Forget all those life-planning, motivational, goal-setting seminars. What most of us are after can be summed up in three sentences from a new play by John Glore.

The lines are delivered by a butler in response to an irritated young woman who asks, "What do you want, Ferguson?"

Without a pause, he responds:

"A simple life. A pleasant retirement. A painless death."

The sentiments have little to do with advancing the plot of this romantic comedy ("On the Jump," currently at South Coast Repertory Theater) but they never fail to get applause.

In the September of life, who doesn't long for a simple life? Regrettably, most of life has been lived, so there's no chance to unwind the past.

A painless death? One hopes, but there are no guarantees.

However, we can assure ourselves a pleasant retirement. How? By focusing early on plans for our retirement time instead of fixating on our retirement money.

"There's more to life than the Dow Jones averages," says Robert K. Otterbourg, author of "Retire & Thrive" (Kiplinger, 1999). "What you need to do, however, is craft your retirement years to make sure you'll be living the lifestyle that suits you."

Sure, he says, the first thing you'll discover is what Social Security and your pension actually cover. Probably not enough. You'll have to dig into your equity or maybe get a job.

So what's so bad about getting a job after retirement? If you're going to live to be mid-eighties, minimum, what the heck are you going to do with all that unstructured time?

Otterbourg profiles people who are making creative, meaningful use of retirement years, working or volunteering or learning.

About the only people he found who were happy just kicking back are hobbyists -- guys who always spent most of their free time in the basement making furniture.

This book is a good read for pre-retirement lifestyle planning. Pay particular attention to the resource lists and the "points to ponder" sprinkled throughout the chapters.

Otterbourg offers his own life as an example of a pleasant retirement.

He retired early, at 57, downsizing his lifestyle and his income to spend his energy in new ways.

"Most of us can well afford to do this if we are willing to change our life mode," he says. Once a New Jersey public relations executive, Otterbourg moved to North Carolina to be near an adult child. He's now a newspaper columnist on lifestyle and workplace issues for the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer. He's also the chairman of the local library board, among other volunteer activities.

His is a pleasant retirement that mixes a little work, leisure, volunteer work and just sitting around.

"The point is there is no rating system in retirement; no one saying so-and-so is the best retiree in town," he says. "This is the one time in your life when you can create your life on your own terms."

"Retire & Thrive" offers you planning tools for the future.

Those who missed the boat in planning a simple life do get a second chance. Burnish those golden years.