"My surprise in retirement was discovering the unexpected luxury of time."
That observation, from Vicki Robb, a retired real-estate agent in La Jolla, Calif., was echoed in dozens of the responses we received. Even though retirement today, as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago, is seen as more "active"—more "purpose-filled"—many readers told us that "active" isn't mandatory. That it's fine simply to…chill.
Ms. Robb, for one, says there is now "time to take an extra moment to exchange pleasantries, and time to let someone in a hurry go ahead of you. (The hurried person used to be me.) Time to play with a child at their pace, and to meander when shopping, instead of power-walking to find the item and get 'er done. Time for slow cooking and to drive a friend to the airport. Time to 'waste' a morning at your first art class, even though you'll never sell anything."
A companion theme was the idea of "control": retirees discovering that they are in charge of their daily routines—not their boss, their clients nor their children.
"The biggest surprise was realizing how much of our time when working was determined/dictated by someone or something else," one couple told us. "In retirement, though, almost everything we do is because we decided to do it. It's exhilarating."
Brian McDonald, a retired pilot in Dillsburg, Pa., told us his days are filled with an eclectic mix of projects and chores: working in a small orchard on his property, shopping ("walking the aisles of deserted stores midmorning during the workweek is pure joy"), taking in the occasional movie matinee and, for good measure, building a small airplane. The point: He manages the schedule, rather than vice versa.
"I challenge myself daily with work of my own choosing," he notes. "I get satisfaction from a well-built fence or a blemish-free restored piece of furniture."
And the airplane? "The kit came with 10,000 rivets in a large cardboard box, so I use the level of remaining rivets as a thermometer of progress," Mr. McDonald explains. "At last count, I have 9,000 to go."