Hi NSQers. Happy New Year! We’re off this week, so we’re sharing one of our favorite questions from the NSQ archive. In this episode, Stephen and Angela discuss retirement, as well as the excitement and challenges associated with starting a new life chapter. If you’re considering making a big change in 2023, we hope you’ll find their discussion helpful. Stay tuned after the conversation for thoughts from listeners on the subject of last week’s episode, about giving and receiving gifts. We’ll be back next week with a brand new episode.
* * *
DUCKWORTH: Dogs really are the Splenda of relationships.
* * *
DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.
DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: What does a good retirement look like?
DUBNER: “I’m going to retire, and I could travel, I could take up fly fishing—”
DUCKWORTH: “I could write a novel.”
DUBNER: “—but! That T.V.
* * *
DUCKWORTH: Stephen, we have a letter from a Pat Telljohan.
DUBNER: Hi, Pat.
DUCKWORTH: Pat says, “I am 65 years old, and I’m having problems with the decision to retire. I like my current job, and I’m concerned that my retirement experience won’t be as rewarding as my current experience”.
DUBNER: It won’t be, Pat.
DUCKWORTH: Well, we shall debate that. “Most people I know in the workforce look forward to retirement, but I think there might be some, like me, who have concerns.”
DUBNER: Angie and I are just like you, Pat. Don’t worry.
DUCKWORTH: Here’s the last sentence: “Can you offer guidance to us reluctant retirees about how to get off the fence?”
DUBNER: So, in terms of “can we offer guidance,” Pat? Oh, yes. I feel we can offer guidance. So, Pat is older than me, but I too have contemplated retirement, and then I moved violently in the opposite direction.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, you already contemplated retirement?
DUBNER: I did. A couple of times. The last time was maybe three or four years ago, when I’d already been doing Freakonomics Radio for eight or nine years. And it is a real—
DUCKWORTH: It’s a grind.
DUBNER: A “grind” has such a negative connotation. I don’t like to use that word, but it is a commitment. I’ll say that. And there are different commitments as a writer. Like, when you’re in the middle of a book, for me, the feeling is always that your mind is never allowed, really, to be out of gear.
DUCKWORTH: It’s never at rest.
DUBNER: And you’re always thinking about components of that big, big, big, big project. Now, Freakonomics Radio is different, because it’s a weekly thing, but there’s always another one right around the corner. And so, there was a time when I was thinking, “Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that I’ve been really fortunate to do work that I really like for a long time, and it’s been well-received, and I should stop now, because I’m a little bit exhausted.” But I do love my work. And whatever I would substitute for it is not going to be very satisfying. So, Pat, I have to tell you: You’re asking the wrong person here, because I looked this right in the eye and I said, “Get away from me, retirement.” But we have to acknowledge: Everyone’s life is different, and everybody’s work is different, and therefore, everyone’s retirement is different. So, if we want to address this question for Pat, let’s get some facts out of the way first. It is interesting to note, Angela, that in 2020, many more people retired than in prior years. And, plainly, this is partly due to COVID.
DUCKWORTH: The great resignation?
DUBNER: But I mean, this is retirement. This is the end. So, 3.2 million people retired in 2020, compared to just one-and-a-half million the year before.
DUBNER: We should also say, 2019 was an aberrationally low year. The previous years, it was 2.2. But still, that’s a million fewer retirees. So, some of that is attributed to job losses due to COVID, but it does indicate that a lot of people were just, maybe, looking for a reason to stop. But here’s what I found really interesting: The RAND Corporation did a study about retirement, and it found that fewer than 40 percent of American workers follow what’s called the “standard pattern” of retiring directly and completely from a full-time job. In other words, “I now work full-time. Now I retire. And now I don’t work at all.” And they found that about 14 percent of respondents transition from full-time work to part-time work. About 17 percent leave the workforce and subsequently re-enter — in other words, “I thought retiring was a good idea.” I have a brother who essentially did that years ago. He retired young. He had all these ideas about what his life would be like — what he would do with himself. And even though he did those things, and it kind of worked, he just felt deeply unfulfilled. So, he went back.
