Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Boredom, Cognitive Ability, and the Mental Retirement Effect

Boredom, Cognitive Ability, and the Mental Retirement Effect
Anybody bored these days? Me, neither. Things have been moving a good-but-hectic pace the last few months. Between all our house stuff, making a farmhouse table (credit to Mrs. Done by Forty for the cool stain and finish and our friends for all the distressing), work deciding to pick up out of nowhere, and learning how to maintain a pool on the fly, I don't have the gall to feel bored. At all. Every day has a list of things to keep me occupied, and I kind of like it.

But on Sunday, an old Freakonomics episode put a bit of fear into me. The show does that, as it makes me question the things I think I know are true. Give that link a listen if you have an hour and are in need of some complications for your early retirement plans.

The basic idea of the last segment in the podcast is that there are some observable negative impacts from retirement. There seems to be something about work, or the work environment, which keeps us engaged mentally, socially, and psychologically. One theory is that, once you leave the struggle of work and succumb to the sweet embrace of rest, then you're more susceptible to boredom, which is associated with all kinds of bad stuff: like depression.

We do poorly when we organize our lives around rest, because as Dan Gilbert, one researcher in the podcast, noted, rest is not the thing that makes us happy. And yet some form of rest is what we commonly aspire to reclaim in retirement: golf, walks on the beach, and if we're being brutally honest, naps. From the transcript:

GILBERT: Rest is the wrong answer. And we even know why from these data. When people rest, their minds wander. And when the mind wanders, it doesn’t usually go to a happy place. People who are engaged in an activity are almost always happier than people who are not. So any retirement you plan that doesn’t have you engaged in activities is probably not one that’s going to make you happy....
GILBERT: When you look at what people are doing and how they’re thinking and how they’re feeling as they go about living their everyday, normal lives, you find that people are obviously very happy when they’re doing things like eating and having sex. They’re not very happy when they’re doing things like working or commuting.
And what about when they’re just resting, like Satchel Raye hanging, out on the beach in Florida?
GILBERT: The answer is about as unhappy as when they’re working or commuting.
When we rest, we're as unhappy as when we're stuck in a car commuting to work? Or even at work? Yikes. Still, that's not really all that scary of a conclusion: just schedule some activities in early retirement, avoid boredom as much as you can, and you're set, right?

Well, not totally. Then Dubner hits us early retirees with a terrible finding: early retirees, in particular, also seem to be more susceptible to cognitive decline. Through a memory test, researchers observed that countries that encouraged citizens to retire early, such as France or Italy, had citizens who had a much harder time remembering a series of words than those in America, whose citizens usually work well into their sixties. Americans scored twice as well on this test as the Spanish, for whom less than than 30% of 60-64 year-olds work.

The study found that early retirees had lost some cognitive ability, and the researchers feel fairly strongly that this is causal: that retirement is causing the mental decline. They call it the "mental retirement effect". And while being able to recall random words might seem like an acceptable and narrow consequence for leaving the rat race, my feeling is that the memory test signals the tip of an iceberg: a small sign of a larger mental decline.

WILLIS: The basic idea is that if you exercise your mind and you’re in a stimulating environment and you’re motivated to use your mind that you’ll maintain your cognitive abilities. Conversely, if you are in an unstimulating environment, don’t exercise your mind, the effect would be negative on cognition. So in that sense it’s very much like the idea that physical exercise leads to physical fitness.
Willis also found that retirees became more bored after they stopped working. How did they come to this conclusion? With an almost unbelievably large longitudinal study called the "Health and Retirement Study" (HRS) with over 20,000 individuals in the data set, from all sorts of starting retirement ages. So it's not so easy for me to just dismiss the study or its conclusions.

These negative consequences have an obvious and somewhat serious implication for my early retirement plan. I like having my faculties. I like my brain (link is NSFW, but it's so good), just the way it is, and would like to keep it that way for as long as I can.

