The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Want to Be Happy? Get to Work

Wood

Retiring early can make you depressed and unhealthy, as well as poor, according to a new study by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a British think tank. The IEA looked at micro-level data from 11 countries on the physical and mental health of retirees. Here were some of the report’s findings:

– Retirement increases the probability of suffering from clinical
depression by about 40 per cent
– Retirement increases the probability of having at least one
diagnosed physical condition by about 60 per cent
– Retirement increases the probability of taking a drug for such
a condition by about 60 per cent

This data should be taken with a grain of salt. The IEA is a free market think tank with an interest in raising the pension age. Moreover, as with any study, it’s not always clear how the correlation/causation dynamic plays out. Does retirement make people unhealthy, or does being unhealthy lead people to retire?

Nevertheless, this data reinforces our point from yesterday: Work is an essential aspect of human life, one of the things that fulfill us as human beings. There is a basic human desire to contribute to society, so we grow depressed and feel listless when we’re not doing that.

While we don’t want to read policy directives right out of this research, the general principle, that work is important for people of all ages, should always be in the background of our thinking about retirement and employment more broadly.

[Woodworking image courtesy of Shutterstock]

Published on May 17, 2013 5:16 pm
  • Anthony

    The general principle that work is important for people of all ages ought to be qualified: enriching, productive, and quality to distinguish from activity labeled work.

    • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

      It’s called work for a reason. It’s not called “enriching, productive, quality fun that makes you feel fulfilled as a human bein’.”

      • Anthony

        If I read Quick Take right, the implication is work can make one happy (not drudgery denoted as work) and by circumstances if such work brings productivity, quality, distinction, and personal enrichment as well as societal value then indeed WRM is on to something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

    Obviously the survey didn’t contact me. I had my depressing illness before I retired. I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been. I’ve been retired for 10 years and never looked back. I don’t miss the grind one bit. I never was what I did; work was something I had to endure in order to get to where I wanted to be since I was 17, i.e., retired, rather like school was something I had to endure to get to the desired point of independence on a good income. I enjoyed what I did for all my 35 years, but it was still not as good as retirement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Burke/507873299 John Burke

    Hmmm…for many blue collar people, work is repetitive drudgery and/or physically draining. For many white collar professionals, work is stressful, hours are long, families must take second place. Both often have to contend with uncaring employers, overbearing bosses, uncooperative fellow workers, not to mention anxiety over layoffs, downsizing, recessions and cutbacks. Aside from all that, work is great.

    All in all, in my experience, being retired is heaven on earth — trust me. Of course, being retired is not the same as being idle.

    • werewife

      This. My husband has finally called it quits after losing his career in the 2008 crash and suffering frustrating underemployment for the last five years. Now he’s handling the housecleaning better than I can, prepping for some long-overdue home improvements, and feeling the best he has in years.

    • Jim Luebke

      And you will be the only generation ever to experience this sort of paid sabbatical, courtesy of my generation and my children’s.

      All in all, the average Boomer is expected to receive over $2M in government benefits (including both direct payouts and collective benefits, such as the highway system and national defense) over and above what they paid in taxes.

      This “heaven on earth” is only possible because of the $17T+ debt being dumped on future generations, generations many Boomers didn’t even contribute to having and raising. (My birth cohort, courtesy of Roe v Wade, is 1.7 rather than a replacement rate of 2.1).

      As of this writing, there are at least five Via Meadia readers with absolutely no shame, considering the number of “likes” the above comment has gotten.

      • jeburke

        Actually, I am in no respect dependent on you, the government or society. I worked , saved and invested for 47 years and am happy to report that as a result, my wife and I raised two successful children, paying 100 percent of the cost of their private educations, have zero debt, a substantjal net worth and a nice, though not princely, income. She and I owe you exactly nothing, and frankly, you should be ashamed to post such obnoxious drivel here.

        • Jim__L

          You owe your share of $17 Trillion dollars and counting. Unless spending trends change dramatically, that debt is going to be shoved onto my generation. So much for “usufruct”.

          Individually, it sounds like you’re gratifyingly responsible compared to the rest of your generation, although you skim over both the reason your savings have any value at all (our work), and the share of responsibility you have for passing down a national fiscal situation that is in no way as good as you found it.

          Collectively (or “as a committee”, if you don’t like “collectively”) the Boomers have deeply screwed up. It should not come as any kind of surprise that the generations following after you are well beyond exasperated with the situation we’re presented with.

          Maybe you, personally, would have been able to experience your “heaven on earth” without dumping $17T in debts on us. If so, congratulations, and please refrain from parading it in front of my generation, as cutbacks or inflation guarantee that we don’t have a prayer of experiencing the same situation, even with an exercise of responsibility resembling yours.

          Maybe you, personally, have constantly worked (with tragic futility) to try to prevent that overwhelming debt from accruing. If so, I apologize for giving offense to you, and ask that you a) please keep doing so, b) please forward my comments to anyone in your generation who strikes you as deserving of them (you should have no shortage of options there), and c) please reflect that simply taking the blame for a debt like that is not so obnoxious as having to pay it, or experiencing the consequences of its not being able to be paid.

          • jeburke

            Actually, I was born in February 1942, so strictly speaking, I’m not a “boomer.” In any case, I categorically reject any collective generational responsibility for the 17T, or anything else for that matter. Buck up. At least you can’t get drafted.

