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Published
3 Min. Read

How Lifelong Learning Contributes to Happiness in Retirement

3 Min. Read

We’ve been learning since birth. That learning doesn’t need to—and shouldn’t—stop in retirement, though. Lifelong learning has significant benefits as we ease out of the workforce and into a less-structured lifestyle that offers the time to pursue buried or neglected interests.

Here are a few reasons to keep learning, regardless of age or lifestyle.  

1. It Creates Opportunities for Connection and Engagement 

People with a fulfilling and busy professional life sometimes struggle with the transition to retirement. They’re not quite sure how to replace the daily structure and interpersonal interaction they’re accustomed to in the workplace. Committing to lifelong learning in retirement can fill the void.  

“Separation from family and friends and fewer opportunities for engagement can make it harder to feel that you are living a life of intention. Many older adults seeking new ways to uncover meaning and purpose in their lives can find it in continued learning,” says Evan Rossi, associate director of resident experiences at senior living center Inspīr

Caregiving consultant and educator Toni Gitles agrees, adding, “Lifelong learning provides engagement in life, connection with people and the human experience, and can expand into meaningful relationships.” 

2. It Helps Keep Your Brain Healthy 

Your brain needs a workout to stay healthy, just as your body does. “It really is a ‘use it or lose it’ case with our brain and cognitive abilities. Although research shows much individual variability in how our cognitive functioning changes in later adulthood, researchers agree that a stimulating environment can help maintain a high level of cognitive functioning,” says Scott Guerin, professor of psychology at Kean University.  

Learning a new language is an effective way to do that, according to an Alzheimer’s Research UK study showing that bilingual people present symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias later than those who speak just one language. “Anyone who’s had a conversation in a foreign language knows what mental gymnastics your brain needs to perform to construct a correct sentence,” says Emma Jackman, founder of language learning site Emma Loves German

3. Lifelong Learning Adds Purpose to Your Life 

Learning a new skill, taking a class, or exploring something that has long interested you offers an inspiring reason to get up in the morning.  

A post-employment purpose in life has health benefits, too. “Many studies have shown that having a sense of meaning and purpose can protect against Alzheimer’s, disabilities, cardiovascular problems, and impairment, and can lead to longer, happier lives,” says Rossi.  

4. It Keeps You Relevant  

In the same way that some learn how to play golf in retirement so they can hit the green with their links-loving partners, investing the time to learn about current trends and topics will also help you connect across generations. Whether the goal is to recognize a few performers at the MTV Music Video Awards so you can talk about it with a grandchild or become a power iPad user, making an effort to learn keeps you from stagnating.  

“With almost every aspect of our lives changing rapidly, daily activities as simple as learning how to operate the TV or microwave oven can take hours. We can learn what we need to know on a case-by-case basis, but taking a course on the topic of interest will provide a broader perspective,” says Guerin. 

5. It Helps Keep You Connected 

People need people, plain and simple. Taking a class, joining a book club, or pursuing a hobby with a group can bring new, positive relationships to your social circle. 

“Often, older adults create new friendships by sharing their passions and hobbies. We know that social connection, learning, and brain health is a big ingredient to overall well-being,” says Justin Guest, vice president of Engage Life and Memory Care Operations at Atria Senior Living

Be a Shark 

Guerin compares the importance of lifelong learning to shark survival methods. While those deep-sea creatures need oxygen to breathe, they don’t have lungs, so they get what they need by constantly moving through oxygenated water.  

“In a similar way, keeping involved with others and learning new exciting topics can be one of the best prescriptions for a happy and healthy retirement,” he says.