Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

Retirement In Nine Buckets

It helps to see complicated things in simple terms.

I like buckets.

In writing, I think of paragraphs or chapters as buckets, discreet containers of a single thought or topic. Bucketing helps organize the writing (and thinking).

In life — including retired life — buckets, metaphorically, are the ways we want to feed ourselves.

I read a book last year with the irresistible title, How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom, by Jonathan Fields. He used the bucket metaphor throughout the book and put a drawing of a bucket on the cover.

Field identified three buckets: Vitality, Connection, Contribution. Keeping them full, he writes, is how one leads a satisfying life.

For a satisfying retired life, I imagine nine buckets: Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, Spiritual, Social, Giving, Art, Nature, Fun.

(I realize three buckets are an elegantly concise solution, and my nine can be squeezed into Field's three, but I like the more self-evident list.)

The task is to check your buckets regularly, like your gas tank, and top them up when they are running low.

The Physical bucket is about staying strong, flexible, and fit. If we let the Physical bucket run low, we risk not being able to hoist our grandchildren or ward off injuries and illness that can curtail freedom as we age.

Emotional fitness is needed to transition into retirement, and then to sustain contentment and relationships, to be resilient under duress, to face fear, to get old with grace.

The Intellectual bucket probably sounds daunting to some. It’s really just exercise — of the mind. Reading. Thinking. Conversing. Putting together some of the pieces of the puzzle of being human. Researchers have found that purposeful thought is like lifting mental weights. It keeps the brain toned. Reading offers so many benefits, we owe it to ourselves to read more if we are interested in deepening our humanity and holding off the inevitable decline of an incurious mind.

Spiritual health, for some of us, was overlooked in the hectic years of working for money and raising a family. Retirement offers the time and space to explore that fulfilling dimension.

The Social bucket also requires vigilance. A dry Social bucket is a lonely thing, and a health risk. A full Social bucket is one of the secrets of longevity.

Giving is the bucket we fill by dispensing. Selfless acts. A helping hand. A community offering. Kindness. Advice. Comfort. Support. We give to get (the good feeling that results).

Art is beauty, often combined with truth, wrought through the human miracle of creative expression. We fill that bucket through exposure. The more the better. (I'm reading a brilliant novel currently that is transporting me through its art into a steady state of mild rapture.) Art is so powerfully therapeutic that some doctors in Montreal are prescribing it for depression.

Nature is nurture. Lifelong lovers of the outdoors take this for granted. Those of us who have spent too much time indoors away from nature can discover its gifts in retirement because we have the time. I now partake regularly in long organized hikes. The practice has enriched my life. The Japanese know. They call it shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. It’s a tonic for stress and, apparently, for aging.

Fun, of course, is a bucket that should be topped up whenever possible. Many things in other buckets are fun. Fun for fun’s sake is a balm for mortal angst, a suspension of seriousness (which takes work), a kind of healthy resistance in an anxious time.

("What about the Sex bucket?" you ask. It can be found in the other buckets, even perhaps Art, and if you’re adventurous, Nature.)

(“And what about the Money bucket?” you might also ask. I don’t have a pat response for that question. For some people at this stage of life, money is not a bucket that requires filling. For others, it might be one of the biggest life buckets, and one of continual anxiety. But ultimately, it’s not a bucket of nourishment in the same way the others are, so, in this post anyway, not the tenth.)

Line up your buckets. Assess their volumes regularly. Add content to maintain balance.

Balance is key. As Jonathan Field observes, our buckets tend to leak, and the emptiest one will drag the others down with it. A full bucket, contrarily, exerts a lift on the rest. A generous dose of forest bathing raises one’s emotions, spirits, and muscle tone. Spiritual strength fortifies the emotions and catalyzes the desire to give. Buckets filling buckets.

Where are your leaks and deficits? What are your replenishment strategies?

When our buckets brim, life is good.


Feel free to email me about this post.
I probably can’t respond but would appreciate your insight or story or query,
which I might refer to in a future post.

Preparing for retirement might start with this simple idea.

Is retirement a goal?