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Retirement: Successful strategies for enjoying a happy, purposeful new life stage

This column is part three with a focus on retirement. It is in response to K.M. wanting to create greater fulfillment in her retirement years. She is a single woman from the Midwest who recently retired from a management position, moved intentionally to a sunny southern California retirement community and then realized she had given little thought to this new life stage. In previous columns, we suggested thinking about retirement as a dynamic process, the importance of purpose and this week the importance of connection.

The philosopher Aristotle once wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Social scientists and neuroscientists agree that human beings are wired to connect. Finding those connections can be a challenge in retirement. Work is more than just work. It provides an environment that typically encourages involvement with people, to be engaged in conversations, have ongoing interactions and connections. Leaving work and relocating can diminish or even end those work and community-based relationships.

The key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships” according to Dr. George Valliant, author of the classic book “Aging Well” (2002, Little, Brown and Company). Other researchers agree. Dr. Robert Waldinger in a TED talk discussing results from the Longest Harvard Study on Happiness found that those who kept warm relationships lived longer and happier lives; loners often died earlier.”

The role of relationships is further emphasized by the work of Dr. John Roe Robert Kahn from their book “Successful Aging: (1998, Pantheon). They followed 1,000 successful agers to determine characteristics they had in common. One was engagement with life, consisting in part of having reciprocal relationships, ones of give and take.

The question is how to find these folks who may not be knocking on your door. Here are some recommended attitudes and behaviors.

Take the initiative: That means making the first move. Check out volunteer opportunities and participate. So often working with someone or a group on a shared mission evolves into opportunities for developing meaningful acquaintances and connections.

Accept all invitations: Say yes if invited, and, of course, use good judgment. Woody Allen has been quoted as saying that 80 percent of success in life is showing up. So, just be there.

Take a risk: This suggests being a little daring. If you have never hiked and like the outdoors, check out a hiking group such as the Sierra Club. If you are of a particular faith, check out the faith-based organizations in your area and ask about volunteer opportunities. Be open to taking a class on something that is new to you.

Be informed: Create a study plan for yourself. Check out volunteer organizations, class offerings, nonprofit involvements, alumni organizations and more. If there are causes near and dear to your heart such as climate change, politics, homelessness, youth and literacy, intergenerational opportunities, find out what’s available. Relationships evolve from engagement.

Be generous and gracious: Consider hosting an event such as a book group meeting. Extend invitations for others to join you, provide refreshments for an event, offer to drive and pick up an acquaintance for a meeting. Share your experience if you are a board or committee member.

Based on their Four Pillar study, Edward Jones, a financial advising company offers specific ways to develop connections during retirement.

Consider volunteering: From their study, 87 percent of retired participants reported that volunteering helped them feel youthful. I assume that was another way of saying they feel good about themselves. Another suggestion is to take a class, connecting with people who have similar interests. Participating in a social club creates an immediate connection. Explore groups devoted to books, movies, sports, hiking, ballroom dancing and more. Check out social media and the Internet for those opportunities.

Schedule time with family and friends: Nurture the relationships that you have. Schedule regular activities such as lunches, walks and time together. Invite them to join you on one of your endeavors. Another suggestion is to join a Village, a nonprofit membership organization designed to support older adults to age in place and stay connected to their community. Most Villages have a robust array of activities. Check out the Village-to-Village network to find one in your community.

There is much more to creating a fulfilling retirement. Financial security and health are key. Yet the quality of life one experiences in this new life is also dependent on recognizing retirement as a process that can change over time; that quality depends on having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and having good people in your life. Process, purpose and connection are just three of the many critical elements of retirement.

K.M., we hope this retirement series will be helpful to you and many thanks for the question.


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