Filling the Void

“Nature abhors a vacuum”

This oft used quote is attributed to Aristotle and, because I wasn’t around at the time, I’m going to assume they were his words.

His point is that universal forces will find a way to replace any void. Without interruption nature is perfectly balanced, a food chain exists because there are sufficient checks and balances to support it and keep it healthy. But, should a species be absent from an ecosystem another one will occupy that niche instead, often to the detriment of that ecosystem as a whole.

An 18-year study of coral reefs off the Kenyan coast showed that overfishing had led to an overpopulation of sea urchins. This overpopulation had a drastic effect on the overall health of the coral reefs; remove the fish that prey on sea urchins and more sea urchins eat the coral leading to a population boom in urchins and a population crash in the small fish that are supported by the reef and the predators that eat those small fish. Result: a filled void but a dying ecosystem and more threatened species.

And so it is with our mental well being in retirement.

When we are working and raising a family we have a lot to occupy our minds. Sure, it can be stressful; juggling work and home life is a challenge for many families but our minds are occupied so there is no void to fill with negative thought patterns.

Problems start, I believe when the hustle and bustle of family and working life stops. When there are fewer thoughts to occupy the mind, other thoughts come in to fill the void. And the human brain, being what it is, those thoughts are rarely joyous ones.

I’ve witnessed people worry about some of the smallest, most inconsequential things, simply because they didn’t have anything else to worry about. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Mitch Anthony, a US author and speaker on the subject of money and retirement, uses the phrase “a life of ease is one step from a life of disease” to describe exactly this point. When we have nothing else to do but worry mental health issues can follow which can have a knock-on effect for other physical ailments. Worry begets worry.

This is why in retirement it is so important to have activities and hobbies to help the mind as well as the body. If you are busy living you won’t have time to worry about things that are out of your control anyway. And, because worries are only our projections of what might happen what’s the point of worrying? As Michael Jordan said:

“Why worry about missing a shot I haven’t taken yet?”

In retirement, be busy filling the void in your mind otherwise the urchins might move in.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

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