The predictable counter is to focus on the ways in which extreme early retirees are different: "By retiring so early, we will have lots of things to keep us engaged! This study might be interesting, but that's not going to impact us in the same ways because we're more active, we have a community of friends and family, and we're engaging in all these stimulating activities already. Did I mention that I read a lot? And blog? And hang out with friends all the time?"

But this is a bit of a trap, and a good example of the Dunning-Kruger effect at work. We like to assume that we are not part of the observed trend. That we, as usual, are special in some way, and for a bunch of valid reasons we won't succumb to the same problems that others will. We're better prepared, better educated. Smarter. Just like the children of Lake Wobegone, we're all above average.

But what if those early and traditional retirees also thought they were engaging in activities to keep them socially, physically, and mentally engaged? I doubt early retirees in France thought they were pursuing a retirement filled with boredom and mental stagnation. What if they really were engaging their minds, but there's something special about a profession, some sort of of yet-undetermined purpose or stimulation that isn't easily replicated in retirement?

Why are we going to be proven right when they were proven wrong?

When it comes to things like mental health and cognitive abilities, I don't want to play it fast and loose. I've seen in some family members what it looks like when you don't have full control of your mind, and it is not great.

I don't want to say that this podcast spooked me and now I plan on working until traditional retirement age. That's not happening. But I'm not as keen on the idea of "just figuring this early retirement thing out as I go", either. I need to do a better job of mapping out what this next life is going to look like, and how I'm going to keep my mind sharp without all the benefits of a structured work environment.

I need a better plan, man.

41 comments:

  1. I definitely want to retire soon, early at 41. I can't even remotely imagine being bored, between hiking, my blog, the house, and the kids, I imagine I will be very busy and much happier. We have a shared HOA pool as well which I plan to enjoy.

    I love your table by the way, I wish I knew how to make that.

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    1. We have very similar early retirement plans, Finance Patriot, all the way down to focusing on hiking, the blog, the house, and the kids. Will that be enough to prevent the cognitive decline noted in the post? I'd love to get some assurances before pulling the plug, for sure.

      Thanks for the kind words! Maybe I'll do a quick post on how we built the table. :)

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  2. Well, let's see - I could write a novel on this topic, so I'll try to keep it reasonable.

    First of all, I've been "retired" for about 10 years now, and honestly, I can't imagine being bored. But I think maybe some of this depends on your definition of "retirement." For me it was much more about not having a job, than it was about "resting". So I suppose my lifestyle might more accurately be described as a "simple living experiment" than "early retirement." I mean, in the past year alone I've taught myself how to write Wordpress themes as well as a new, responsive web design framework - and I re-wrote all of my websites using it, I went through an epic process of learning about Linux to set up a new server, and I've had the great joy of learning a whole new fun and exciting world of Schedule Ds an other tax eccentricities since I inherited some stocks when my mother died. I've also worked on my various "hobbies" including learning Spanish (CatMan and I have advanced to the point where we're reading actual "literature" rather than kids books) cycling (which involves a constant learning curve of becoming my own bike mechanic as well as the rather intense exercise - seriously, I'm in the best shape of my life) and, of course, the more mundane stuff like playing the guitar, singing, cooking, gardening, rescuing cats, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    So maybe I've just convinced myself that "I'm different" but I dunno... I honestly think that only boring people get bored!

    But... I do think that there's something much bigger and more disturbing at work here, and that's the whole idea that we become unhappy when our brains are not busy and allowed to wander. I do believe that in this culture, at least, that tends to be true - but I don't think there's anything inherent in resting that causes unhappiness. I think it's that in our culture, we just don't deal with our emotional shit... or rather, we deal with it by running away from it rather than by facing it.

    So it's absolutely true that when you remove the day to day busyness from your life, any emotional "stuff" that's lurking will naturally surface. I've definitely experienced this over the past 10 years. But unlike the sources you quoted, I don't see this as a "bad" thing, but rather as an opportunity to confront the emotions that I had simply been covering up most of my life.