DUCKWORTH: Like Michael Jordan!
DUBNER: Yeah. And then, 26 percent remain in full- or part-time jobs past the age of 70. And this RAND study also found that seniors who had better cognitive ability were more likely to follow the nonstandard retirement pathways.
DUCKWORTH: As opposed to retiring completely.
DUBNER: Correct. So, let’s talk about cognitive decline in aging. And how does that feed into our appetite to retire?
DUCKWORTH: If there is a relationship between declining mentally and retiring that’s separate from aging, you don’t know which is the horse and which is the cart. You don’t know which is the cause.
DUCKWORTH: When I think of my dad — first of all, he talked about retiring all the time for years, actually, maybe decades.
DUBNER: What was driving that conversation for all that time?
DUCKWORTH: It was so weird, because he was so bound up with his work. As you know, he was a chemist at DuPont, and he thought about his work all the time. It was part and parcel of his identity. I mean, he was just really into being a “DuPonter” as he called himself. Yet he would talk about retirement in this fantasizing way. Like, “Oh, you know, when I retire, I’m going to do nothing. I’m just going to do absolutely nothing.”
DUBNER: That sounds so not like the kind of person that you’ve described to me, though. Did he really want to do nothing, or do you think that was an overreaction to years of really hard work?
DUCKWORTH: Well, I don’t know, because honestly, I was like, “That’s dumb. Why would you want to do nothing? You’re going to be really unhappy.” My dad was actually a great scientist. So, lots of people were eager for him to do part-time consulting. He said “no” to every single offer. And my dad, then, did decline mentally. We found out later that he had Parkinson’s disease. And the question was: Did retiring accelerate cognitive decline? Or did my dad have a sense that he was cognitively declining, and therefore, did that make him retire?
DUBNER: Or maybe somewhere in the middle, which is: he was experiencing some cognitive decline, which made his work less fulfilling / rewarding / successful, and he felt, “Oh, it’s time, because I’m not able to accomplish what I want to accomplish.”
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I think all stories are plausible and likely. I mean, I remember there was a time in his life where he was taking a little nap at the office in the afternoon, and I think Betty, the secretary, would close the door. And I know you’re pro-nap, Stephen, but I’m not 100 percent sure that was the same kind of power napping that you do. And I think there could be some sort of, like, “Oh, this is harder for me.” Or, “I feel slower.” I think also, though — and here’s where we get into scientific research beyond the “n of one” of my dad — there is research on the effect of retirement on cognitive functioning, and I think there are mixed results. My read of this literature is that, when you do the statistics right, and you look to see about causality, there is evidence that retiring can have some causal effect on cognitive decline.
DUBNER: I’ve read that research too, and I think “mixed” is a good word to use, although it probably comes down a little bit more on the side of “yes” — cognitive decline is probably magnified.
DUCKWORTH: Not huge, by way. You’re not going to, like, wake up with half a brain or something.
DUBNER: Right. Not huge. One of the most famous studies — the data are derived from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study that comes out of University of Michigan. I think for 30 years, every couple of years, the project has surveyed 20,000 older Americans. And it’s a very, very simple test having to do with remembering a sequence of words. And it finds that cognitive decline doesn’t begin immediately after retiring. There’s, like, a honeymoon period of about 14 months, but then, after a while, there is less recall. But, again, that’s a hard connection to establish foolproof. So, getting back to Pat’s question about himself and whether it seems like a good idea. Maybe what we should do is try to make a more general list for Pat, and anyone else, of upsides and downsides of retirement.
DUCKWORTH: And then it’s up to you, Pat. We’re not making your choices for you, Pat.
DUBNER: So, what would you put as upsides of retirement?
DUCKWORTH: I do know people who retire in order to take care of grandchildren. I know this sociology professor whom I adore. His name is Dan Chambliss. I grieved when he retired. I was like, “What! You can’t retire!” He’s emeritus at Hamilton College. He’s famously awesome. All the students love him. And he’s done such great academic work. I caught up with him recently, and it turns out that he partly was motivated to retire because of his first grandchild. And I was like, “Oh, okay. That sounds pretty good.” So, on the plus side of the ledger—
DUBNER: Spend time with people you love, let’s say.
