Here's Why This Author Says You Should Never Retire

Author Neil Pasricha argues that we should never retire. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)
Author Neil Pasricha argues that we should never retire. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

You work a few decades, save up money and then you get to retire and live the way you want to. Sounds good, right?

Not so fast, says Neil Pasricha (@neilpasricha), who is the author of “The Happiness Equation.” He says retirement isn’t such a great concept.

“I'd go further than bad," Pasricha says. "It's a terrible idea."

He first wondered whether retirement was a good idea when his high school guidance counselor died from a heart attack right after he retired. In Ontario, Canada, where Pasricha grew up, you are forced to retire at 65, whether you want to stop working or not.

“When I started telling people about that, inevitably ... they'd say, 'Hey, that happened to my brother-in-law, or like, my uncle stopped working and kind of he fell into a depression,'” Pasricha says. “So I start researching it. Turns out the two most dangerous years of your life are literally the year you were born and the year you retire.”

Interview Highlights 

On “blue zones” of the world where people live a long time

I started while researching 'The Happiness Equation.' I started looking around the world for inspiration, and I bump into an incredible study done by National Geographic where they discovered something called the ‘blue zones.

[For example], people live really really long in Okinawa, Japan. … Turns out that they don't have a word for retirement. I mean, they also live by the ocean and they eat a lot of seafood and they eat in small plates. But I mean, literally, they have no word in their language that describes this concept of stopping work completely. And in exchange, they have one of the longest lifespans in the world. And you might say to me, 'Oh, well, you can't just put two and two together just because retirement killed your favorite guidance counselor and people across the world don't have a word for it. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing.'

But then, of course, I went deeper into the research and I discovered something even more surprising and even more sort of like, indicting on retirement, which is that I was like, 'Well, where did this concept even come from?' Like stopping work completely — like where do we even get this idea? And it turns out that like many things in life, we can blame the Germans for that.

On German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck's early retirement policy

So this guy was running the country at the time, and in 1889 with super high youth unemployment, he declared ... 'You know what, those who are infirm, who want to leave the workforce at age 65, the government will pay you a little bit of money to do so.' Interesting things to note: there [was] no other state, no other country around the world was yet doing this — like paying people to leave the workforce. And the second thing to know is that the average lifespan back in 1889 Germany [was much shorter.] ... I mean, depending where you look at stats-wise, it's either somewhere between 67 to 70. So when he made this number 65, I mean, basically, it's like, yeah, right before you die. Why is that number 65 important? Well, that happens to be the figure copied by countries like the United Kingdom, U.S., 1935 Social Security Act, Canada, where I live.

On why the age of retirement needs to be reconsidered 

It's like, how do you get off the punch clock by age 55 or 60 and kind of retire to like, you know, endless golf games? Like, if anything, we've lowered the number that we aspire to retire. And as you pointed out, we've vastly increased the number that we live to. So we've created this huge gigantic gap where our supposed savings are supposed to pay for 30 years of our best lifestyle.

On the four S’s that will make you happier

Turns out, you will be happier if you have what I call the four S's in your day. And when you retire, you end up chopping those S's out. And they are, real quick:  social. So it turns out the No. 1 thing that affects our happiness is the strength of our relationships with our friends and family. It's got to be in real life because if you cut off your workplace, you're cutting off typically a group of friends that you look forward to seeing.

The second one is structure. There is something that creates happiness when you have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The Okinawans — who I mentioned earlier, who have no word for retirement — they actually have a word for this. They call it 'ikigai,' which translates as the reason you get out of bed in the morning. I call it structure but basically, you'll have a 100-year-old fisherman who's like, 'my ikigai is to provide fish for my family.' You have a 110-year-old woman who says, 'my ikigai is to take care of my great great great grandchildren.' And when you have this sense of structure in your life ... it helps you get out of bed. It helps you do something.

Which brings me to my third S, which is stimulation. We're learning creatures. We always need to be learning something new. Work often challenges us with new technology, new ways of working, new ways of learning, maybe a new mission at the company and a new purpose, a new goal. So you're always learning something new.

"What I now think is, I will work my whole life. It will be rich, meaningful, purposeful work that may shift and change as my values and ideals change, but I don't aspire to this idea of stopping."

And finally, the last one is story. When you're working, you are usually part of something bigger than yourself. You are doing something you couldn't do alone, so you feel like part of a team. And those four S's of social, structure, stimulation and story bring us great joy and deep happiness. When we retire, we're often exorcising them from our lives.

On why not worrying about retirement is liberating

I'm East Indian, so the culture I grew up in was this idea: first of all, go be a doctor, which I already failed at, and then save up enough of a nest egg that you can buy a nice house, get married, have kids and hopefully retire. But I will tell you since adopting this philosophy, it's so liberating because guess what? I'm not saving for retirement anymore. I'm not petrified at night going to sleep worrying about sleeping in an empty box on the side of the street ... and I'm not saving a certain percentage of my income. What I now think is, I will work my whole life. It will be rich, meaningful, purposeful work that may shift and change as my values and ideals change, but I don't aspire to this idea of stopping. And that actually frees me to be more agile in what I do ... and take more breaks and more space in what I do.


Francesca Paris and Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on August 6, 2019. The audio for this segment is not available.

Jeremy Hobson Twitter Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.

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