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Successful Aging: Keys to finding happiness and satisfaction in retirement and beyond

Dear readers,

Last week, we described two groups that came together to talk about life transitions. The men are part of the Life Transition Group; the women are part of Project Renewment. Members of both groups are passionate about their work and mindful of making their next chapter in life one filled with purpose, passion, pleasure and giving back.

Here is the question we addressed: What are your words of wisdom for someone starting a transition to retirement?

The following are some highlights of the responses.

We don’t know what really will occur: It’s important to get comfortable knowing that we cannot control or predict the future. Everything can change, such as health, the people in our lives or the opportunities presented to us. What we can do is influence our future and take the action steps to do so.

Do what you want to do; not what you have to do: Know that we don’t always have to do the right thing. Engage in those activities you never had time to do while working. One man noted he is reading more books about history and has a greater appreciation of art. It’s a time of freedom that he never knew he had.

You don’t need to be the leader: We need to get satisfaction from not being the one in charge. We can be involved in fundraising without being the chair of the committee. A Life Transition Group member noted that he is enjoying being on the board for a science fair rather than being its chairman. And we no longer have to get the highest grade in the class. Pick and choose what you enjoy and don’t automatically say yes to all offers.

It’s OK to be alone and do nothing: A Renewment member who had owned a business and then became a glass artist shared her comfort in just “being” while taking care of a male friend who is ill, tending to her flowers and artwork. She is comfortable without the intensity and pressure of “doing.” Others mentioned the importance of meditation and expressing gratitude.

Create an ethical will: An ethical will is a form of legacy that can be a letter, booklet or even a video that shares your values, blessing, life’s lessons, hopes and dreams for the future with your family, friends and community. It is a gift to our children, grandchildren and those who are important in our lives. Check the internet to learn how to create one.

Make the world a better place: The theme of giving back and making a difference was expressed throughout our conversation. An educator who was the founder of a school, a former school superintendent of six schools, fourth-grade teacher and a current city council member expressed his passion for keeping purpose in his life, which he saw as making the world a better place through education.

Friends and family are most important: Relationships are key. Making new connections become important as old friendships may disappear because of aging, illness and even death. Also, this is a time of opportunity to deepen existing relationships with family and friends and to offer support to them when ill. Such time may not have existed while having a demanding work life.

Here are a few other takeaways that were expressed: Ask yourself why you want to retire. Laugh often. Spend time on yourself. Stay healthy physically, emotionally and mentally. Give yourself permission.

A final point: Were there differences between men and women’s responses to the question of advice and experiences that lead to that advice? From my observation, the actual advice and experiences were not that different. What was different was who responded to the questions. At the risk of being sexist, I observed that the first five or six to respond were women; the men followed. From working with over 15,000 employees on the non-financial aspects of retirement, this pattern is true to form. With many exceptions – women seem to be more comfortable when it comes to sharing personal experiences and feelings. Overall, both the men and women spoke candidly about their retirement transition, each adding value to our discussion.

Perhaps these key points can serve as a guide as each of us face transitions and changes – all part of living.

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