DUBNER: That’s a big one. Now, how long has he been retired?
DUCKWORTH: Maybe a year or so?
DUBNER: So, he’s not quite through the honeymoon period. He might wake up a year and a day after and say, “Oh God, I’m bored.” “If I see another Lego again in the next year, I’m going to shoot myself.” But at least for now—
DUCKWORTH: He’s pretty happy.
DUBNER: But, I mean, yeah — you spend time with people you love. You have more time to do things you want to do, plainly, that you weren’t able to do when you were working so hard. You can travel and have all sorts of new opportunities. You can agree these are potential upsides?
DUCKWORTH: I need to tell you: my sister, who’s not a lot older than me, retired very recently. And guess what? She’s literally traveling right now.
DUBNER: Your sister who was a physician, correct?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. She is a reproductive endocrinologist. The question is what she will do next. My guess is that Annette is going to do something that’s probably—Actually, I think it’s going to be related to reproductive endocrinology.
DUBNER: I got a letter the other day from a doctor of mine who announced that he was closing his practice, and it didn’t say why. It said, “Here’s who I suggest you go see afterwards.” And I love this doctor. He’s a great doctor, and we’ve become pretty friendly. And my immediate response was deep sadness, because I was sure that he was really sick and dying and was shutting down practice because of that.
DUCKWORTH: You went dark really fast there, Stephen.
DUBNER I went dark fast, because he’s probably early 60s, but so doesn’t seem old in any way.
DUCKWORTH: And you were like, “That’s the only reason why he’d be retiring.”
DUBNER: That’s exactly what I thought. I thought being a physician is so — I know it’s difficult, but — so rewarding in so many ways. And I just thought, there’s no way he’s voluntarily shutting it down. So, I wrote back to him immediately, and I said something like, “I hope everything is okay. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” And he said, “Everything is great! I’m retiring.” And I wrote back to say, “But aren’t you extraordinarily young and kind of at the top of your game?” He said, “Well, that’s nice of you to say. I’m not quite as young as you think, but this is a plan that my wife and I have had in place for, like, 40 years.” Their kids are grown, and they are ready for a new chapter. And I took great joy in that retirement, because it’s a positive plan being executed. Hopefully he’ll be as happy as he thinks.
DUCKWORTH: Well, what’s he going to do?
DUBNER: I don’t know what he’s going to do, other than the fact that he’s an organized person who’s interested in many things in the world, which is one reason we became very friendly. And so I have no doubt that he will put himself to good use.
DUCKWORTH: I guess you could also put on the, like, “Why retire?” side of the ledger, if you’re retiring from something that was soul-killing, or just stressful, or tedious.
DUBNER: Or even if it was a good career and job, even if it was rewarding, work can be hard and stressful, and maybe we should consider one upside is that you get to recuperate from the grind?
DUCKWORTH: I think that was my dad’s motivation, by the way. I think it was a cry for help, Stephen. It was like, “Wow. My job is really stressful and hard.” And I think that also was the reason why he wanted to, quote-unquote, “do nothing.”
DUBNER: Okay, but when we talk about “doing nothing,” let’s flip to the downsides.
DUCKWORTH: That’s where you and I are. That’s where we are spiritually.
DUBNER: Let’s not ignore a really obvious one: Financially, it could be very tough, especially because the data show that most of us are not only bad at predicting our own future generally, but we’re quite bad at predicting our financial futures.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. So, let’s assume that we’re probably underpredicting how much money we really need.
DUBNER: Well, the theory goes that your costs diminish because you own your home, you’re not raising kids anymore probably — but a lot of those are truisms that aren’t very true. Because, first of all, sometimes you don’t own your home. Sometimes you’re supporting other people in your family. And then, medical care—
DUCKWORTH: That’s a big one. Especially in this country.
