Designing an Ideal Retirement: Connections (Podcast Episode 7)
This blog accompanies Episode 7 of The Retirement Oasis Podcast. To listen to the podcast, you can visit your favorite podcast platform (Apple, Stitcher, Podbean, etc.) or go here:
In today’s episode, we will continue with the theme that we can design an ideal retirement in a way that provides us fulfillment. We have an amazing opportunity to find fulfillment in ways that our grandparents may not have had the opportunity to do. Before we find fulfillment, however, we do need to have a solid foundation with our finances and our health, as we discussed previously. Once the foundation is laid, we can then turn to developing that inner well-being. We talked about how we classify activities in retirement into four categories, including Leisure, Connections, Renewal, and Work. In our previous episode, we discussed how Leisure fits into finding fulfillment. Today, we will discussion how our Connections are a critical component of finding fulfillment in retirement.
Before we delve into that, however, we cannot repeat this enough that retirement should not be about withdrawing. It is about staying engaged in life. You should have a mix of activities that provide pleasure, engagement, and meaning. One such realm of retirement that can help provide all of that is our connections that we have in retirement.
Connecting in Retirement: A Critical Component of Finding Fulfillment in Retirement
Switching from Leisure, let’s explore what it means to connect and why connecting is so important in retirement. This involves not only spending quality time with family and friends, but it also includes belonging to a variety of groups. It can even include broader connections to strangers. For some of you, this may be the most important aspect of retirement and its importance should not be overlooked.
As I stated, there are a variety of relationships that are important in retirement. Spending time with family is often the most meaningful connections we have in retirement and are often mutually supportive. If you parents are still alive, being able to help them out as they age may be an important part of your retirement. Or, perhaps it is supporting and being supported by your children. Of course, it could mean nurturing your grandchildren – you will benefit from that relationship as well. You may also have close relationships with siblings and cousins, but the frequency of contact usually is not as great – but it can be. It could be a great time to reconnect with siblings and cousins that now also have more time on their hands.
Friends are often the second most meaningful type of relationships and may be the most important type of connections for many retirees. Here, we are talking about true friends – individuals that you can share secrets with in light of reciprocal trust, where you would make sacrifices for each other, and enjoy spending time together. Studies from the Pew Research Center said that retirees are three times more likely to be happy if they have an adequate number of good friends in their life.
Most of us realize that having depth in friendships is more important than having many acquaintances. Having someone to truly count on in thick and thin and being able to ask and answer some difficult questions is invaluable. Acquaintances cannot do that and can’t provide that extent of emotional support. This is an important consideration as you contemplate whether to move far away in retirement. It is difficult to quickly replace true friends, regardless of how extroverted you may be.
Despite the importance, many of us may not have an adequate number of friends, especially when we retire. One of the main reasons many of us may not have as many friends in retirement as we like is because work often gave us our friends. As we retire, those work friends typically go away unless you make a real effort to stay in touch. Thus, it is a good idea to expand your friendships beyond work during your working years or certainly make much more of an effort at finding friends after you retire.
Beyond friends and family, acquaintances and groups can add additional connectivity. In some cases, they can even turn into deeper friendships so that’s another reason to have these connections. These can be classmates from your high school or college, former co-workers, other church members, or neighbors, for example. Groups can be an efficient way to have connections based on a common purpose, whether it is church, a volunteer organization, an alumni club, a non-profit board, a golf club, etc. Networking with others in these groups can lead to opportunities and perhaps even deeper friendships if you are willing to put yourself out there and are open to it.
People that you meet on an ad hoc basis can even be a critical part of connectedness. One, strangers are more likely to be a bit different than you and your other connections. Staying connected to others of different demographics can be positive for everyone. Moreover, you may hear different perspectives from strangers that can be positive whether it changes your outlook or expands your viewpoint. Another interesting aspect about strangers is that they can provide positive comments about you to your face – something that your immediate friends and connections may be taking for granted. Getting positive reinforcement from others can do wonders for your mental health.
Author and retirement coach Alan Spector also talks about one’s life support group. These folks are generally service providers that you use or see on a regular basis to help you get through life. They can be your doctor, trainer, financial advisor, bank teller, local restaurant manager or owner, or many others. This network has more of a practical perspective and less psychological, I suppose, but nevertheless are important part of providing security and a touch of connectedness in retirement.
