By Christa A. Banister
You’ve seen all the commercials.
Yes, every financial planner with every possible financial institute asks the same set of questions. Will you have enough saved for retirement? Have you accounted for every possible health condition because, you know, getting sick is expensive? Should you consider a reverse mortgage? Do you have a safety net if the economy takes a turn for the worse?
Of course, these are all relevant questions and definitely worth exploring intentionally. But when considering what retired life looks like, it’s also worth taking stock of your psychological portfolio. While retirement is often idealized as the golden years you’ve been waiting for, it’s still a major life transition that can fail to live up to such high expectations without proper preparation.
Shifting Your Focus
It’s no secret that Americans, in particular, are often defined and measured by what they do. Whether you’re a lawyer, professional athlete, work-at-home mom or greeter at Walmart, so much of your identity is wrapped up in your work and the sense of status and security that accompanies it.
In fact, research shows making your way into a new phase of life can be fraught with a flurry of conflicting emotions. According to a recent study of about 18,000 men, while retirement ushered in a happier, more satisfying phase of life initially, those levels of contentment were finite. Yes, that rush of independence faded, though happiness did ultimately stabilize over time. In contrast, sudden retirement because of a health condition, job loss or other unforeseen circumstances proved far more challenging as retirees were forced to consider their place in the world or what to do with all the hours in the day.1
So how do you maintain a healthy sense of purpose in retirement? A study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology of more than 12,000 people found that pursuing part-time work not only helped bridge the gap from full-time employment to full-on retirement but led to better physical and mental health.2
Finding New Meaning
Another proven way to decrease depression and promote a higher level of satisfaction in the transition to retirement is to pursue opportunities that make a difference in someone else’s life. For instance, a recent study in Psychology and Aging found that volunteering can be a real game-changer. Older adults who volunteered a mere four hours a week were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers.3
Finding new meaning in life is key, and something that must be planned in advance. Whether it’s pursuing a new hobby, learning a new language, enrolling in a new area of study or traveling around the world, it’s important to start thinking about what the next phase of life looks like long before retirement is imminent. Seeking the advice of a professional retirement planner can offer an objective perspective, not to mention answer questions you may not have previously considered.
Establishing Your Rhythm
Keeping up with the proverbial Joneses isn’t just a young people’s racket. Where retirement is concerned, it’s often easy to measure the perceived success or failure of your new life by someone else’s measuring stick. Studies, not to mention good old-fashioned common sense, suggest the key to enjoying your newfound freedom is developing a rhythm that’s uniquely yours.
While it’s probably tempting to ditch a schedule altogether now that you can, a sudden lack of structure might work against you, especially emotionally. Following your plan for the day, whatever it may be, can foster the same feelings of accomplishment you had while working, making the transition to retirement feel less foreign.
Another important aspect of finding your new groove is not doing it alone.4 Friendship and regular social interaction foster good mental health, and now your friendships don’t necessarily have to revolve around work, which might be a welcome change of pace. Whether you meet up at your favorite coffee shop, church, sporting events or school, finding a reliable group of friends to get together with can make newly retired life so much more satisfying.
1 Levine, David. “Can Retirement Be a Depression Risk?” U.S. News & World Report, July 28, 2017.
2 “People Who Work After Retiring Enjoy Better Health, According to National Study.” American Psychological Association, October 13, 2009.
3 Sneed, Rodlescia S., and Sheldon Cohen. “A Prospective Study of Volunteerism and Hypertension Risk in Older Adults.” Psychology and Aging, June 28, 2013.
4 Jacobs, Deborah L. “How to Beat the Retirement Blues.” Forbes, May 10, 2013.
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