We’ve shared many articles here on the AgingOptions Blog (including this one just last month) about how to have a happy and satisfying retirement. Perhaps these ideas haven’t mattered much to you before, but since new people are retiring constantly – about 10,000 baby boomers every single day, reports estimate – there are always men and women trying for the first time to make sense out of this journey called retirement.
We generally like the work of US News reporter Rachel Hartman, and in this recent article she shares what she calls “eight ways to achieve a happy retirement.” That title might sound a bit trite, but we like the article because Hartman goes a little deeper than some of her peers, addressing some of the more emotional and relational aspects of retirement that many so-called experts overlook. With that as background, let’s consider Hartman’s list. If you like it, you might want to consider sharing the link to the Blog with others.
Retirement Brings New Opportunities
“When you shift into the retirement stage of life,” Hartman begins her US News article, “you have many opportunities to set your own path. There are a variety of strategies you can use to set up a happy retirement.” While she acknowledges that health conditions and living situations may change, she maintains that there are still several ways to make the most of your retirement at every step, come what may.
In her US News article, as we said, Hartman lists eight steps anyone can take toward a happier retirement. Some seem obvious, like setting new goals or living within your means. But others are more counter-intuitive, such as her advice to make new relationships and mend existing ones – or her suggestion that retirees learn how and when to ask for help. We’ll take these one by one.
Step #1: Set New Goals
It’s common to have goals during your working years, such as hitting certain sales milestones or seeking a promotion. For most people, after retirement the idea of goal-setting can get a lot more murky and less clear-cut. But Hartman encourages retirees to set goals in their retirement that can make the breakdown of daily tasks much more purposeful.
She quotes Dr. Ahron Friedberg of New York’s Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, who says it this way: “If you really want something, maybe a new romance, then take a concrete step in that direction. Don’t ever tell yourself that it’s too late.” That’s good advice for those whose days can often pass aimlessly in retirement. We suggest setting goals that are specific and attainable, and that matter to you – not necessarily to someone else.
Step #2: Live Within Your Means
Setting a retirement budget is a great way to know where your limits are, and where you can spend with a bit more abandon, so there are no unpleasant surprises. Financial planner James Noble told Hartman, “Our happiness is threatened when our financial security is threatened. If you spent your life spending less than you earned, you are on your way to a happy retirement.”
Hartman adds, “Set up a plan to pay off any lingering debts and make sure you have an emergency fund so that unexpected twists won’t cause financial upheaval.” There are many tools available to help create a budget, but we recommend meeting with a fee-based financial planner and creating a financial dashboard, which we have found to be the most versatile budgeting and planning tool available. Contact us at AgingOptions and we’ll explain the concept, then provide a referral to a trusted adviser.
Step #3: Find an Outlet
Everybody needs a small number of personal friends they can trust. Who is your confidant, someone you know you can express your feelings to? If you don’t have one, it might be time to cultivate that, the US News article recommends. “Be ready to share your feelings, however unlikely they may seem,” Mount Sinai’s Dr. Friedberg says. “The mere act of sharing is therapeutic. We feel less alone.”
It’s also important to be someone else’s sounding-board, too. “Our brains are wired for empathy and exercising the capability makes us feel useful,” Friedberg adds. Remember (as the next point also notes) that social isolation can literally be a threat to our health as we age. Now’s the time to cultivate a limited number of close relationships.
Step #4: Stay Socially Connected
It’s important to have a circle of likeminded friends or even acquaintances, people you see regularly, the article notes. Hartman tells the story of Marcia K. Morgan, who retired two weeks before the COVID pandemic began. Thankfully, she found ways to connect, even in isolation. “My weekly Zoom happy hour with a group of nine women friends, now in person, has helped me stay connected,” Morgan told Hartman.
Hartman adds, “If you’re not already involved in a senior club (described here) or regular social gathering, look for events in your area to have human interaction.” Don’t get in the habit of remaining isolated and alone. Even introverts need social connection!
Step #5: Engage in Brain Games
The US News article reminds us that it’s vital to keep our minds active, whether through reading books, playing games, or solving puzzles. “Go out and solve a hard problem,” Dr. Friedberg says. “You’ll remind yourself that you’re not losing it.”
Beyond that suggestion, Hartman adds another interesting idea: “If you enjoy helping others learn, you might look for a part-time job or volunteer position to tutor students for several hours a week. Other ways to stay stimulated include participating in weekly card games or learning a new skill like piano or a foreign language.” Interacting with others regularly is a proven way to stay mentally sharper at any age.
Step #6: Mend and Renew Relationships
In our experience, this is something you seldom see on lists of this kind: Hartman suggests looking up past friends and acquaintances, especially if you still live in the area where you went to high school or college, and reinvigorating some of those connections. “You could find you have common interests or that you are both looking for companionship,” Hartman writes. These old relationships are fertile ground for renewed friendships – and you’ll always have an easy place to start a conversation.
She also suggests seeking out family members and smoothing over any former obstacles that kept you apart and caused tension. Friedberg adds, “Connection with family is important, and the shaky connections are often salvageable.” We think this is great advice: too many people hold onto bitterness and grievance as they age. What a great time to mend fences! (We might suggest, if this is an area of difficulty for you, that you seek the advice of a minister, priest, rabbi, imam, or other spiritual leader, since most faith traditions emphasize the power of forgiveness.)
Step #7: Take on Work, Your Way
As we’ve written about before, Hartman suggests that every retiree can have a unique view on work and fulfillment post-career. Kevin Coleman, and marriage and family therapist in South Carolina says, “Your retirement schedule should be less stressful and demanding than your previous one, but we don’t need to avoid all forms of work or service. Find some work that you take pride in and find intrinsically meaningful.”
Hartman suggests that you might look after grandchildren, volunteer at your place of worship, or care for other elderly friends who need physical support. Coleman adds, “Be sure to maintain flexibility so you can sleep in some mornings, take that trip you’ve always wanted to take and enjoy more rest than you have before.”
Step #8: Ask for Help
To end, we’ll let Hartman share her conclusion, which we thought was very well said:
“Retirement often presents a time of freedom and flexibility,” she writes. “At first, it may be enjoyable to take care of your home and maintain your new lifestyle. If you reach a point where you aren’t able to continue doing everything on your own, it may be time to reach out. Family members could mow your lawn and bring groceries to you. Care companies can help with housekeeping and other activities you can’t do on your own. Requesting assistance can provide opportunities for you to connect with others, stay in your home and carry on with activities you love.”
If you need a referral to a trusted firm to advise you on your home care options as you age, please contact us here at AgingOptions.
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(originally reported at https://money.usnews.com)