You Can't Make Enjoyment A Goal

Bob James

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Never be entirely idle; but either be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditating, or endeavoring something for the public good.

— Thomas à Kempis

Minus the prayer, I spend a lot of my time in retirement along the lines recommended by Thomas à Kempis, a 15th-century advocate of what today we would call mindful living.

I read, write, ruminate, and try to remain a productive citizen.

I hope in the long run to devote even more time to mindful activities, reducing to near-zero the time that I spend on mindless pursuits, such as watching TV, scrolling through social media, and worrying about the state of the world.

But no matter how I wind up spending my time, there are no guarantees.

For as I have discovered in four years of trial and error, you can't design a retirement guaranteed to produce enjoyment.

You can only try things. 

Golfing, gardening, hiking, biking, birdwatching, breadmaking, singing, sailing, painting, philanthropy, or songwriting.


Tutoring schoolkids.

Or playing dominoes in the park.

Whatever floats your boat.

When they promise you that, with sufficient planning, you'll enjoy your golden years, the retirement experts are lying to you.

Yes, retirement is an opportunity to reimagine yourself.

You no longer have to react to bosses and customers, or go places and perform tasks not of your choosing.

You're free to do what you will enjoy.

The problem is, you can't decide in advance that you'll enjoy an activity.

You cannot make enjoyment a goal.

"Enjoyment is not a goal, it is a feeling that accompanies important ongoing activity," said the writer Paul Goodman.

The best you can do is to test out a lot of important activities, and learn whether enjoyment follows.

While they're still working, people wonder mostly whether they'll have the money to retire. 

The smart ones make saving a goal.

But they don't give thought to whether they'll enjoy retirement.

And there's a good reason for that.

You can't make enjoyment a goal.

Benjamin Hotel
Benjamin Hotel


Bob James

Bob James is a second-act still-life painter and obsessive blogger. His oil paintings can be found on his website.

While first to admit all his opinions are merely his own, Bob agrees with Oscar Wilde, who said, “In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.”

He currently resides in Delaware.