May 27, 2014 — Reality check: Even if you are among the fortunate half of baby boomers who will have enough money to maintain your pre-retirement lifestyle – you are still not out of the woods. That’s because your financial well being is only one part of the retirement happiness equation – being prepared mentally and psychologically is just as important. In the first part of this article we’ve come up with 5 warning signs that you might not be well prepared psychologically for retirement. The second part has advice from various experts on the keys to solid mental preparation.
5 Warning Signs
There are probably a lot more than we have listed here. But yes answers to these questions as you start retirement might be a pretty good indication that your mental preparation for retirement is not up to snuff:
1. Most days you have nothing special to look forward to when you wake up in the morning.
2. Your best friends are at the job you just left.
3. Your personal identity is wrapped up in the title of the job you had previously.
4. You don’t have any great reason to leave your house during the day.
5. You wish you weren’t retired – or greatly fear you will soon be so.
Tips for Tuning up Your Retirement Psychological Profile
Here we’ve assembled some of the advice we have seen on getting psychologically ready for retirement.
People and dogs aren’t so different
Dog trainers typically say that the key to a happy dog is keeping them busy so they don’t get into trouble. The same goes for humans. During our working days our jobs gave most of us built-in discipline and focus to life. They made us get to work everyday and focus on accomplishing various tasks. When you retire, something has to replace that structure – a hobby, a purpose, a sport, a cause, a volunteer job, or even a part-time job. In fact a recent article in the American Psychological Association’s Journal, “The Monitor“, reported that working or volunteering can help stave off depression, hypertension, and dementia. So don’t dive off the board into retirement without having thought about what you are going to do every day to stay busy.
We are particularly fond of this quote in MarketWatch (see below) from Kevin O’Laughlin, a financial planner with Affiance Financial in St. Louis Park, Minn.: “Are you retiring to something, or from something?” If the answer is the latter, you had better fill in the something to part!
Going Cold Turkey might not be such a great idea
There is a great deal of research suggesting that a gradual transition to retirement is better than going going cold turkey – working one day and being fully retired the next. The shock can actually cause some people to become depressed or unhappy. A study by the University of Florida’s Mo Wang, Ph.D., author of “Achieving Well-being in Retirement: Recommendations from 20 Years’ Research”, concluded that people who eased into retirement with some type of transitional approach had better mental and physical health that those who completely retired. So if you are nearing retirement think about making a gradual transition – perhaps with an encore career, a temporary job, or some form of self-employment.
Will your principal companion be your TV or pet?
Do you have social connections, including family, that are going to keep you engaged with other people? A recent report from Age UK in Great Britain found that a TV or a pet is the main
source of companionship for 2 in 5 elderly people in Britain. That study also found that 1 in 8 of the elderly feel cut off from society, and that 10% feel that they are always or often lonely. The report went on to blame loneliness for a variety of health problems, including dementia and heart disease.
The seeds for this loneliness are most likely sown in early retirement. The answers to these questions might give some insight into what your future social interactions might be like:
– Do you have a plan for seeing friends and family on a regular basis?
– Will you be a caregiver for someone to the degree that it could affect your social life?
– Do you have friends whose ages are different than yours – younger and older (a yes answer is a good thing!)
– Do you belong to an organization or live in a community that gives you a frqmework for spending time with other people?
– Does your living situation limit the number of people you interact with on a daily basis?
Are you ready to adjust to your new identity?
Losing the self-identity you had in your working days can be traumatic, particularly for people who had high profile jobs or for whom work was extremely important. Once you retire, no one will care too much if you were a corporate big shot. And even if they did, they will definitely get tired of hearing about it! You need to find something else to be proud of, even if it is cheerful volunteer!
Good News – Retirement is a Continuum – and You Can Change It!
So many folks don’t realize that retirement isn’t just one unchangeable state of being. Retirement should be a flexible thing. You don’t know how it is going to go until you experience it, so it is best to be prepared to mix things up as you go along.
For example: if you find you miss working – find a part-time job! If your hobby or sport doesn’t work out – find another. If being near the grandchildren is too stressful – find a reason to move farther away.
Likewise as you age your interests and needs are going to change. Those who make lifestyle adjustments to allow for those changes will be the happiest.
Nobody said a great retirement is going to magically happen – you are going to have to work at it. So spend some time and effort planning – before you take the plunge. Realize that you can always change your plans if retirement isn’t as you expected it. There are resources to help too, particularly on difficult tasks like finding a post-retirement job. A Boston-based group, Discovering What’s Next, is an example of one of those. It offers support for people 55+ who want to start a post-retirement career.
For further reading
Tune Up Your Psychological Profile for Retirement
Retiring Minds Want to Know: The Key to a Smooth Retirement (APA Journal)
Comments? What do you think are the mental keys to a happy retirement? Are there some we missed, or exagerated the importance of? What makes your retirement a happy – or not so enjoyable one? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.