07/25/2014 07:27 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2014

5 Innocent Things You Say That Make Retired People Mad

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Retirement means different things to different people. It's not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle, and some would argue it's not a lifestyle at all. In the strictest definition, retirement means to stop your work-for-pay job. With that in mind, here are 5 things we caution against saying to someone who is retired:

"Are you moving to Florida?"
When we were growing up, Florida is where our grandparents moved and gradually traded their golf clubs for walkers and canes. Florida today, of course, is different from Florida back then. The problem of course is that we all think of the Florida back then: a place where "old" people live. So yeah, you can see where the offense comes from with this question.

First, let's bury the Florida-is-synonymous-with-old-people myth. Most of the nation’s oldest population is actually now clustered in the Northeast, according to Census data. Today, eight of the top 11 states with the oldest populations are in the Northeast. Just 20 years ago, the 1990 Census listed Florida residents as the oldest in the nation. Florida is no longer just for old people. As for trying to send retirees there, most studies say that as people age, they prefer to live near family and friends. Florida? Still fun for vacations.

"Bet you like being able to sleep late and take naps in the afternoon."
Hold your horses, Charlie. While a retiree may not wake up to an alarm clock anymore, don't presume her days are empty and void of meaning. Most people see retirement as a way to claim some time for themselves for what may the first time in their adult lives. Few spend it snoring.

Many retirees use their newfound time working on long-deferred projects. A lot turn hobbies into businesses. Some travel, spend more time involved with their grandkids, their communities. The nappers? They may still move to Florida.

"You should think about teaching."
This makes two false assumptions. False assumption #1 is that the retiree you are addressing wants to return to the workforce. Many retirees wouldn't mind some extra cash each month, but not everyone wants or needs to step back into the fray of a daily job with daily stresses. The second false assumption is that you seem to think anybody can teach. It isn't so. Teaching jobs are not consolation prizes.

Yes, we understand you may mean this suggestion to be a positive thing, as in "you have so much to offer, why don't you share your vast knowledge." Please know this statement is just as likely to offend as it is flatter.

Have you thought about volunteering?
This question is worth a slap across the head. Of course they've thought about volunteering, but here's the lowdown on the Big V: You were either born a volunteer or you weren't. There is a gene for it and some retirees just don't have it. After a lifetime of being paid for their expertise, giving it away just doesn't sit well.

Giving back to our communities is something that feels good. But there are many ways to accomplish that besides returning books to the stacks in the public library every Thursday afternoon or formalizing your volunteering. Sometimes it's just an act of driving an elderly neighbor to the doctor or doing her grocery shopping for her, perhaps cooking a meal or cutting her grass.

When a retiree hears this question, he hears an implication that you think his days aren't busy enough. They are as busy as he wants them to be.

"What do you do all day?"
Retirement can certainly be about doing. But it also can be about just being. As one recently retired friend put it, "Retirement is the land of unstructured time." Being retired, for many, is the first time in their lives when no one wants or expects them to do something. It can be unsettling, but it also can be liberating. It's a chance to look inside yourself and reflect on your life. And best of all, if you see something you don't like, it's not too late to change it.

As for "what do you do all day?," just remember the best answer is always "Whatever I want."



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