          • Jim__L

            No draft, but to many of my generation, serving (and getting shot at) in Iraq or Afghanistan can be a better option than the opportunities Stateside.

            Besides, the draft was limited in scope. It was a Scylla to the unlucky fraction of past generations. The debt is Charybdis, which will take us all down if we don’t steer clear.

            A categorical rejection of responsibility for our national debt is a far more careless generalization than assigning the blame for that debt to the generation that happened to benefit greatly from the policies that generated it and (as a committee) authorized the policies that continue to increase it.

            What can’t continue, won’t. The likelihood that the buck will stop during my lifetime approaches 100%. My generation will be responsible for discharging the debt, despite having only fractional responsibility for causing it in the first place. There is no justice in having responsibility without authority.

            Revising our national policies to balance the budget and pay off the debt would be the best thing the Boomers could do. The next best thing is to continue to work and pay taxes, so that the younger working generations aren’t shouldering that burden on our own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Lea/579129865 Luke Lea

    With a fifteen hour work week people would not have to retire but could go on working for as long as they are physically able. Just one more reason to think about abandoning the eight-hour day and five day week.

  • Boritz

    The welfare state was originally conceived as a WORKER’S paradise. American fellow travellers have lost this perspective. They now believe that the welfare state is going along just fine discouraging work as long as wealth is being transferred. It’s time to return to first principles.

  • Seerak

    “There is a basic human desire to contribute to society”

    So someone on a desert island has no motivation to work?

    This is collectivist poppycock, which is no surprise to those of us who are aware of the commonalities between conservatism and the Left.

    There is no such desire built into humanity (as suggested by the phrasing “human” desire… as if those lacking it are somehow other than human), as is conclusively demonstrated by the reality of the welfare state

    Rather, there is a desire — not universal, but far more common, thankfully — to *create value*. This pertains to the full range of human action, from elementary survival all the way to high art.

    Work is simply the effort necessary to the achievement of that goal. Work is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of achieving any goal; there are many examples of pointless work, e.g. much of the New Deal, that are not fulfilling. Work has no value in and of itself; on the contrary, it is a disutility, a cost one bears in exchange for the acquisition of the value being produced.

    That others, or “society” (whatever and whoever that is) may benefit from such activity is morally and physically incidental.

    • writeby

      My comment was apparently deemed “unacceptable.” Glad to see someone else nailed the point.

      My comment:

      “Work is an essential aspect of human life, one of the things that
      fulfill us as human beings. There is a basic human desire to contribute
      to society…”

      And we’re off on the selflessness (socialist) morality parade.

      “Thousands of years ago the first man discovered how to make fire. He
      was probably burnt at the stake he had taught his brothers to light…”

      Productiveness is the virtue that achieves the value of purpose–for
      oneself. Purpose gives aim and meaning to one’s life. The result, if one
      takes pride in one’s job, is genuine self-esteem.

      “No creator was prompted by a desire to please his brothers. His
      brothers hated the gift he offered. His truth was his only motive. His
      work was his only goal. His work – not those who used it. His creation -
      not the benefits others derived from it. The creation which gave form
      to his truth. He held his truth above all things and against all men. He
      went ahead whether others agreed with him or not. With his integrity as
      his only banner. He served nothing and no one. He lived for himself and
      only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are
      the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.”

      [...]

      “Our country, the noblest country in the history of men, was based on
      the principle of individualism. The principle of Man’s inalienable
      rights. It was a country where a man was free to seek his own happiness.
      To gain and produce, not to give up and renounce. To prosper, not to
      starve. To achieve, not to plunder. To hold as his highest possession, a
      sense of his personal value. And as his highest virtue, his
      self-respect. Look at the result. That is what the collectivists are now
      asking you to destroy. As much of the earth has been destroyed.”

      The “American Interest” lies with a morality of rational self-interest–*not* with “making contributions to society.”

      Silly religious-socialist educated rabbit.

  • David Govett

    Robots and artificial intelligence are taking away jobs at an accelerating pace. Expect a lot of unhappiness.

  • writeby

    “Work is an essential aspect of human life, one of the things that
    fulfill us as human beings. There is a basic human desire to contribute
    to society…”

    And we’re off on the selflessness (socialist) morality parade.

    “Thousands of years ago the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burnt at the stake he had taught his brothers to light…”

    Productiveness is the virtue that achieves the value of purpose–for oneself. Purpose gives aim and meaning to one’s life. The result, if one takes pride in one’s job, is genuine self-esteem.

    “No creator was prompted by a desire to please his brothers. His brothers hated the gift he offered. His truth was his only motive. His work was his only goal. His work – not those who used it. His creation – not the benefits others derived from it. The creation which gave form to his truth. He held his truth above all things and against all men. He went ahead whether others agreed with him or not. With his integrity as his only banner. He served nothing and no one. He lived for himself and only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.”

    [...]

    “Our country, the noblest country in the history of men, was based on the principle of individualism. The principle of Man’s inalienable rights. It was a country where a man was free to seek his own happiness. To gain and produce, not to give up and renounce. To prosper, not to starve. To achieve, not to plunder. To hold as his highest possession, a sense of his personal value. And as his highest virtue, his self-respect. Look at the result. That is what the collectivists are now asking you to destroy. As much of the earth has been destroyed.”

    The “American Interest” lies with a morality of rational self-interest–*not* with “making contributions to society.”

    Silly religious-socialist educated rabbit.