Social interaction gives meaning to retirement

May 5, 2014 

Shortly before I walked out the door of Rochester Middle School for the last time, my brother unexpectedly became the poster boy for successful retirement.

What is particularly interesting about his happy ascendancy into his golden years is the fact that he didn’t want to retire at all. I was the one who wanted to retire.

While I confidently poked and prodded him with all my positive suggestions for this major upcoming move in our lives, he continued to drag his feet, and yet to my surprise when he finally chose to leave his 30-plus years of a successful business career, he hit this next stage of life running.

Much to my dismay, when I followed him into the so-called golden years, I found myself somewhat struggling, a situation I thought highly unjust. After all, I had been the one that offered up an array of proactive ideas and suggestions, and yet it turned out that he didn’t require my help at all.

He was a natural at this retirement game. I began to reflect thoughtfully upon my brother’s new way of life, wondering if I couldn’t adapt some of his effective approaches to my own lifestyle.

My brother’s active social life that dates back both to his college and high school years visualized in my mind immediately. He had built a wall of friends that remained intact for a time span that covered 50 some years. Whenever I called him, he was either on the verge of stepping out to lunch with one or more of his pals or meeting them out on the golf course.

An avid sports fan, he recently returned from spring training in Arizona, staying with yet another co-hort. In addition he frequently travels to Hawaii with his wife, or on special occasions with friends, an all-boys golf and fun holiday.

In other words, he seems to be having a great deal of fun on a regular basis.

My brother’s life inspired me to build up my own retirement activities, but I decided I needed more input before attempting to undertake this next stage of my life. As much as I admire my older brother, we do differ in many ways, the most obvious being that he is a married man, and I am a single woman.

Recently I moved into a new 55-plus community, and a group of us women began meeting informally for a daily happy hour to talk, share, and discuss whatever topic surfaced, a perfect setting to present my current concerns over retirement. Once I introduced the topic, everyone jumped in with her own problems.

“Money,” one woman immediately said, “It’s the unspoken fear hanging over all our heads.”

“Yes,” interjected another, “to the extent that we question whether we even have enough to retire.” We all nodded. We all understood what she was talking about.

Immediately more words were thrown out onto the table. Loss of friends. As one woman put it, “One day I was part of a group of 60 friends at work, and the next day they were all gone, and I was left at home alone.”

Choosing a health care plan. Remaining productive. Deciding upon the right place to live.

However, in spite of the challenges, all the women admitted to a certain joy not apparent in their lives before retirement: moving to the beat of your own time; an increased sense of humor; and an enhanced sense of well-being. These feelings express emotions often shared among us at our informal daily happy hours, something to look forward to at the end of the day . . . a coming together of friends.

So what is the common denominator for finding happiness in retirement?

The answer, I believe, is interaction with others, staying engaged in life’s activities.

Describing one of his senior participants in his well-known book “Going Solo,” Eric Kleinenberg wrote, “When Ava retired, her friends from mahjongg persuaded her to come to their senior group, and it quickly became a gateway for other activities: walking the boardwalk and the neighborhood; taking exercise and yoga classes; attending meetings of Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization; and volunteering through a program that helps frail and isolated older people nearby.”

“You have to be involved,” she explains. “Otherwise, what do you do with yourself?”

Cathy Smith is a retired teacher and a member of The Olympian’s 2014 Board of Contributors. She may be reached at scathy04@gmail.com.

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