When asked what brings them happiness in retirement, nearly 40 percent of the baby boomer generation said “financial security.” And while today’s retirees may face greater challenges in financial planning than those in previous generations, they also tend to be more savvy in recognizing the need to create a diverse personal financial portfolio that includes a variety of savings strategies to build upon social security and pension earnings. In planning our way to a happy, healthy retirement, however, it is important to balance financial security with other concerns, including the need to achieve personal fulfillment by living a life filled with meaning and purpose.
It is possible for each of us to lay the foundation for a meaningful and purpose-driven life that enhances our physical, emotional and spiritual well being. Start by asking yourself, “What makes me feel happy?” As simple as this sounds, many forget the necessary soul-searching to determine what matters most to us. Whether it’s spending time with family and friends, being involved in the lives of our grandchildren, staying physically fit, enjoying travel and hobbies, developing our spiritual selves more fully, or giving back to our communities through volunteer work, each of us must choose which life paths will be most gratifying.
Famed psychologist Erik Erikson identified a series of development stages through which each of us must progress in order to maintain health and happiness as we age. Each stage involves resolving a dilemma or conflict central to achieving personal growth.
For example, as teenagers, we are faced with the challenge of developing a personal identity – figuring out who we are in terms of our values, beliefs and perspective of ourselves and the world. Failure to master this developmental stage contributes to insecurity, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, identifying with harmful peer groups such as gangs, and problems at home, school or work. Similarly, in middle age, new hurdles arise, such as managing the demands of home, work and family and making time for ourselves.
Martha, a retiree living in a rural community, watched her own daughter struggle to master the inherent conflicts in being a young adult in today’s complex world. “My daughter, Linda, is a single parent with two young children. Unlike in my generation, when we were full-time homemakers, Linda works full-time, takes care of the kids and still tries to find time to be active in our church. I worry that she isn’t making time to take care of herself and that it’s affecting her health.”
While being an active grandmother, Martha is also facing her own life challenges as a retiree. “While my health is good, my arthritis makes it difficult for me to keep up with our large home and yard,” she said. “My husband says that it’s time for us to sell the home and move to a retirement community in Florida. But I’m not ready to say goodbye to my grandchildren and move away from friends I’ve known for over half of my life. My children and grandchildren were christened in the church 10 minutes from here, and I don’t like the idea of building a brand new life at my age. I just don’t know what is the right thing to do.”
Erikson believed that happiness in retirement hinged not only on our sense of personal accomplishment as we reflect, but also on how we structured our lives now to remain active and involved. Those retirees who fare the worst, Erikson held, are those who isolate themselves from friends, family and community,and lose interest in themselves and the world. These retirees are often unable to find meaning and purpose because they have not yet fully considered what changes in lifestyle might be necessary to enhance health and happiness. Many retirees benefit from working with a professional counselor to overcome past regrets, losses or a sense of failure, so they can reenergize themselves and begin life anew.
Because she feels a sense of accomplishment about her life and is clear about what brings her happiness, Martha was able to begin laying the foundation for a healthy, happy retirement. “My husband and I spent a lot of time talking about what we both wanted during our golden years,” she said. “I learned that the main reason he wanted to move was his interest in golfing and fishing. We were able to compromise by agreeing to vacation regularly in Florida without needing to move. We’re also exploring options right here in our hometown about assisted living opportunities that will enable us to spend more time having fun with friends and family without the hassles of taking care of a big yard and home.”
Martha contacted her local Area Administration on Aging (www.aoa.gov) for information and referrals about assisted living communities that offer daily assistance with meals and housekeeping, and also connect retirees with a variety of recreational and social activities. “The facility we have in mind offers a health club and spa, trips to nearby attractions, and lots of activities that I think both my husband and I will enjoy,” she said. “We’ll also be near enough for me to see my friends and grandkids regularly.”
If you would like information about retirement resources, including information about assisted living, home health care, long-term care insurance, and adult day centers, or would like referrals to see a professional therapist for help adjusting to retirement, call the BAC Member Assistance Program (MAP) to speak to a licensed clinical social worker for more information. All calls are strictly confidential and there is no charge for MAP services. Call today toll-free: 1-888-880-8222.