Benefits of Connections in Retirement
Having connections can indeed have social, emotional, and psychological benefits. As Mitch Anthony wrote, “Longevity does not favor the lone ranger. A long life and happiness are tied to the quality of your connections.” There’s a variety of studies and acknowledgement by medical professionals about the benefits of connections. Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard and author Dr. John Ratey says the following in the docuseries, Broken Brain: being social is three times more important than if you exercise every day, which is twice as important as taking prescribed medicine. A University of Michigan study found that those who had a certain number of good acquaintances (16 or more) were much more likely to have a happy retirement. Indeed, it is said that a lack of social connections has nearly as of a negative effect on health as other health risk factors, including obesity, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and lack physical activity.
Not only will connections have many psychological benefits that we discussed, but connections can also provide needed practical support, can provide “a body” for you to do activities with, and can provide alternative ideas for your ideal retirement. Your relationships can also provide a second set of eyes and ears and serve as an accountability partner around various aspects of your retirement life.
Other Points about Connectedness in Retirement
“Getting connected” in retirement takes work and proactiveness. It is important to understand that these connections generally do not happen as a matter of course. Sure, many family connections will exist and will occur naturally – but, we should not take family connections for granted and should be proactive about establishing the kind of relationships we want with family members. Our kids may now live further away (and certainly often out of the house now), our grandkids will not usually be the ones being proactive, our spouse may pass, etc. In retirement, being proactive in family relationships will be more important.
With friends, it’s another ball game. As we retire, we will often “lose” work friends. If we are lucky enough to have other friends in the first place, we may find that other friends move out, their health may decline, or they may pass away. It’s not like we were in school where potential friends were all around us – we actually have to work at making friends in retirement. Staying at home will not cut it when trying to make friends. You need to look for situations where you can be yourself and find like-minded individuals.,
Author and researcher John Nelson encourages retirees to use this concept of retirement to establish those relationships that are truly meaningful to them. In contrast to the other three stages of life – the younger/education years, the working years, and the elder years – our relationships don’t have to be based on mere convenience and those “automatic relationship generators”. As Nelson says, the retirement stage is our greatest opportunity to build connections consciously.
The interplay of Connectedness to other areas in retirement. As we have discussed previously, this realm of “connectedness” can be related to the other areas of retirement that can add to fulfillment. The connectedness is not just about hugging your family and shaking hands with friends. You can involve them with your leisure activities, your volunteer work, or some renewal elements like spiritual growth. That would further reinforce and deepen the relationships.
Determining the importance of being connected with family is critical as you plan your retirement. This may help drive whether you stay in your current city or whether you move. Obviously, if your children and grandchildren are an important part of a fulfilled retirement, then you will want to take that into consideration in deciding whether you need to move in retirement. It is a balancing act and you may have competing family connections. Are you children scattered across the country? Will you need to care of aging adults that are in different cities than your children and grandchildren?
In considering the importance of family, you need to consider the importance of being part of their regular, ongoing lives such as being available for a weekly Sunday meal or attending sport events or recitals for your grandchildren. Be vocal with other family members and be proactive in trying to establish the ideal time and boundaries with family.
Of course, there are unhealthy family relationships that are out there. Hopefully, you can resolve those conflicts and start fresh. Or, it may be healthy for you to avoid connections with those family members and a move may lead to a fulfilling retirement.
Your Relationships and Their Impact on Moving in Retirement
Understanding the importance of connections and your ability to make those connections will be helpful in deciding whether you want to move geographically from your current home. If relationships are important to you but you may not be willing to be proactive in meeting people, then staying put may be the right call. It is important to look at your current connections in your current home area, evaluate its strength and meaning to you, and question whether that could be replaced if you did indeed move.
On the other hand, if you are a social butterfly and can make connections easily or if your connections are relatively weak in your current home, then moving may not be as difficult for you.
Alternatives to fostering relationships when there is geographical distance. One thing to consider in maintaining healthy relationships is that you can have some semblance of connections even if you don’t live in the same city as those you want to stay connected with.
- Technology. For one, technology can be used to stay connected today much more so than what our parent’s generation could stay connected, of course. Whether it is Zoom meetings, using a digital assistant like Amazon Echo, getting on social media, there are many ways to stay connected. In fact, I would argue that we can stay a lot more connected to people hundreds of miles away in today’s environment than our grandparents could stay connected years ago even with those they lived in close proximity to. Outside of lurking on social media, however, I think we probably underutilize the use of technology to stay connected. So, it does take intentionality and let others know that you do want to stay connected.
