to all that time and freedom and I took it for granted. We got busy traveling. We spent two months on the east coast on home-swap vacations and a week in Mexico on a last-minute package deal. We joined friends on their vacations in Hawaii, Tahoe, and Las Vegas and took road trips all over California. After about a year of this, my husband grew weary of traveling, and I started to take the freedom to travel for granted too.
How does a retiree go from a constant state of amazement and appreciation to taking all of this good fortune for granted? Hedonic adaptation is the phenomenon that we experience as we get used to our newfound riches, whether it’s the wealth of money or the wealth of time. “We’re very adaptable to our current situations, for good or for ill, so generally only shifts up or down from our normal experience get noticed,” explains Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. “Hedonic adaptation is an advantage in difficult situations, but can be a disadvantage when it means that we cease to appreciate pleasant circumstances.” To combat this phenomenon, Rubin suggests cutting back on luxurious enjoyments.
I’ve recently cut back on the luxurious enjoyment of time by taking on a part-time consulting job. I took on this project a couple of months ago and am having a great time with it. I’m using a part of my brain I haven’t used since I retired and am getting a heavy dose of appreciation, of which I will never tire.
The constraints on my time imposed by my new responsibilities have me yearning for all that I’m missing. There are many activities I never managed to make time for during those first few years of retirement. I never did sign up for boot camp or piano lessons. I haven’t had time to enjoy a good book in the last couple of months and my workout schedule is definitely suffering. On the other hand, it has limited the time I waste watching cable news shows and surfing the Internet.
I realize that at some point the novelty of this consulting experience will also pass. But in the meantime, it’s given me some newfound appreciation of the luxury of the time that I do have and excitement to pick up a few new activities the next time I step off this hedonic treadmill into the next phase of my retirement.
Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.