What are ways in which people stay active and engaged if they are not working?
December 8, 2010 12:25 PM   Subscribe

What are different ways that people who do not need to work for any number of reasons (retired, independently wealthy, stay at home parent, unemployed and not looking, etc.) find to stay fulfilled, feel engaged in society, and enjoy their free time?

Work is so important in American society. What are ways in which people stay active and engaged if they are not working?
posted by mintchip to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

Also, learning new skills. My father-in-law takes piano improv lessons--he's 85 and awesome.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:28 PM on December 8, 2010

Of the very few independently wealthy people I've personally known, many travel, volunteer, get involved in charity functions, act as benefactors or advisors on museum boards, pursue graduate studies, and make art or music of some kind or another.

Also, being a stay-at-home parent counts as "work" for most people, and generally offers fulfillment (assuming the parent has opted to stay at home) and a means to stay in engaged in society. Not only are they caring for their own children, they also meet other stay-at-home parents and often get involved in school-related activities.
posted by Viola at 12:29 PM on December 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

Stay-at-home parent ... free time.


In the two years that I was a house-husband before my daughter was born though, I took up running and wrote a novel.
posted by 256 at 12:30 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Volunteering is a big one, probably the biggest one. That seems to be what the British royals do when they aren't in the army.

Retirees are also in this category in many cases, though it seems like a lot of them do "deferred ambition" stuff like taking up scuba diving or going on cruises, that probably don't get a lot of random rich people involved.

When my mom homeschooled us, she was a part-time professional genealogist, and got back into quilting. When my youngest sister was old enough, she decided "hey, why not law school?"

A lot of stay-at-home moms I know do crafts, a lot are into blogging, and most are really active at church.
posted by SMPA at 12:37 PM on December 8, 2010

they spend a lot of time on metafilter
posted by canoehead at 12:39 PM on December 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

Volunteering, gardening, and writing are what the one dude-of-no-visible-means-of-support does to keep himself occupied. (He is, as near as I can tell, not wealthy per se, but has enough to have a steady, if modest, income.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:47 PM on December 8, 2010


There are a lot of retired folk doing ultramarathons, triathons, 200+ mile bike rides, and all the other athletic pursuits that would require an incredible amount of motivation to train for while working a full-time job.
posted by meowzilla at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2010

My retired parents volunteer with their church a Lot (choir, committees, events, service), which helps with both the fulfillment and the being engaged with society. In the winter they often get a couple of craft projects going, too (making a quilt or jewelry cabinet) to enjoy being creative and their free time.

They, like many retirees I know, often feel like they still don't have enough free time to do everything they'd like to.
posted by ldthomps at 1:06 PM on December 8, 2010

My retired parents exercise, talk on the phone, and are active in book/cards/sewing/walking/golf groups. They babysit for their grandchildren - not regularly, but when we need extra help. They travel about 6 weeks a year. They do home improvement projects.
posted by Sukey Says at 1:18 PM on December 8, 2010

Mostly-at-home-mom here. I volunteer with the Junior League, ran for local office and won and serve in that capacity, teach a couple night/weekend classes at the community college (for $$), keep my professional credentials up to date (continuing ed), and we've taken up orienteering as a family activity.

Any of my activities that are not small-person-tagging-along-friendly have to be in the evening or on the weekend, though, when I can hand him off to his father or get a sitter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:20 PM on December 8, 2010

I know a guy who's (apparently) independently wealthy. He writes almost all day most days, and also bankrolls his girlfriend's boutique, so maybe he's involved in that in an administrative way.

Seconding athletics--I once knew a person who was, um, involved in a certain extralegal economy. He spent movie-star amounts of time at the gym and with a personal trainer.

My uncle, a retired doctor, is a birder who now enjoys the luxury of traveling almost continually.

As for the unemployed who are not looking (Hi, nice to meet you), in my experience we spend a lot of time moping, which doesn't really answer your question, but at least sort of confirms canoehead's answer.
posted by scratch at 1:23 PM on December 8, 2010

Some people become independent scholars, researching and writing on various subjects, without any monetary reward. Or collect various things, without making it a business.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:26 PM on December 8, 2010

Work is so important in American society. What are ways in which people stay active and engaged if they are not working?

You might rearrange your thinking about the definition of "work". You seem to be conflating the word work with the word employment.

Stay-at-home parenting is definitely work.

Volunteering is definitely work. I know volunteers who put in dozens of hours a week for their preferred beneficiaries, and they are creating work product and have goals to attain and numbers and quotas to make and projects to execute and performance reviews and trainings and all sorts of work-like things. The only thing that would keep an outside observer from calling that "work" is the lack of a paycheck.

And yet, when interns work for free, we call that a "job" where they "work." What's the diff?

Travel and pursuit of hobbies are obviously recreational activities available to those who do not "work".

