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Looking for the Key to Later-Life Satisfaction? Cultivate a Strong Social Network

If there were one key to a satisfying and happy retirement, what do you suppose it would be? A big bank account? A fancy condo on the beach? Great health insurance? The answer, say the experts, may surprise you: the key to happiness and satisfaction later in life is to have a healthy network of positive relationships.

Strong Social Network is Key to Happiness

This recent article from the Forbes magazine website is just one more in a long line of articles linking friendships with satisfaction in retirement. “The professionals know,” says the article. “Ask any gerontologist, geriatrician, or worker-bee in a retirement community what they observe to be the key to happiness and satisfaction in later life and they will tell you it’s relationships.” Experts acknowledge that the most important network of all is your immediate family, but for the millions of seniors who either have no family nearby or whose family relationships are unhealthy, “a pseudo-family of friends and neighbors,” as Forbes calls it, can often work just as well.

The key, psychologists say, isn’t necessarily in how many friends you have but in the quality of those friendships. Forbes writes, “Many factors are involved [in networking]: who your friends are, where you met them, how long you have known them, how old they are, and” – perhaps most important – “whether or not you trust one another.”  If at all possible it’s also a good idea to cultivate some friendships with people who are younger than you, something that can pose a challenge if you’re living in a retirement community surrounded solely by people your own age. This is where outside involvement in a multi-generational setting like a church or synagogue can be a benefit. Another advantage of having younger friends, Forbes suggests, is that they may be able to provide support for you as you age and become frail, particularly if your family isn’t around to assist.

Your Workplace Social Network Might Not Last

If you’re still employed, you may think that your workplace friendships will stick around and provide that close network after you retire. But you had better think again.  “If you are still working,” says Forbes, “and the majority of your friends are people from work, you must realize that most of those relationships dissolve when you leave the workplace. For that reason, it’s important to build and nurture relationship with people outside of work. People with whom you share interests other than professional have the greatest chance of lasting beyond your working years.”

The Forbes reporter, retirement expert Sara Zeff Geber, gives some personal advice from her own experience. She writes, “How do I go about making new friends now that I am retired? I start my answer with more questions. Examples: what do you enjoy doing? What would you like to learn? What are you good at that you could share? How do you spend your free time? What’s going on in society that gets you excited or angry? These questions evoke responses that give me a clue to their interests. From there, it’s a short leap to figure out ways to find others who share those interests, abilities, or passions, or places to learn more about them. That’s how new friendships are made.”

Epidemic of Loneliness

In researching this article we ran across another recent analysis, this one from USNews, describing the epidemic of loneliness, not just among seniors but even among younger baby boomers. “An AARP loneliness study published in 2010 and now being updated reported that approximately 42.6 million U.S. adults ages 45 and older were suffering from loneliness,” says the USNews report. “It’s clear that being alone and unhappy about it ‘are risk factors for early illness and death that need to be discussed more openly and for which solutions must continue to be developed,’” AARP states.

Deciding to break out of your isolation and expand your circle of friends starts with you, experts advise. In the words of USNews, “It’s important to resist the pull of inertia and connect regularly with people who share similar interests, psychologists stress.” For example, “Walking clubs, exercise classes and community choirs, for example, can make it easier to engage with peers.” A few other ideas from the article: “Schedule a time each day to call a friend; take a class to learn something new; volunteer to deepen a sense of purpose.” No matter what you do, you need to make the determination that living a lonely life can be physically and emotionally damaging. If that describes you, it’s time to take action and make some friends.

Time to Start Planning!

But maybe you’re still looking ahead to retirement. If that describes you, and you’re ready to get serious about planning for that exciting next phase of life, we have a timely suggestion: make sure your future planning includes more than just one aspect of retirement. Many people put a financial plan in place and think that’s all they need, or else they select the right medical insurance and decide they’re ready to retire. But a truly comprehensive retirement plan has to encompass all the essential elements: financial, legal, medical, housing and family. The name for this type of planning is a LifePlan, and only AgingOptions offers it. We invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions and get the facts at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these free, information-packed sessions at locations throughout the Puget Sound region. Visit our Live Events page for a complete calendar of currently-scheduled LifePlanning Seminars. It’s one of the most important first steps you can make. And bring a friend!

 

(originally reported at www.forbes.com)