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Pursuing Passions

Hobbies are a great source of laughter during retirement.

By John Elman, J.D., CLU

As we counsel more and more clients nearing retirement these days, an important and interesting question we ask them is: What are your hobbies or special interests?

You never know what they’ll say, so be careful not to burst out laughing at the answer. And if a client or prospect doesn’t have a hobby, you can be helpful. You can suggest to them that they explore hobbies and interests now to see how interested they really are. That way, they will be up and running and doing their thing even more after retirement.

When I ask a question about hobbies, very often the response is about collections the individual has. Sometimes, it is very hard to keep a straight face. In reaction to their collection, I often want to say, “You’re kidding, right?”

Be prepared; collectors can go on for hours if you let them. They will want to show you every piece of barbed wire in their vast collection of barbed-wire strands. That’s OK. I certainly didn’t know that more than one kind of barbed wire was used to keep the cattle penned in during the early settlement of the Wild West. I do, now.

Collections might be of old chewing tobacco tins, thimbles or porcelain chickens.

Funky collections
Collections might be of old chewing tobacco tins, thimbles, porcelain chickens, barber poles, meat cleavers and even Prussian army helmets.

I’ve learned from a collector-acquaintance that there is a whole book about corkscrews; it has dozens of pictures of various exotic handles. They date back hundreds of years. Corkscrews, evidently, are a life-preserving tool for some. Recall W.C. Fields’ line, “We lost our corkscrew, and were compelled to live on food and water for several days.”

I know about collections. I collect antique cigar paraphernalia. I try to imagine what these items would say if they could only talk. Included in nearly a thousand items are many that are well over a hundred years old.

My other hobby is the study of laughter. I collect books on why we laugh, how we laugh, what makes us laugh and why some people laugh more than others.

Because I have hobbies, I always have something extra to do when I travel. I search for items important to the collections. The search is one of the funniest parts of collecting items.

A tricky clipper
Sometimes I get fooled. I once bought what I thought was an interesting old cigar clipper. I later found out that my new acquisition was actually a toenail clipper for dogs.

One of my most prized possessions is a book analyzing creativity and laughter, which I found in a used bookstore in Tasmania. I have found old cigar items at antique stores and flea markets in over a dozen countries that span the globe.

Each hobby seems to have its own set of jokes or humor. Cigars? Horace Greeley—of “Go West” fame—said, “A cigar is a thing with a flame on one end and a damn fool on the other.”

Fancy rats and mice
Believe it or not, there are organizations for nearly every kind of hobby or interest, such as the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association or the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society.

There is a book, Organized Obsessions, which lists over a thousand of these organizations. The address and director of each group are listed. Entries include the Coleopterists’ Society for those with an interest in beetles; the Institute of Totally Useless Skills, such as hanging a spoon from the nose or odd finger snapping; and the National Frumps of America—you may know a member or have someone to propose for membership.

Retirement itself brings many jokes about aging. I heard this line recently: “If you have more than 10 doctor visits per year and don’t have a terminal illness, get a new hobby.”

Finally, in the area of profound meaning-of-life considerations, my friend Fred is publishing a bumper sticker that says, “What if doin’ the Hokey-Pokey IS what it’s all about?”

Remember, always look for laughter.

John Elman, J.D., CLU, is a senior agent with Northwestern Mutual. Studying humor and laughter is his hobby. His address: 2600 El Camino Real, #318, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

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