DUBNER: Here’s another big one that people don’t think about: When people are saving for retirement, they tend to invest in the markets fairly aggressively. They hold a lot of equities and not very many bonds. But then, once they retire, they want to preserve capital, and then they downshift to a lower-risk portfolio which returns less. And, all of a sudden, you’re not earning as much from your retirement portfolio, but additionally, you’re not getting anything from your work. And I would argue that the financial change of not earning money is maybe matched by the psychic problem. It’s really hard to adjust to the feeling of drawing down your money, rather than contributing or saving.
DUBNER: So, that’s one potential downside. I did see a little piece of evidence, this is from Norma Coe. She’s a professor of medical ethics and health policy at Penn, but I believe she’s an economist by training. She has studied retirement, and I’m reading here from a segment of Freakonomics M.D., one of our sister shows, it’s hosted by Bapu Jena. It says, “If you look at time-use survey data, a lot of American men, upon retirement, watch T.V. and watch a lot more T.V. than they did prior.”
DUCKWORTH: That was my dad! Oh my God, he watched so much T.V. after he retired.
DUBNER: Like, “I’m going to retire, and I could travel, I could take up fly fishing—”
DUCKWORTH: “I could write a novel.”
DUBNER: “—but! That T.V.”
DUCKWORTH: He watched, like, The Weather Channel. It’s its own mystery.
DUBNER: Okay, but here’s the thing — just so you know, from Norma Coe: “Women are more likely to do things, like increase their volunteering, and do more household work, and increase both physical and cognitive activities.”
DUCKWORTH: That was my mom, by the way!
DUBNER: So, their retirements were not parallel. It sounds like there’s a good possibility, at least for a man, that as much as you think you will do a lot of new, exciting stuff, you may just watch a lot of T.V.
DUCKWORTH: You might just be binging on Netflix.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angel discuss the factors that contribute to aging well.
DUCKWORTH: I do not walk around the house muttering, “Someday I’m going to do nothing.” I walk around the house thinking, “Someday I hope to do something!”
* * *
Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about how to decide whether it’s time to retire.
DUCKWORTH: Let’s get to the psychology of retirement and the motivational dimension. The motivational piece for me is this: I have a theory of happiness, which is very simple. I think people pursue goals spontaneously at every age. Whether you’re 4 or 84, you have goals. You have things that you want to accomplish. I think, actually, the greatest unhappiness there is, is not to have goals at all. And when I watched my dad get up in the morning, have his coffee and his breakfast, shuffle over to the love seat, sit down, take the remote control, turn on the Weather Channel, I was thinking to myself, like, “This is so much worse than having a job to do.” And having that lack of purpose — you know, he wasn’t needed. I think it was a real bummer for him. And I think it’s a real bummer for anyone. There are lots of stories of people retiring and then getting more involved in their church or their community. That’s my mother-in-law, by the way. My mother-in-law retired from being a school superintendent and has kind of thrown herself into the Overbrook Presbyterian Church community and is very purposeful. A lot of people depend on her. But I think, in a way, the mistake my dad made — like, “I’m going to do nothing. I’m going to have no pressure.” — that’s not how human nature works. People are unhappy when they’re doing nothing.
DUBNER: My guess is that the quality of your retirement is strongly correlated with the quality of your life up to that point.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, research shows that’s generally true.
DUBNER: And especially the decisions and behaviors you’ve been making all along. I do know a little bit about the work of the psychologist, George Vaillant. I’m sure you know much more.
DUCKWORTH: I love George!
DUBNER: So, George wrote about “aging well” — that was the name of the book. How would you characterize George Vaillant’s idea of aging well? What does that include and not include?
DUCKWORTH: So, much of his professional life — he was a psychiatrist at Harvard; I think he’s emeritus now — he followed this cohort of several hundred people. Many of them were Harvard graduates, but there was also a sample of Boston residents who were not Harvard graduates.
DUBNER: How dare they live in Boston, not having graduated from Harvard?
DUCKWORTH: You could take it up with the organizers. Except for this: This was, like, one of the longest longitudinal studies ever, and the people who started this study are not alive anymore. Even the subjects of the study, who started off in their teens, most of them, I think, have passed. So, this is a study where you can follow people for an entire life, and you can ask, like, “What’s a good life? What are the secrets to aging well?” And that’s the book that George wrote. But what George discovered was, first of all, that relationships — like, healthy relationships—
DUBNER: One should avoid relationships, you’re saying?