    Anyhow, that's my 2 cents worth!

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    1. Just an FYI about the cycling. I hated my bikes breaking down, so I paid up and bought a Priority Bicycle instead, mine is the "priority 8" I don't get paid a dime for their products either, but I have had zero maintenance, other than inflating tires, in a year of daily bike commuting to work. Check out their bikes.

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    2. Thanks for the link! Those bikes look great for commuting, errands and the like, but alas, that's not the sort of cycling I'm into. I mean, I have an old Trek hybrid that I use for trips to the grocery store etc, but my average "real" ride is about 50 miles over steep terrain with speeds ranging from 15-25mph - so there's a weight vs. durability trade off. I ride a carbon frame road bike, and there's just no getting away from regular maintenance every thousand miles or so. But no worries, I've come to enjoy things like adjusting the derailleur, truing the wheels and the like. My most recent adventure was replacing the chain - which was much easier than I thought it would be, although one really needed to be Hercules to work the little tool that pushes the pin out to break the chain!

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    3. You're totally keeping yourself busy in "retirement" EcoCatLady. One of these days I may join the bandwagon and switch to Wordpress. Though the $10 a year hosting through Blogger is hard to break up with. But to the point, you're totally living a full life after traditional work, from the sounds of it, and I'm sure you're rarely bored.

      Excellent point about what might be a root cause of the depression that follows boredom, and when our minds wander. Maybe all these activities (like work) have a positive effect as they're simply distracting us from underlying emotional issues?

      The point I was hoping to make, but maybe didn't drive home in the post, was that the researchers didn't have a clear idea about WHAT in work keeps people from having a cognitive decline. Is it the social interaction? Just staying busy? Maybe the stress? Hell, maybe it's the paycheck. The thing I'm worried about is that I don't know what specific thing I ought to duplicate from my work life to keep my noodle in prime working order. It's kind of a crappy study in that regard: they've identified a causal relationship, but couldn't specify the aspect of work to keep around when you leave it.

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    4. On the bike discussion: we built a bike for Mrs. Done by Forty so got a taste of those tools and, yeah, chain breakers are knucklebusters, at least for newbs like us that don't know what we're doing. Though I did find a zen-like peace from truing a wheel with those little calipers.

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  3. I wonder if a distinction should be made between being BUSY and being CHALLENGED. Hiking, swimming, blogging all sound great! But until you get too incredibly high levels of say, hiking, in the end they aren't mentally all that challenging. (this is not to say that I could hike my rump anywhere). I myself believe that the pressure, the challenge of the workplace with it's deadlines and it's assigned tasks may be the main point. At home, we are likely to take the easy way out, to take a nap, to walk in a circle, to watch tv, etc. Even those of us who are actively engaged in learning, do it with less dedication and less PUSH then you would at work. There is less stretching, less inclination to look at areas that don't already interest us, etc.

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    1. I like the theory, Morgan! Challenge is distinct from business, and maybe the external pressures of work (or school or some other structured, long term activity) push our minds to a point we would not typically get to alone. Maybe that's the secret sauce.

      Very cool idea. Would love to see a study trying to tease out that effect.

      Until then, maybe some part time work is in order in my early retirement.

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  4. Somebody said that retirement - especially early retirement - has to be not just about working to get away with something, but working toward something else. The goal with early retirement has to be to find purpose in your new life. Maybe that's charity work, or starting your own part-time biz or whatever, but without purpose life will definitely suck and cognitive abilities will decline. It won't be long after early retirement that one gets bored fulfilling their every whim. :-)

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    1. I hear you, Laurie. I do think we tend to underestimate the value of finding a purpose in life, in traditional work or early retirement or any other life plan. I, personally, am very weak at finding a "why" -- my general pulling away from religion over the past few year may be feeding in to that.

      But to the point of the post, is the sense of purpose that people sometimes find in a career the thing that would stop a mental decline?

