Is retirement an unenjoyable period?
The idea of retirement is a challenge for those making the transition. One day you are working, filling your hours with purposeful activities, and the next day, you are faced with an empty slate! The age at which one retires has a major impact on the lifespan of an individual. According to the Washington Post, “Forty percent in a study had increased risk of stroke and heart attacks compared to those still working.” For example, my fiancé, a driven man, one who got up every morning at 4 a.m. and traveled 3 hours to work in heavy traffic, retired. He was 69 years old, and we were ready to relocate to our dream home in Paradise, California. Two days later, he suffered a major heart attack.
The perception of retirement has to be re-examined. It is not retirement from; it is retirement too. It is a time to let go of the past, of what previously defined you.
The labels we attach to ourselves during retirement
One of the main challenges of retirement – stop thinking about yourself using various labels. Our identification has been wrapped up in the labels of all of our working life: “I am a teacher/accountant/CEO.” But if what we do defines who we are, what happens when we no longer do? This was a question posed by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Even in retirement, though we introduce ourselves as “I was a teacher/accountant/CEO.” Immediately others form a perception of who we are by our label.
But we are much more than our labels. After retirement, we are free to take on whatever sparks our interest. If we must have a label, then let it be “thriver” – one who is thriving in their retirement years, one who learns art (but is not an artist) and writes poetry (is not a poet). Thrivers are not confined to categories that limit their potential for happiness.
Five practical steps that individuals can take to lead a contented life during retirement
- The essence of a routine: When working, we had a set routine. We have to continue this ritual, replacing the activities with meaningful ones that take place at the same time during the day. For instance, I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning, enjoy my coffee, meditate, read for 30 minutes, and then do my journaling. I schedule my gym times each day at the same time. Having a routine keeps us focused.
- Don’t let go of your morning must-dos: every morning, make your bed! Shower and get dressed as early as possible. Keep your house clutter free! Why do I stress these activities? I have seen so many people stop making their bed, then wander around in their house robes all day and begin to neglect their surroundings. All this leads to depression and hopelessness.
- Isolation is a no-no: in our country (the USA), being autonomous is a valued trait. We are independent beings. In our retirement years, it is crucial to be part of something larger than yourself. Be part of your community. Meeting new people with the same interests and sharing ideas is a great antidote for mental health.
- How can I be of service today? This should be our one question when we wake up in the morning. It has been proven that those with compassion for others live longer and are in better physical health. Compliment others, smile at strangers, and make phone calls to those who are housebound. We all feel better when we are making a difference.
- Our bodies are our temples: Treat your body as if it were a temple. I encourage all recent retirees to have complete physical examinations. We all need our physical examinations, including visits to the dermatologist. For example, I found a tiny brown speck on the side of my toe and went immediately to my doctor. It turned out I had to have it removed that same day. Two years ago, I suffered from double vision. After visits to five doctors, I found I had a huge aneurysm in my brain, ready to burst. I had to have a coiling process to stop the bleeding. Healthy eating, healthy thoughts, and exercise to crucial to our mental and physical well-being. Meditation, journaling, and walks in nature are also a must. Contentment stems from a healthy spirit and a healthy body. We cannot seek contentment from outside sources; it has to come from within.