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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

Possibilities and dangers of retirement

Sun, 30 Aug 2015 13:23:00 +0000 Published in Diario de Tarragona and Diario de Navarra

 The term "retirement" comes from the Latin iubilatio (jubilation). Jubilation is an external expression of a very intense joy. One of the situations in which it occurs is that of the cessation of the working period for reasons of age. This initial joy can be maintained or it can soon disappear; it depends on how each person approaches the new stage of his or her life.

Some decide to dedicate themselves only to rest ("I have deserved it"). In this way they squander the experience and wisdom acquired over the years; moreover, continued idleness generates boredom and a feeling of uselessness, which are the antithesis of joy. Other older people elaborate a new life project adapted to their circumstances, which usually produces illusion and permanent joy.

 It is not uncommon that after the moment of retirement of a professional work , people renounce to another subject of responsibilities, to maintain concerns of subject cultural and to continue learning (even if they are in good health and not older than 60 years old). Two possible causes:

  1. Retirement is seen as an escape and as an almost total liberation from duties, as a time of permissive living. Correct criterion: one retires from one's professional work , but not from living as a member of a family (father and grandfather), as a citizen, as a Christian, etc.

  2. Inadaptation to the "third age" It is true that with the passing of the years one loses Schools, but this loss is usually reduced when the Schools are still exercised, as confirmed by lives such as those of the musicians Rodrigo and Casals, who maintained a great intellectual activity until a very advanced age. One can be very old without being old. "One does not grow old by having lived a certain issue number of years; one grows old by having deserted the ideal" (Mac- Arthur).

An amusing anecdote confirms this: a granddaughter encouraged her 80-year-old grandmother to take a family counseling course for grandparents. After repeated insistence, she finally agreed, albeit reluctantly, because she was feeling unwell. On the first day of the course, the lady arrived with the help of her daughter and granddaughter and entered with great difficulty, walking with a walker. After the second day, the grandmother asked to go to a store to buy some clothes to wear for the first time in her course. After the third day she arrived without a walker and walked by herself with a youthful air.

Two arguments for continuing to learn after retirement:

  1. Keep the brain in good condition. Keep intellectual capacities active with reading, with new learning (e.g., a language, computer science...) and with creative thinking exercises: thinking of various ways to solve a problem; seeing an issue from different points of view; imagining new ways to use the same things.

    • Dr. Rita Levi Montalcini, neurologist, award Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986, explained it 20 years later in an interview:

      • How will you celebrate your next 100 years?

      •  Ah, I don't know if I will live. And, besides, I don't take pleasure in celebrations. What interests me and gives me pleasure is what I do every day.

      • And what are you currently doing?

      • work to give scholarships to African girls so that they and their parents can study and prosper. And I keep researching, I keep thinking.

      • Not retiring?

      • Never! Retirement is destroying brains.

      • And how is your brain doing?

      • The same as when I was 20 years old. I don't notice any difference in illusion or capacity. Tomorrow I will go to a medical congress .

      • But there must be some genetic limit...

      • No, my brain will soon be a century old, but it knows no senility. The body wrinkles, it is inevitable, but not the brain.

      • How does it do it?

      • We enjoy great neuronal plasticity: even if neurons die, the remaining ones reorganize themselves to maintain the same functions. But to do so, they must be stimulated.

      • Help me to do it...

      • Keep your brain excited, active, make it work and it will never degenerate.

      • And will I live longer?

      • You will live better the years you live, which is the interesting thing. The core topic is to keep curiosities, endeavors, to have passions.

      • What would you do today if you were 20 years old?

      • But I'm doing it!

  2. Not to be left behind in the new world in which one is living. Dr. Luis María Gonzalo suggested to the elderly that they should take measures to avoid living as exiles and strangers in their own land. And he encouraged them to maintain interest in events and to overcome the first symptoms of tiredness when reading a book or a magazine. This committee corresponds to a well-known thesis of Azorín: "Old age is only the loss of curiosity".