Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Making New Friends in Retirement

“Be nicer than necessary to everyone you meet. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.”
Socrates (?)

The importance of the financial planning for retirement cannot be underestimated. However, the recent study from the University of Michigan promotes an unusual statement that how many friends you have, and not how much money you have, predicts better on how happy you're likely to be right after you retire. This finding leads to the conclusion that to be retired individuals should probably pay as much attention to their social lives as to their financial portfolios.

The study, conducted by Alicia Tarnowski and Toni Antonucci, a senior researcher at the Institute for Social Research (ISR), provides evidence that post-retirement changes in life satisfaction are common. It also finds that the size of a recently retired person's social support network, not the size of that person's wallet or state of physical health, is the strongest influence on whether life satisfaction changes for better or worse. "Our findings suggest that new retirees may need more emotional support than they did when they were working," Tarnowski says. "Just having a number of people who provide emotional support, listen to your concerns, and let you know that you're still valued right after you retire seems to make a big difference. It fits with other research showing that social support buffers stress, and even positive life changes like retirement can be sources of considerable stress."

Another recent study by University of California, San Francisco found that loneliness is a risk factor for people over the age of 60. Lonely people have a 45 percent greater risk of dying earlier than adults with connections to others. People who had identified themselves as lonely were followed up 6 years later and were found to have more difficulty with personal tasks and basic housekeeping than those who had friends or family with whom they spent time. According to Dr. Carla Perissinotto, the geriatrician who led the study, loneliness was not limited to people who lived alone, but “reflected the quality of relationships.” She added that the health effects of loneliness are important. If you don’t tell your doctor or your family that you are feeling lonely, they may not know.

And to make a final point, we would like to mention a research project which is one of the longest studies of aging tracked the emotional and physical health of 268 Harvard students since 1938. Based on the numerous data obtained over the years, the author, Dr. George Vallant, said that “you need to start replacing friends as soon as you lose them, particularly around retirement age. You must have someone outside yourself to be interested in.”

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Why it is Important?

Many young people think retirement sounds like a great idea - no job, lots of leisure time, and freedom to do just what you want when you want. After retiring, however, many find that getting out of the rat race isn't that great as it has been imagined. While it may be true that some retirees have a lot of extra leisure time, there are many problems inherent in retirement and older age that can cause stress. Thinking about and planning for retirement before actually retiring can help ease the recently retired into a new, enjoyable lifestyle and can prevent the frustration and worry of retirement problems.

When you retire, you often lose a lot of the important ones or struggle to make friends after the working years. Yes, that is a true statement, for most people, making friends in later life, and particularly after the retirement, can prove a challenge.

Having friends helps us to keep mentally fit and even, to a certain extent, physically fit in that we are likely to do various activities if we have someone to do them with. It also gives us an outward, rather than an inward, view of the world, thereby helping us to take an active interest in things, from politics to the state of our local football team.

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Take a Personal Inventory

As you did at work, looking for new social environment, where you can make new friends, can be considered as a project, which may be more successful if you think it through beforehand. Understanding your personal definition of friendship will help you know what kind of person you might seek as a future companion. Consider these questions, making your personal inventory:

1. What is your definition of friendship?
2. Have your needs for a friend changed? How?
3. Who are your best friends now? Why?
4. How your present interests and hobbies may help you to find new friends?

Keep your Old Friends

When seeking for new friends, local social activities, senior centers, and religious communities may be a good starting place. Age-segregated communities often have special events for welcoming newcomers and are designed to help you get to know other residents. Making new friends gives you opportunities to learn new things and discover new ideas.

Make new friends, but keep the old. Old friends provide you with continued stability during a major life change. They can offer you a way to keep in touch with familiar things and they can provide a safe outlet for discussion about reactions to your new life stage transition.

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Where to Start?

While the approaches might be specific to multiple personality factors, neighborhood, and interests, there are some generic suggestions, you may consider:
1. Join a club, where your personal preferences can find an emotional or spiritual match. It can be a hobby club, a history club, an exercise club, or even a coffee club.
2.  Consider volunteering in local community. You are bound to find potential friends who are like-minded.
3. Join a support group, based on your needs and desires. That might be cancer support, beaten spouse support, alcoholic support, or quit smoking group.
4. Learn new skills - attend a skill development class. Or take classes at a college or university. Many institutions offer free or discounted rates for seniors. This is a great way to meet people of all ages and walks of life.
5. Get a pet – dogs and cats are favorites.  While a pet is not a valid substitute for human contact, the pet therapy is really working against stress and depression. For example, if you like dogs get one and take it for a walk. Complete strangers, who wouldn’t dream of talking to each other if they walked past each other in the street or on a country path, do chat if there are dogs involved. From there it’s quite common to form firm friendships.
6. If you are new in the neighborhood, and you have enough courage, you just may knock on doors. Simply introduce yourself to someone new and ask him/her for coffee or tea. You may even host an open-house party and invite neighbors in for introductions and some socialization.
7. Join a social networking site online. You can connect with people, potentially individuals who live close by.

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What Next?

Finding right people is just the first and the necessary step, but it still just a first step. Then you need to work on nurturing your new friendships. That is, in order to have a friend, you must be a friend. By actively seeking new friendships when you find them and consistently demonstrating kindness, thoughtfulness, loyalty and honesty at all times, you’ll not only make someone feel good but you’ll inspire your new friend to do the same.

And, the most important, all this process should be fun! Yes, finding and nurturing your new friendship at retirement is rather complicated process, but if you do not enjoy it, your chances to succeed are next to zero. Meeting new friends is one of life’s greatest rewards and as you embark on this new adventure, enjoy yourself and relish in the friend making process.

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