If anyone is perfectly situated to study retirement, it's sociologist Robert Weiss. In addition to his stellar academic affiliations (Harvard Medical School; the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Boston), he is living the life. "My occupational status is retired," explains Weiss, 80. "My way of life is, I work as hard as I can." He talked to TIME's ANDREA SACHS about his new book, The Experience of Retirement (Cornell University), which sums up 15 years of research.
You use the expression orderly retirement. What do you mean by that?
Managing your retirement so it makes sense to everyone. Plan it: let people know that you're going to retire in good time. Enough time that colleagues can get used to the idea and can think about how they'll manage when you're gone. Have some kind of recognition when you're about to go: a retirement party, people coming into your office to say goodbye. And have some sense of what you're going to be doing when you actually are retired.
By interviewing retirees, you found that finances weren't a big problem.
In our sample, I would say the bulk of respondents were pleasantly surprised. Their expenditures were reduced beyond what they had anticipated. They hadn't realized how much it cost them to work.
What is the happiest part of retirement for those you interviewed?
That's easy--freedom. You can do anything you want with your time. That's the kind of opportunity for gratifying activity that used to be available only to the aristocracy.
What about people in your study who were bought out by their company?
Their reaction was, "I have a terrific retirement plan that I hadn't anticipated. They must have really wanted to get rid of me if they were willing to give me that much not to come back." So it's a mixed thing. Being bought out is not exactly leaving with everybody regretting that you're going and recognizing that you have made your choice. It's being pushed out in a nice way.
You have a positive view of part-time work for retirees.
Oh, very much. Work is sustaining in a lot of ways. What you want, though, is work that doesn't impose stress. If you're going to have sleepless nights because you're worried about something going on with the job, why did you retire anyway?
How does retirement affect marriages?
By and large, couples find that not only has it not been a problem, it's been a boon. You see each other more; you're better companions. Without work to preoccupy you, you can listen to the other person.
What kind of people retire most successfully?
People who are upbeat and resilient and have a range of interests and the capacity to develop interests. They'll do well in retirement, as they probably did well in their careers.
And least successfully?
People who relied on work to provide their community. They enjoyed what they did and who they saw, and they would come home, and maybe they would feel tired, but they would feel realized. They had done something of value. Weekends would sometimes hang heavy. That dependence on the world of work makes them very vulnerable when it's not there.
Did you yourself ever consider a lounging-on-the-beach retirement?