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  5. Very interesting. As with Morgan's comment about challenge...I don't necessarily think everyone's job is all that challenging. Would someone in a low stress non challenging job suffer the same fate as the early retiree in the study. Since FIRE is a bit off in the future for me and not a sure thing, I haven't really planned as much for it but I can understand your concern. Honestly, I don't mind my job and do enjoy parts of it...the challenges and the social interaction. I downsides are the time commitments, set hours, lack of flexibility, long commute and bureaucracy. Like many say, you have to retire to something. Maybe that something has to be a more detailed plan rather than just hiking, blogging and napping.

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    1. Ha! I definitely need a bit more than those leisure activities (though the blog has the potential to mimic work in a lot of ways: it has deadlines, it focuses on creation, there's some level of stress and challenge, and even is collaborative at times).

      Like you, I don't really hate my job. I find it enjoyable a lot of the time. And working from home is just the bee's knees: it hardly feels like work after you take away the office politics, the formal clothes, and the terrible commute. The money's really good. I wonder sometimes how easy it will be to walk away.

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  6. Interesting! I remember reading about something like that in the Neil Pasricha's "The Happiness Equation". One of the things he says is that not working makes you bored and depressed so you should "never retire".

    I think what he's trying to say (along with what Freakonomics is trying to say) is that humans are happy when they have a purpose...if we sit there and watch paint dry, we're going to be very depressed because what exactly is our purpose in life? I'm a firm believer that progress= happiness. When we get stuck in a runt, whether at work or in retirement, we become unhappy.

    So if the definition of retirement means you're NOT allowed to build anything, just sit there and relax, then yeah, we'd eventually get bored and depressed. But in reality, early retirement simply means "retire from the 9 to 5". It doesn't mean sitting on a beach doing nothing. It simply means you don't have to work a traditional job anymore.

    From talking to a lot of other early retirees, I'm finding that the people who went into early retirement ended up finding all sorts of things to occupy their minds and time...and some of them retired to spend time with their kids. You might say that doesn't really "sharpen your brain" like work does, but it has merits in other areas (like human relationships) that people value more.

    I also found that if you choose to be bored and depressed and not do anything with your time, you'll have the same problem with traditional retirement too. So for this type of person, the only choice is to work until you die at your desk? :P Refuse to leave even if it's time to give the next generation a chance at that job?

    Life is what you make of it. Waiting around for the perfect solution to create happiness doesn't work. The only way to truly be happy is to build things (including relationships).

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    1. I love the thoughtful comment, FireCracker!


      "So for this type of person, the only choice is to work until you die at your desk? :P Refuse to leave even if it's time to give the next generation a chance at that job?"

      Ha! Yeah, if the only option for certain personality types is to continue to work in order to find purpose and keep your mind sharp, I suppose it's a good option for them. But yeah, not for me. I still plan on retiring early: I just want to be more thoughtful about the risks.

      And I do see that early retirees seem to be quite busy, at least in the early phase (first year or five) that most that I know through the blog seem to be in. Does their activities mimic work enough to avoid any negative impacts? I think so, probably -- but I'll be combing the internet for more research. I do have some worry about the long term cognitive impacts (i.e. - the observed mental decline occurred pretty late in life) but I don't think that points to just keep working.


      "The only way to truly be happy is to build things (including relationships)."

      Does clumsy furniture count? ;)

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  7. I love this topic. And I'm going to go all in to the trap.

    A lot of us get lazy about living life. We let our careers consume us, and socially we are rewarded with bigger salaries and bigger houses and bigger toys.

    We work so hard and allow ourselves to be so consumed, that we dream of vacations and retirement...of rest.

    But...we can live differently.

    We can choose to work hard at our work AND at living. We can get adequate rest and recreation so that we don't crave vacation or retirement. We can seek out work we enjoy so that we aren't desperate to escape it.

    I would love to see a study on how many adults actively engage in hobbies or side hustles beyond their primary career.

    Retirement shouldn't be about rest. Just like the best vacations aren't usually where we just lie on the beach.

