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Seeing the ‘Silver Lining’ in Life’s Obstacles

Seeing the ‘Silver Lining’ in Life’s Obstacles


I am Dr. Sue Hutchinson, a leisure researcher at Dalhousie University interested in the science of retirement planning. Recently, I’ve found people are talking about the ‘silver linings’ – the unexpected benefits – they’ve discovered in the face of restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, people have described the satisfaction that’s come from ‘decluttering’ for the first time in years, or how much they’ve enjoyed walking in their neighbourhood for the first time (despite years of living in the same place!).

When are Constraints ‘Beneficial’?

I again draw on research by Dr. Doug Kleiber and colleagues (see reference below), to look at how seeing the ‘silver lining’ in obstacles can help us overcome them. They propose four categories of ‘benefits’ that can come from experiencing constraints to our leisure:

1. Deepened Commitment

When we persist with an activity in the face of obstacles it can deepen our commitment to it. In turn it can strengthen our determination to persevere in the face of other life challenges. I spoke with a man who decided to turn a hobby of building doll houses into a way to support a children’s charity after his wife died.

2. Focusing on Other Goals

One benefit to accepting a constraint is to reallocate our energies to other activities that might have been neglected or forgotten about. The authors gave the example of how, when a woman’s arthritis no longer allowed her to golf, she invested more of her time and energy in volunteer work. Volunteering was something that she’d always wanted to do but had never made time for it.

3. Discovering New Possibilities

A constraint can also be an opportunity to discover new interests. For example, in my last post [provide link] I shared Sussey’s story of the legacy she created following the unexpected death of her husband. She also noted how she recently shifted her perspective to find meaning in home-based activities:

In time of covid I got used to being alone with no where to go, and liked it!!! I bought puzzles, got a sewing machine and re-sparked that hobby. I prepared my new yard for planting because I can garden! I ordered dirt. I thought a lot about things I will join to have a structured place to go each week…

4. Changing Attitudes Toward Life

This last ‘benefit’ is not about changing activities but is about a more general appreciation for what life still has to offer. The authors provided the example of a man who had a stroke. His former extravagant lifestyle could no longer be maintained and his enthusiasm for playing the guitar also had to be abandoned. However, he was reported to say:

I am glad it happened...maybe the best thing has ever happened to me...I was an alcoholic and gave too much importance to material things.

As a result, he built a small place close to the woods and spent much of his time entertaining friends in a modest but more personal way. He added, Now, I am with nature, I have no money to care about and I do not care much about material things. I enjoy the river, the trees, and you guys. I could not be happier. It freed me; I am free from all those things.

Thinking about Your Own Retirement Lifestyle Planning

How often recently have you stopped to ‘smell the roses’ or appreciate the good things that have come from the obstacles you currently have in your life? Are there ways to reframe how you look at your situation to look for the good in it?

How often do you keep doing things – out of habit or a sense of obligation – that have lost their meaning for you? If there are ways you’ve been spending your time that just aren’t meeting your needs, now is the chance to consider eliminating them from your schedule! If some of the activities are out of obligation, can you reframe how you view them to look for the benefits in them to you?

If you want to think more deeply about what stops you and possible strategies, I encourage you to complete the ‘Barriers to Action’ self-assessment planning tool available on The Retired You website.

Participate in a Research Study!

Also on my Retired You website is a short anonymous online research survey focused on lifestyle planning in retirement, approved by Dalhousie University’s Research Ethics Board. The survey is a chance to think about what planning you have done – or could be doing – for your own retirement life, and to contribute to the science of retirement planning. If you have comments or questions, or a story to share of how you’ve overcome obstacles to your own leisure pursuits, please feel free to contact me: Susan.Hutchinson@dal.ca.

Reference:Kleiber, D., McGuire, F. A., Aybar-Damali, B., & Norman, W. (2008). Having more by doing less: The paradox of leisure constraints in later life. Journal of Leisure Research, 40(3), 343-359.




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