The traditional view of work is that it’s something we wouldn’t otherwise do, without the financial reward of getting paid… such that the whole point of work in the modern era is to earn and save enough to get to the point where you can “retire” and not need to work anymore.
Yet research on what actually motivates us reveals that “money” is a remarkably inferior motivator (both to incentivize and reward desired behavior, and to punish bad behavior) compared to the motivation we derive from interpersonal relationships with other people. To the point that turning social connections into financial arrangements can reduce our motivation to engage in the desired behaviors. Yet due to our inability to judge our own motivations, and what will make us happy in the future, we continue to pursue financial rewards… even as a growing base of research reveals that it doesn’t actually improve our long-run happiness.
The reason why all of this matters is that it implies the whole concept of “retirement” may be predicated on a mistaken understanding of our own motivators… a realization that most people don’t have until they actually retire (or at least, are on the cusp of it), and suddenly discover that “not working” isn’t nearly as enjoyable as expected, despite all the sacrifices of potentially undesirable work that was done to earn the money to retire along the way.
So what’s the alternative? To recognize that work – at least, some work – can be intrinsically motivating and socially rewarding, where money doesn’t have to be the driving factor. Yet at the same time, often such work does at least have some financial rewards… which is important, because if “retirement” is simply about shifting the rewards of work from “mostly financial” to “only partially financial”, then the reality is that most people may not need nearly as much to “retire” in the first place. And that the very nature of “retirement” itself isn’t really about an end to working, but simply reaching the point of financial independence where “work” can be chosen based primarily (though not exclusively) for its non-monetary rewards!