Sigmund Freud said "Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness". To my interpretation, he meant, "love and a vocation or avocation, something to keep one occupied, productive and engaged with the world, are the cornerstones of our humannness." I don't think that necessarily has to mean employment.
posted by pineapple at 1:46 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

They have time to spend on pursuits that they probably couldn't do if they had to have a job (frequently traveling is one that comes to mind.) They also have lots of time to take care of themselves so they might hit the gym daily and can prepare their own meals. And as others have mentioned, many of them volunteer.

You don't need a job to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning or to structure your day-to-day life.
posted by Anima Mundi at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2010

My dad has been retired for a few years and he keeps himself busy with various, changing projects/obsessions -- chopping up storm-felled trees for neighbors, converting all his CDs to MP3s, yard work, scanning a lifetime of pictures and uploading them to a digital photo album, stalking the local crow population and writing fan letters to crow research scientists around the world, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:07 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

My retired parents do a ton of volunteer work (including working at a local wild animal rehabilitation center and working in a thrift store benefitting a local botanical group), cook everything from scratch for the most part, swim laps either in their pool or at the beach almost every day and sometimes go surfing or boogy boarding, garden and landscape, and clean and do house-upkeep things (including learning how to do simple wiring and things that others might hire a handyman for). My Dad has a political bent, so he goes to HOA meetings and gets involved in that stuff - he sat on some committee or another for a few years but then decided they were too much drama. They retired to Hawaii, so they come visit family in California for several weeks 3-4 times a year. They read a ton, several newspapers and copious books - I blame them for the fact that I haul around boxes and boxes of books when I move. They also socialize a lot, going to other people's houses for meals, having people over for drinks/dinner, etc.

Basically, paradise.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:17 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Generally speaking, the same things many employed people do to feel fulfilled, engaged, or challenged, since you can't always get that from a paying job. They just have more time to do them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:24 PM on December 8, 2010

Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.

Possibilities: meditation, introspection, learning to observe and appreciate. Find peace with lower levels of activity and engagement. Notice an interesting thing, then learn about it. Learn to trust that you won't disappear or explode if your days are not structured by a schedule full of obligations and activities.
posted by Corvid at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2010

I retired September 1st of this year. I have spent most of these months decluttering and cleaning (after years of procrastination). I do volunteer work twice a week, I cook from scratch, I knit and read a lot, and I'm exercising a lot more.
posted by francesca too at 2:35 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

My retired father stays busy by:
- Being active with his grandkids on a daily basis (take them to swimming lessons, babysitting, etc)
- Renovating the house, or decorating (according to the whims of my Mom)
- Exercise (go to the gym a few times a week, play in a soccer league on weekends)
posted by blue_beetle at 2:48 PM on December 8, 2010

My mother is on a million committees - church related, volunteer organisation stuff, national organisations for various things she has been involved with, etc. She is constantly attending meetings, writing up minutes, sending out emails, etc.

My parents-in-law have a huge garden that they collect and grow rare botanical specimens in. It's one of those gardens that bus tours stop at. It takes up all their time.
posted by lollusc at 2:55 PM on December 8, 2010

People with trust funds do lots of things that would be impractical for people without them. They go on reality shows or try to get famous. They launch magazines (the late JFK Jr, the founders of GOOD, etc.), they do charity work, they pursue singing and acting and modeling. They design clothes and handbags and talk about fashion. Some do drugs and then spend their lives battling addictions to various things.
posted by anniecat at 7:20 PM on December 8, 2010

Been there done that.

I "retired" in 2006 after selling a business. I tried all of the likely things I could think to do; back to school for a bit, volunteering, traveled all over the place (but found I really missed my bed), tried out treasure hunting but then I realized that I was not ready for this situation. Something was wrong.

One day I literally sat on the couch and watched the sun go from one side of the house to the other. It no longer really matter if I did anything. The biggest problem was that all of my friends still worked. My family was still doing their normal routines but I was just floating about from one "project" to the next. I was unconnected from the rest of the world and I could see life passing me by. I didn't have anything in common with those I called my friends for so long. I looked in the mirror and realized that too much "free" time was causing me to grow older in some way I couldn't put my finger on. It was as if the world was passing me by no matter how much I tried to engage with it through my various activities.

I went back to work- if you want to call it that. I don't make much money at it but it does occupy my time and allows me to interact with the world in a way that makes me feel useful. I like the fact that I am able to give others a chance to be employed. I think, for some, the responsibility of having some where to go and an ongoing need to keep something running- which you are in control of- is the most important thing to enjoying the fortunate cards you are dealt.

This whole adventure has taught me one thing- retirement is not the paradise you might of imagined... at least for me.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:18 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

The financial advisor I consult is independently wealthy in his own right. I asked him once why he continues to work in his practice. He explained that we worked about 25 hours a week and added that you'll never know how satisfying work can be when you don't *need* to do it for a living.
posted by dgran at 8:46 AM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

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