How to Flourish and Avoid Languishing in Retirement and Old Age?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/5/21

Languishing and flourishing are two words that have been banging around in my consciousness since reading two essays in The New York Times: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing” and “The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing.”

The first article was geared to people suffering a sense of stagnation, emptiness, and muddling through caused by the pandemic. Adam Grant says languishing is the state of mental health between depression and flourishing and explores the emotion in detail, along with advice on how to beat languishing. The second article, by Dani Blum gives us seven ways to promote flourishing.

I immediately resonated with the word languishing, but not because of pandemic confinement. I realized languishing is a state I have fallen into because of retirement and aging. I am not depressed, but often I am not flourishing either.

What I realized was the confining lifestyle required to avoid Covid-19 was similar to the lifestyle of being retired. Both involve spending most of our time at home. Both involve seeing fewer people. Both involve limiting what we can choose to do. Sheltering at home from Covid-19 was no great effort for me because I was retired. I no longer needed to go to work or school, and my social life shrank drastically after I stopped working. I felt sorry for the millions that had to put their careers, businesses, and education on hold. But what I understood now, being retired had put my future on hold too. That’s where the sense of languishing grabs us.

On the front side of life, when we are young, the future is full possibilities. We flourish by chasing all our wants.

But on the back side of life, possibilities dwindle, and opportunities disappear. After retirement our wants become fewer. As our health fades away, so do the desires that drive us. We begin to languish.

I believe wanting people, places, possessions, and proficiencies make us flourish. But how do we thrive with vanishing vitality and dissipating desires?

I need to think about this. I do know when my health fails, I languish, and when my wellbeing returns, I start flourishing again. Unfortunately, the frequency of poor health episodes are increasing.

The answer to the title question needs two approaches. One for retirement, one for aging. Retirement gives us more time but less of other things. Aging is a diminishing of being, a natural state of not flourishing. Yet, I hope to find ways to flourish right up until I’m dying. Is that even realistic? Or some Pollyannaish belief?

I could speculate now and make this essay much longer, but I believe I need to contemplate the problem deeper before philosophizing further.


5 thoughts on “How to Flourish and Avoid Languishing in Retirement and Old Age?”

  1. I talked about this in a recent post (about a poem titled The Idealist) and thought that the answer was to make some choices, rather than just drift around and see where life takes me. I’m considering early retirement, and it seems important to look carefully at that before I leap.

    1. I always tell people who ask about retiring that it’s important to have hobbies and things you want to do that will get you out of bed in the morning. I flourish when I have plans that I can work on. When I’m sick and can’t pursue my plans, I languish.

  2. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter. Thanks for sharing. My life changed little because of Covid-19. I felt for the young and non-retirees who had to put their lives on hold.

  3. The quality of Retirement and Old Age are dependent on Health, both physical and mental. I have friends who seldom move from their comfortable chairs because they need new knees (or hips) but don’t want to go through the surgeries. I know other people–some friends, some not–who aren’t enjoying their retirement/old age because they have the beginnings of dementia/Alzheimer’s. One of the first symptoms of dementia is making Bad Decisions. One woman “loaned” her High School boyfriend $100,000. The boyfriend promptly vanished. Another guy I know bought a boat and took it through the Erie Canal to the Atlantic Ocean and down to Florida. The cost of fuel was $23,000. Before too long, he had burned through most of his savings. He sold the boat and is now working as a pizza delivery driver. Not quite the retirement he had envisioned.

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