    Retirees who keep learning, reading (and blogging) are probably a very small percentage of overall retirees and I bet they are doing just fine cognitively ;)

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    1. "A lot of us get lazy about living life."

      That's the truth, Emily. It certainly applies to me a lot of the time, too.

      I'm in the home stretch of my traditional career and I'm settling in to a type of leisurely work: a lot of calls taken on the back porch while throwing balls to the dog, a lot of spreadsheets being built with the occasional dip in the pool to break up the productivity. Is this sort of thing helpful? Potentially bad for my mental capacity? Who knows, but it is helping give me the confdence I can make it to the finish line.

      I do feel good when I work hard though. I just hit a point where it's no longer beneficial, when the stress is too great and I don't end up feeling happy at the end of a good day's work.

      "Retirement shouldn't be about rest. Just like the best vacations aren't usually where we just lie on the beach. "

      Definitely! I keep coming back to this point: I think I'm in need of some lifestyle design as it comes to this early retirement.

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  8. One of the secrets to happiness is finding meaningful work. This usually involves producing something that benefits you or another person, and could include growing things (to eat) or helping someone learn something by teaching them (through reading something you have written or spending time with a child helping them with homework,etc) or making something like a table, which people use. Fixing cars could also fall into this category. Nice table!

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    1. Thanks, JW! We like the table a lot. It's almost too big for some games, but we'll take it: we've always wanted to be able to seat eight easily.

      The meaningful work that I'll engage with in early retirement is something I need to think about more. It's a bit of a catch 22: I'm pretty busy these days so I often don't make the time to think about what I'll do then. Ironically, when I leave traditional work, I may have too much time.

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  9. Hoping to retire in 20 years depending on how the investments do. It's hard to predict an exact age for retirement when my outlook is still far off.

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    1. I hear that, Mongrel. Twenty years is a fairly long ramp and it's just tricky to make projections that far off.

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  10. This is something I see regularly--I work as a psychologist and many of my patients struggle with depression following major life changes, both good and bad, and discussing what to refocus their time/energy on once they retire/are disabled/etc is often something they never thought about. The ones that do the best are the ones who can figure out what a meaningful life looks like, and work to emulate that as best they can.

    This is honestly the thing I worry about most when I do retire--money will be fine, I can always work part-time, but what if I can't figure out how to stay engaged in things I find interesting? Good thing/bad thing I have some years before I have to figure that out...

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    1. Very cool to get the perspective of a psychologist, Tim. It seems like you're one of the few who agrees with the negative impacts that seem to happen after retirement (or, as you noted, any major life change).

      I feel the same way you do about the time I have left until retirement: it's good that I have some years to figure it out. But, also, enough years that I may procrastinate on it.

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  11. As someone who trained to be a biomedical scientist, I want to look at their actual data, and see how big the differences they found, are. And perhaps also see whether they focused on the one different measurement they found, ignoring the other say 8 measurements of cognitive ability that didn't show any "significant" differences. (How much did they have to massage their data to come up with a significant result?)

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    1. Hi Petra. I believe you can dig into the research in the podcast transcript's research section:

      http://freakonomics.com/podcast/am-i-boring-you-a-new-freakonomics-radio-episode/

      These are the three links I think you want:

      The National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study.

      “Mental Retirement” by Susann Rohwedder and Robert J. Willis (working paper, 2009).

      “Documentation of Cognitive Functioning Measures in the Health and Retirement Study” by Mary Beth Ofstedal, Gwenith G. Fisher and A. Regula Herzog (2005).

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  12. I worry about this but not for early retirement. I have too many projects and hobbies. I worry about later when my health will decline and my mind will probably decline too. I see my mother living alone, bored and depressed, because she has lost her husband, is losing her memory, health is declining, struggles to get through the day. I hope that is still at least 30 years off for me. Maybe the challenge of keeping busy will be enough of a challenge to keep me from being bored.