DUCKWORTH: Like the plague.
DUBNER: One should go through life as alone as possible? Is that what leads to good aging?
DUCKWORTH: No, no, Stephen. Quite the contrary. You know, if there’s one way to age well, it’s really substantive, mutual, trusting, high-vulnerability relationships.
DUBNER: What about a pet?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, Fifi — your dog?
DUBNER: Well, I don’t mean my pet necessarily, but if love and companionship are so important — and a lot of people, as they get older, they don’t have that deep bond with another human. They just don’t, for whatever reason. There’s divorce. There’s death. There’s estrangement. And, especially with COVID, it’s been so difficult for so many people — so much social isolation. And I’m curious to know to what degree a pet can fulfill that role, as one ages.
DUCKWORTH: I think this is a great research question. I’m sure there’s research I don’t know about, but let me just give you my hypothesis. I absolutely think it’s possible. And I say that without mocking. I’m just like, “Holy smokes. It’s possible to truly love an animal!”
DUBNER: See, for those of us who do live with dogs, and love dogs — when I hear you say that, I’m thinking, “I need to switch some words in the sentence.” Because we would think, “Is it truly possible to love and bond with another human?” Because they’re much more difficult. The animals, I think, are easier.
DUCKWORTH: I really think it’s like Splenda — all the sweetness without the calories. Dogs really are the Splenda of relationships. I think also what’s interesting about pets is: It’s an asymmetric relationship, right? You pick up their sh*t. You take them to the vet. You feed them.
DUBNER: Oh, asymmetric in that direction. I was thinking it was asymmetric in the other direction.
DUCKWORTH: And then what does Fifi do for you, Stephen?
DUBNER: Oh, so much companionship and warmth. But also, I would argue that the taking care of the dog actually provides me some benefit, too.
DUCKWORTH: That’s what I think. We sometimes talk, you and I, about Maslow and Rogers. These were the humanist psychologists. And one of the things that the humanist psychologists emphasize is that every person has a need for someone else in their life to have unconditional positive regard for them. And sometimes it ends up being your therapist, but could be parental.
DUBNER: But if it’s your guinea pig, that’s what you go with, you’re saying?
DUCKWORTH: Well, this is the thing. Pets are really great, especially dogs, I think, of unconditional positive regard. It’s not qualified. They’re not critical. They’re just so excited to have you around. But that’s one thing that I think a Fifi provides somebody. And then the other thing is maybe even more important, which is that you get to take care of Fifi. And this is the thing about retiring — people need to be needed. Maybe when you get a pet, you get something that depends on you. I mean, it doesn’t make much sense to an economist, maybe, but it makes a lot of sense to a psychologist.
DUBNER: That’s a really good point. I do want to go back to George Vaillant’s work about aging well. Here’s what he says are seven factors that do predict positive aging: Not being a smoker — or having stopped smoking young. Adaptive coping style. Mature defenses. Absence of alcohol abuse. Healthy weight. Those are physiological and potentially cognitive drivers that would make a retirement better. But then, here we go: Stable marriage — as you referred to. Exercise. And years of education. So, when I read that list of George Vaillant’s seven factors that do predict positive aging, it makes me think that the question of retirement — or aging, generally — for Pat, or you, or me, is really nothing more than a continuation of everything that we talk about on this show — about how every decision we make, every behavior we take up, is a trade-off, to some degree, if you want to think about it in economic terms. There’s some utility, there’s some benefit, there’s some joy, and there’s some cost to it, and that if you’re thinking about retirement, you probably need to be extraordinarily honest with yourself. And probably the biggest mistake would be to think that whatever problems I had before will be gone, and whatever joy I was getting from my work and career will still be present.
