Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Enjoying Retirement is the distillation of the thoughts of a genuine, highly qualified professional whose writing in the present instance demonstrates his commitment to the welfare of retirees. Michael Longhurst was a consultant psychologist before retirement who has based this particular book on his research with a sample of 200 retirees. We are told that he is an internationally published author and leading authority in the area of adjustment to retirement. I have seen no evidence of this unless the publicist is referring to articles published in journals with an international readership, to which Longhurst would contribute as part of his job. No books have been listed, but there is a reference to an earlier version of this book. What the publicist has written is of no real interest, however, since Michael Longhurst’s own writing establishes his high level of expertise as a psychologist.
The book is divided across an introduction and five sections together with two appendices. One of the great strengths of this book is the layout of the sections and of the chapters within sections. Let us take Section One, Chapter One as our exemplar. Other sections and chapters follow a similar construction. Section One begins with the conduct of the Retire 200 research culminating in the desirable outcome which is the focus of this section, Purposeful Activity. The aims of the chapter are defined, the term ‘purposeful activity’ is similarly defined, and this is followed by an exhaustive list of fifteen motivators to involvement in purposeful activities. These are listed and then treated separately in considerable detail. They are followed by ways to use purposeful activities to enrich lives, including what resources are available in the wider community, and there are case studies. Finally, a summary concludes the chapter.
The chapter is a clinical appraisal and presentation. It contains no diversions, is extremely easy for the layman to follow, and reflects great credit on its author. That Longhurst is a scientist is never in dispute. Each of the other chapters within sections follow similar patterns. Communicating effectively is one skill that Longhurst has mastered.
But then the wheels fall off the cart.
Section Two is on ‘maintaining and managing relationships’, 104 pages of it. Section Three deals with ‘maintaining your psychological fitness’ in 78 pages and Section Four provides 32 pages on the ‘impact of personality and the need to cross-skill’. These three segments take up 214 pages of a 300 page book. I question their relevance to retirees. In my experience retirees have no interest in rehearsing to be assertive (78), using the fog technique (82), developing an action statement from a written agreement by all parties involved in a conflict and its resolution (104), nor do any couples I know have the time or inclination to carry out a 180 degree check on shared values in their relationships with their partner. When presented in casual discussion with a group of retirees, the views were that DMTA and RET were mumbo-jumbo that might be something a psychologist would be interested in but not those with their feet on the ground. Perhaps a more balanced view might be that with a different audience these techniques might be quite sound, but for retirees, who feel they need no reminders, these techniques are out of place.
People ‘Enjoying’ their years of retirement are not much interested in the material that is explained so ably in Sections Two to Four. The book relies heavily on what Michael Longhurst calls Retire 200. The selection of the two hundred comprising the study leaves me uneasy. The sample was selected as follows:
Participants in the program were volunteers who were recruited to the research via radio and the print media, and from notices on bulletin boards of retirement organisations (xvii).
As I read this, the participants took the initiative to put themselves forward i.e. the sample was not generated at random at all but was comprised of motivated individuals. If this was the case (and no steps were put in place to find a normal or balanced subject base) then the results could not be justified as representative of the retirement population. Since I don’t dispute the reported findings, I must assume that Longhurst took steps to randomize his sample.
One of the premier organization of retirees across the nation is U3A. According to the U3A Alliance, the national coordinating body, U3As were established as autonomous groups, with their own administration and curriculum according to the needs and interests of each group. There are now about 300 U3As in Australia, with about 100,000 members. The largest of these centre on Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, and on the Sunshine Coast (where the author resides). U3A Brisbane alone has 3700 members who attend 290 classes covering anything from foreign languages, computing and science to card playing, Qi-Gong and yoga. There are classes in literature, singing and drama. In most branches there are social committees who arrange visits to local attractions, movies and live performances, and cater for the social aspects of retirees’ lives. Furthermore, U3A Brisbane, having celebrated its thirty year history since its inaugural meeting in 1986, has documented its activities in a colour publication called Forever Learning. It seems reasonable that the author would (or should) have read this book if he was properly focused on retirement and the issues that interest retirees.
The U3A movement receives shoddy treatment in Longhurst’s publication. It gets a paragraph on page 33 and another on page 135. That is the full extent of the coverage of one of the largest adult organisations in the country. There is no mention of U3A Online, where a multitude of courses cater for learning within and outside metropolitan areas. Longhurst promotes purposeful activities; that is the focus of his book. How more purposeful can activities be than demonstrated in the U3A movement? Yet the U3A movement’s minimal coverage in Enjoying Retirement can only be seen as shoddy research or a deliberate decision taken to exclude U3A from consideration.
The book is thoroughly planned and presented. Its Section 5 on ‘managing money and avoiding traps’ is workmanlike and useful. However, the book suffers from irrelevancy and omission. I cannot recommend it for its given purpose.
By Michael Longhurst