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    1. I hear you, Daizy. At least in the absence of some more conclusive, causal research on what specifically in work we ought to emulate in retirement, maybe just keeping busy is the best approach.

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    2. I got the chance to lounge around last Saturday. As my motivation waned and my thought began to wander, I felt some sadness creep in for people lost, opportunities not taken. Then I thought of this blog post and thought, "Ahhhhh! It's happening! I can never retire and give in to the darkness!" I had better have a solid plan to keep active before I quit my job.

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  13. Hey, I just wrote about this. I'm doing very well in retirement and my observation is that you need one or two huge project to keep you busy. Check it out.
    http://retireby40.org/secret-happy-early-retirement/
    It's not a big deal for early retirees anyway. If it doesn't work out, you can always go back to work. One of my reader did that and figured out how to improve his work situation.

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  14. I never comment but just had to reply to this after reading the life hacker article.

    My husband and I have been financially independent for 2 years (both 36). He's started woodworking and I'm looking after our 3 year old. Perhaps both can be considered 'working' and therefore not valid for ER but we are both a lot more mentally and emotionally challenged now than we were in our IT jobs. I feel like I've used my brain more, not less, since then.

    I agree that finding something challenging is key - it's just that you can choose it yourself rather than have it dictated by a boss / company. And if you go deeply into most topics you will find challenge. You just need the passion to sustain you that far.

    I also agree with Emily - I have not wanted a holiday because I have so much more balance in my life and nothing to get away from.

    TBH the only negative we've found is societal pressure for at least one of us to be working. That was harder than expected.

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  15. Came over from the Lifehacker article. As I wrote over there:
    There’s TONS to do in ER that will keep your brain sharp. Hobbies, new interests, continual learning, volunteer work, sports, relationship growth, personal growth, etc. etc.

    Early Retirement gives you the TIME to do these things. I’d worry about a brain atrophying while doing the same monotonous work in a cubicle for decades more so than it atrophying in early retirement, with the many options available to you.

    Retirement doesn’t mean you do nothing, it means you can do anything! :)

    I retired two years ago (just before turning 30) and haven't been bored for a second yet.

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    1. Thanks for the detailed comment, and for stopping by from LifeHacker.

      And also, congratulations on the super early retirement! That's incredible.

      Not to get too deep in the weeds, I think the thing that most of the FIRE bloggers/readers/early retirees seem to be tripping over is the notion that "I'll just stay busy/mentally engaged in early retirement and that will take care of things." But I feel like that misses the point of the research cited in the Freakonomics podcast: put simply, they observed trend was that early retirees had cognitive decline. Was there something different about these early retirees than those in the FIRE community? Perhaps. But it's a big leap to presume what that is. The researchers concluded that it was the retirement itself that was causal.

      Anyway, I know this post throws some water on our plans/dreams. I just want to be really clear that there is an observable, documented risk to our mental abilities, and it really does not seem to be all that clear that simply doing things like hobbies, new interest, sports, relationships etc. will definitely stave off that mental decline in the way that traditional work seems to.

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    2. Okay, thought experiment time.

      Let's pretend for a second that some cognitive decline in ER is not only true, but inevitable (i.e. nothing you can do will keep you sharp except paid work). I'm very skeptical, but let's go with it for this thought experiment.

      Here's your choices then:
      1) Work until you're 70 at a 9-5, 40-50 hour/week job. Stay mentally "sharp".
      2) Early retire at 30-40. Have an extra 3 to 4 decades of freedom, and spend the bulk of your life doing whatever you want. Experience some cognitive decline (which in this scenario is unavoidable).

      Which do you choose?

      I don't know about you, but I'll take number two every time. Even if there is cognitive decline, and it's unavoidable, I'd still prefer total freedom, travel, hobbies, etc. over staying "sharp" and going to work day in and day out for decades more.

      And, again, I'm betting just being aware of it will help one stave it off.