DUCKWORTH: I do think you could imagine the question being: Is healthy aging something that starts when you retire, or does aging well depend on making healthy choices in your 20s, 30s, 40s — your whole life. And I think that could be the moral of the story, is that you can’t just decide to start aging well. And, actually, that’s what my dad did. You know, by the way, my dad didn’t exercise. He didn’t do any of these things that you’re really supposed to do. He didn’t keep up positive relationships with friends. He wasn’t doing a lot of things that would have enabled him to have a healthier retirement.
DUBNER: So, Angie, will you ever want to retire?
DUCKWORTH: Am I going to die with my boots on?
DUBNER: I have a feeling the answer to that is yes. Based on this conversation, I don’t see you as ever wanting to not only stop doing what you’re doing, but even diminish the intensity very much.
DUCKWORTH: I personally have no plans to retire. You know, when Tim Beck died, he was 100, and he was — as you know, Stephen — a pioneer in cognitive therapy. And he was working on his magnum opus. I mean, he literally would send me emails where the subject was “magnum opus.”
DUCKWORTH: And so, in a sense, he was the opposite of retired. He was trying to do his most important life’s work. So, unlike my dad, I do not walk around the house muttering, “Someday I’m going to do nothing.” I walk around the house thinking, “Someday I hope to do something!”
DUBNER: So, if we were to summarize, we’d say that Pat’s question about how to get off the fence is hard to answer for any individual. Because it’s plainly an individual choice with all these inputs and outputs and a lot of individual differences — both in the work you’ve been doing and in the life you’re going to. So, it’s really hard to say. Also, we’re pretty poor at predicting how retirement will treat us, and maybe how we’ll treat retirement. Let me ask you one last question though, Angela. Given the evidence — albeit mixed — for cognitive decline from retirement, or at least from aging, and given what I believe is good evidence for cognitive activity and inspiration while doing a certain kind of work — which is essentially cognitive work — would you suggest that not retiring is therefore an effective defense against cognitive decline?
DUCKWORTH: 100 percent. Five words: use it or lose it. That’s the brain. So, if you’re going to retire, use it in a different way. But I saw it happen in my own house, and I think for anybody who wants to not only live longer, but really be alive longer, like, it is “use it or lose it.” And so, if retiring means changing tracks, maybe all the better. But I don’t think retiring in the sense of doing less — or “doing nothing,” as my dad said — I don’t think that’s a great idea.
DUBNER: Angie, I’ll tell you, if you and I can keep doing this every week, I am never retiring. I’m going out of here in a box.
* * *
No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.
Angela says that she thinks George Vaillant, author of the 2002 book Aging Well, is a professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School. But Vaillant, age 88, is still a full professor of psychiatry.
Later, Angela says that she’s unaware of research on how pet ownership affects aging. It’s actually quite a fertile field of study! According to a recent poll conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, more than 70 percent of pet owners aged 50 to 80 reported that their pet helps them to cope with physical and emotional symptoms. Researchers explained that pets can provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved — and activity through dog walking and other aspects of pet care could be beneficial to general well-being. But they also noted an inherent risk of pet ownership: 6 percent of those surveyed said they had fallen or injured themselves due to a pet. In addition, researchers noted that loss of a pet could provide a psychological blow to older individuals.
That’s it for the fact-check.
Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts on our recent episode on gift giving. We asked listeners to tell us about the best gift they’ve ever received. Here’s what you said:
Aintor ZENG: My name is Aintor and I’m a Chinese living in Seattle, Washington. I agree with Angela that the red envelope during the Chinese New Year is the epitome of our cash-gifting culture. However, when I was a child, I really hated the ritual of red-envelope exchange among relatives, because no matter how many red envelopes I got, at the end of the day, they were all taken away by my parents and kept in their pockets in the name of “saving up college tuition” for me. I, as the rightful recipient of these red envelopes, ended up just being a prop for the theater of social reciprocity among adults. However, now that I’m, myself, a father of two little children, I have to say, the best Chinese New Year gifts my children have ever gotten so far are cash from their grandparents, because now, I get to keep them.