Despite the benefits of staying connected through technology, the close face-to-face meetings and that personal touch can make a huge difference. Evidence says that the touch can generate significant positive emotions and can lead to better health…being able to hug your grandchildren is arguably more meaningful than waving to them on Zoom.
- Visit regularly. So, if the personal touch is important, what are some other ways to stay connected even if you are not in the same city? One, of course, is to visit your connections whether it is family members or friends. How often will your finances and time allow you to make those trips? Do you make those trips on merely on key holidays or at regular intervals during the year?
- Have them visit you. You may also stay connected by having others visit you. If you do decide to move and want your family members to visit you, you might ask them how likely they are to visit. Just because you may be moving to what you think might be an ideal destination for your kids or grandkids to visit does not necessarily mean that they will have the time or desire to travel. As we are all busy with our careers and own activities and may have several different lines of family to stay connected, there may be little time to travel to see family members in other parts of the country. Along those lines, it is easier to travel to see each other if you are a 3-hour car trip away versus a plane trip across the country.
- Common trips. Another idea to stay connected in retirement to those outside your city may include common trips. Perhaps you can travel with friends or family and kill two birds with one stone. I believe that family trips that include multiple generations of family members is one of the most underutilized ways to stay connected. Not only can you benefit from staying involved in each other’s lives, adding adventure to the mix is a plus. Going on common family trips will require a special type of planning, require a little give and take on everyone’s part, and perhaps a bit more patience than your usual family trip, but I believe with an open and honest dialogue about desiring these trips and what would make them successful can lead to many memories for all involved and help lead to a fulfilling retirement.
So, having Connections in retirement is undoubtedly important. Whether your connections are with friends, family or those a bit more distant, it is important for you to plan your connections intentionally because of its profound impact on your health and your overall fulfillment in retirement.Connections are just one aspect of retirement. In our next episode, we will turn to the third domain of fulfillment and that is Renewal. The renewal aspect of retirement is a category that is loaded, and it includes looking at renewing our bodies, minds, and spirit. It is often overlooked as an aspect of fulfillment in retirement, but ignore it at your peril. We are looking forward to that episode so be sure to join us for that.
 Retirement researcher and author John Nelson breaks out the type of relationship based on his Three Levels of Retirement Happiness framework: pleasant relationships, engaging relationships, and meaningful relationships. Nelson, J. E., & Bolles, R. N. (2010). What Color is Your Parachute? For Retirement. Ten Speed Press, pp. 223-225. For another interesting look at type of connection one can have in retirement, see Life Coach Joel Shuflin’s discussion about cohorts, collaborators, and co-creators – each are critical but vary in terms of intimacy and growth. (Shuflin, J. (2018). Mates: Don't Retire Without Them. In R. C. Association, The Rretirement Challenge: A Non-Financial Guide From Top Retirement Experts (pp. 137-153). Retirement Coaches Association, pp. 137-153). Regardless of how we define or categorize the relationships, the important point is that having a variety of relationships are important and all types of relationships could serve a purpose to happiness and fulfillment.
 Spector, A., & Keith, L. (2018). Your Retirement Quest. Cincinnati Book Publishers, p. 133.
 Alan & Keith, 2018, p. 137.
 Author and physician Dr. Dean Ornish believes that the healing power of love and intimacy have a greater impact on healing power than any other factor in medicine as written in Love & Survival: Eight Pathways To Intimacy And Health, as discussed in Bellah’s The Best is Yet to Be. Bellah, M. (2019). The Best is Yet to Be. Best Years Press, p. 56.
 Antony indicates that connectedness may even be more important in one’s later years to help lead to successful aging. He describes the 5 “Vitamin C’s of successful aging: connectedness, challenge, curiosity, creativity, and charity. (Anthony, 2008, pp. 180-185).
 McDonald Gail, B. M. (2019). Retirement Your Way. Choices Next LLC, p. 143.
 Holt-Lundstand, Julianne; Timothy B. Smith; J. Bradley Layton. “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review.” PLOS Medicine. July 27, 2010. Doi: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316.
 For those that move wide distances in geography, you might want to consider active adult retirement communities. That avenue may provide an efficient and often productive way to meet friends in retirement as it is set-up to make it easier to meet new friends through their variety of activities and meet-ups.
 For a list of twenty ideas to meet friends, see Robin Ryan. Retirement Reinvention. Penguin Books. New York, NY. 2018. pp. 130-134.
 Nelson & Bolles, 2010, p. 217.