      But to each their own. If staying mentally sharp until the day you die is the point of life to you, and you think a job is the way to do that, go nuts! :)

      I'm betting most people would take option two in my scenario though.

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    3. "If staying mentally sharp until the day you die is the point of life to you, and you think a job is the way to do that, go nuts! :)"

      I guess we're in the strawman part of the discussion.

      I can see that you're very skeptical of the research, but I have to ask: did you actually read the paper by Rohwedder & Willis, "Mental Retirement" linked to in Kristin's piece, my article, & the Freakonomic podcast? If not, that might be a good next step to test your skepticism.

      The hypothetical question you posed makes me wonder if you read the blog post that you're commenting on here. Which of the two choices I'd pick is pretty clear. But just for the sake of clarity, here's the 2nd to final paragraph from my post on the subject:

      "I don't want to say that this podcast spooked me and now I plan on working until traditional retirement age. That's not happening. But I'm not as keen on the idea of "just figuring this early retirement thing out as I go", either. I need to do a better job of mapping out what this next life is going to look like, and how I'm going to keep my mind sharp without all the benefits of a structured work environment."

      Again, I feel like you might think there's a criticism of early retirement here, when there is not. But just as with any life change, one should be aware of the possible risks along with the stated benefits.

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  16. Since you seem to have taken my thought experiment personally (hypotheticals aren't meant as an attack), I'll bow out here.

    One thing I will recommend you do is read the LivingaFI blog.

    https://livingafi.com/

    It covers the "better job of mapping out what this next life is going to look like" aspect, and the psychology of retiring early very well.

    Cheers!

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    1. Just to be clear, you didn't hit a nerve here. I was actually thinking that you might be taking things personally, as someone who's already FI and might be learning of this research for the first time.

      All I was really wanting to know is if you bothered to read the source material or my blog post prior to commenting. It's not a huge deal either way: it just changes the type of discussion we have.

      Anyway, no hard feeling at all, and apologies if I ruffled any feathers.

      Cheers.

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    2. No worries.

      I'm not offended in the least (I'm not sure I actually can get offended).

      I always have to laugh though at a post called "Why Early Retirement Isn't As Awesome As It Sounds". Why is there a need to convince anyone early retirement isn't great?

      I did read your post in its entirety. I did go skim the freakonomics transcript, but just part of it; I'm well familiar with the research, it's been around the ER community for years.

      Some discussion on the MMM forums, for example, with this first post being about 4 years old:
      https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/a-reason-not-to-retire-early/
      https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/mustachianism-around-the-web/fire-bad-for-the-brain/

      You can find it in the other ER communities as well (E-R.org, for example), and much discussion around it, potential problems with the research, etc.

      In the end, it's one thing to look out for.

      Boredom is another. Depression. Disillusionment. Disconnection. Isolation.

      All of these things can occur. That doesn't mean they have to, or that early retirement itself isn't great. I think simply being aware of them helps, and talking about ways to mitigate these things is the way to go.

      The thought experiment was intended to help make it clear about one's feelings on ER, if it's still worth it to a particular individual, or not.

      I'm betting the extra decades of freedom would be worth it to most people, so the LH article titling it "Why ER isn't as awesome as it sounds" is misleading to all those people. Especially the majority who will glance at the title, skim for a second, and then give up on saving towards ER.

      Having seen many, many people's lives change (though the MMM forums, and emails I've received personally about changes people are making in their lives due to our example), I have a hard time doing anything but chuckle at people (not you, necessarily, but say, the editor who wrote the clickbait article title on this one) who try to tear down ER. So many people have changed their lives for the better due to the concept, whether that's getting total freedom, or just not living paycheck to paycheck, being able to handle an emergency, or being able to take time off to care for a sick or dying family member, there's so many examples of ER--and the process of striving for it--being amazing.

      A maybe potential side effect that probably can be mitigated? Okay, cool.

      At Camp Mustache 3 (2016) I lead a breakout session on "Post-FI." I totally agree everyone should have a post-FI plan.