Kade Flach: Hi, Steven and Angela. My name is Kade, and I am from the San Francisco Bay area. So, about a month ago, I came out to my parents as trans and told them I would be legally changing my name. One of the reasons this is really scary for me is that I was worried my mom would experience it as a rejection of her, if I chose to not keep the name she had given to me. However, much to my surprise and delight, when I went to my mom and dad’s for Christmas this year, there, hanging on their mantel, was a stocking with my name on it. When I saw it, it felt like something inside of me just lit up. I imagine her getting the stockings out of storage and thinking, “Oh, no, Kade isn’t going to have a stocking,” and then took the time to have a new one personalized for me, all in time for Christmas. It’s also a gift that will keep on giving, because I’ll get to see it year after year and remember how seen and loved I felt.
Annalise LEONARD: Hi, Steven and Angela. My name is Annalise, and I’m an OB-GYN physician. My now 30-year-old son is a financial analyst and we both enjoy different podcasts. But yours is the one we most love and have listened to together every single week. When this same son was getting ready to leave for college 12 years ago, I decided to follow a bucket list dream of mine, and leave my medical practice for a few years to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. It was a pretty huge undertaking — thrilling, but difficult, as I was also leaving behind patients that I had cared for for many years. I wrote a letter that went out to them all, and understandably many felt I was letting them down. One of my older patients came in on a day that I was feeling particularly torn about my decision and told me she wanted to thank me. She had researched this Doctors Without Borders organization, she told me, and was quite impressed. She asked me to open her card, and inside it was a donation notice of her contribution to Doctors Without Borders in my name. I’m pretty sure I cried. It was so unexpected, and from her heart, and such perfect timing. It was the perfect gift to make me feel seen and understood.
That was, respectively: Aintor Zeng, Kade Flach, and Annalise Leonard. Thanks so much to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. We’d also love to hear from you about the changes you’re planning to make in the near year. You might be retiring — but you might also be starting a new degree, or becoming a first-time parent. Tell us what you’re excited and nervous about when it comes to beginning your new chapter. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. Let us know your name and if you’d like to remain anonymous. You might hear your voice on the show!
* * *
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela hear from a young listener who admits that he’s been cheating at school for years.
DUBNER: Aidan goes on to say, “Even in my favorite classes, I can’t help myself but cheat on virtually every assignment. I have spent far longer learning how to cheat than the time it takes to actually do the assignment.”
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
* * *
No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne, with help from Jeremy Johnston. Katherine Moncure is our associate producer. Our executive team is Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, and Stephen Dubner. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUBNER: My daughter, she said, “You know, for an oldie, your brain still works okay.”
- Aaron T. Beck, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and father of cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Daniel Chambliss, professor of sociology at Hamilton College.
- Norma B. Coe, professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Abraham Maslow, professor of psychology at Brandeis University.
- Carl Rogers, psychologist and founder of the Center for the Studies of the Person.
- George E. Vaillant, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
- “U.S. Retirees’ Experience Differs From Nonretirees’ Outlook,” by Megan Brenan (Gallup, 2021).
- “The Pace of Boomer Retirements Has Accelerated in the Past Year,” by Richard Fry (Pew Research Center, 2020).
- “Unconditional Positive Regard in Psychology,” by Kendra Cherry (Verywell Mind, 2020).
- “Poll: Pets Help Older Adults Cope with Health Issues,” by Kara Gavin (Michigan Health, 2019).
- “Many Americans Follow Nontraditional Paths to Retirement” by Peter Hudomiet, Andrew M. Parker, and Susann Rohwedder (RAND Corporation, 2018).
- “Positive Aging,” by George E. Vaillant (Positive Psychology in Practice: Promoting Human Flourishing in Work, Health, Education, and Everyday Life, 2015).
- “Psychological Research on Retirement,” by Mo Wang and Junqi Shi (Annual Review of Psychology, 2014).
- “The Effect of Retirement on Cognitive Functioning,” by Norma B. Coe, Hans-Martin von Gaudecker, Maarten Lindeboom, and Jürgen Maurer (Health Economics, 2011).
- Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Study of Adult Development, by George E. Vaillant (2002).
- “How Does Retirement Affect Your Brain?” by Freakonomics M.D. (2021).
- The Harvard Study of Adult Development.
- The University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study.