      But still charge towards FI as fast as reasonably possible. ;)

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    3. Agreed on the overall point: work towards FI, but be aware of the risks, and try to mitigate them. On that front, we're in agreement.

      I don't have the same problem with the title that you do, and I disagree it intended to "tear down ER". Seems like a stretch from where I sit. Frankly, I think this is an issue of semantics, and kind of a nit: no title choice is going to please everyone.

      Reading through those forum links now. It seems they reference different studies on the same subject, which is great. More for me to read. :)

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  17. I'm surprised so many people are disputing these findings. In my experience you don't need a study to prove that retiring can cause some boredom and depression. That doesn't mean that it isn't a great goal to aspire to or that working in a sucky job is a better option though!

    I have seen many older friends and relatives retire and - despite their best efforts and despite being "busy" with random hobbies and even despite having close family relationships - become bored and depressed. I've seen the same thing happen to parents who leave the workforce to raise kids (even though they are busy as heck and occupied with an immensely meaningful pursuit). It also occurs in wealthy "trust fund kids" and lottery winners and celebrities that achieve wealth at a young age. When you don't HAVE to work or your job is too easy it can ironically cause anxiety and a sense of purposelessness - I've experienced that first hand.

    As a species we did not evolve in a way that encouraged rest, self-indulgence or laziness. We evolved to work - and to find satisfaction and pride and purpose in work - for obvious reasons. Our modern world has given us things that we love that we think make us "happy" such as unlimited amounts of cheap delicious easily accessible food, unlimited amounts of cheap, easily accessible entertainment, unparalleled privacy and distance from other humans, and the ability to exist without having to work. All these things are fine on the surface and do provide fleeting pleasures. But taken in excess they are harmful, unhealthy, and will inevitably cause disease and societal decline.

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  18. There are problems with how some of this data is represented in those papers and the Freakonomics discussion.

    Firstly, you are worried about the paper that shows a correlation between cognitive decline and retirement-age in different countries. And your worry seems to be related to the large longitudinal study that also shows cognitive decline with age. But cognition in both those papers are determined in very different ways.

    The paper that correlates decline in cognition with retirement age only has a single memory-related cognition test. It simply asks if you can recall some words a short while after they were first read out. That is a very limited definition of cognition. In fact it is simply a memory test. We know there is a great deal of plasticity in the brain - throughout the whole of one's life. But there is no analysis in this paper as to whether the memory decline is reversible. Maybe simply through needing to and then actively engaging in memorizing sets of unrelated words. So does decline in this area matter at all? Does it impair life? That is unanswered.

    The second larger study defines cognition in a far more comprehensive way using multiple metrics. Only one of which is memory. And that shows a slow decline with age. In this one they do attempt to determine if that decline affects an individual's ability to be active and self sufficient in our society. And the numbers so affected are small. But again no one has studied whether any of this decline is reversible. And in this case there is no break out of individuals retiring at different ages.

    Secondly, there is a somewhat less data driven discussion, on the podcast, of boredom. The implication being that boredom is bad and leads to unhappiness. But there are a lot of recent studies that show boredom is useful and to some degree necessary. It frees the brain to be creative, it reduces the over stimulation of modern technology (that in itself ironically is also linked to unhappiness!), it relieves stress and it actually encourages/stimulates people to find and undertake more meaningful activities.

    That is a long winded way of saying don't worry too much about falling into some sort of bad cognitive decline when you retire. We know far too little about the complex system that is our brian.

    You'll be fine :)

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    1. I agree that there is a need for more research, and there are certainly ways in which you can challenge the authors' conclusion that the effect was causal.

      But I think your take is overly optimistic. Given the uncertainty that your response hinges on (Is the damage reversible? Is the decline in the memory test misleading? Where are the studies on retirees of different ages?) I'm not sure I'd simply leap to the conclusion that there's not much to worry about, and that I'll be fine.

      If I were to take your criticisms and come to a conclusion, it would be that there's more to read and research in this area.

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