How healthy are your friendships? The answer will have a huge impact on your retirement. Research shows that friends (or lack thereof) can affect your health, happiness and even your habits. Let’s look at the findings, examine some of the challenges your friendships will face as you age and discuss a few ways to make and maintain friendships during retirement.
How Friends Affect Us
According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships can affect your
health and happiness in a number of important ways:
They provide support in tough times.
They help you find belonging and purpose
They reduce your stress and increase happiness
They give self-confidence and self-worth
They can help you through difficult times like
death, divorce, illness or job loss
They provide accountability and positive peer
They help reduce the risk of things like
depression, high blood pressure and unhealthy BMI.
In addition to the benefits above, friendships can help keep
your mind sharp. Several studies have found
that there is a strong connection between loneliness and cognitive
decline. For example, a 2018 study in
the Journals of Gerontology found that loneliness was associated with a 40%
increase in dementia among study participants.
In another study, researchers in the Netherlands found that people who
feel lonely are about 1.6 times more likely to get dementia.
There’s also evidence that the importance of friendships
increases as we age. Dr. William Chopik
at Michigan State University conducted a study on how our relationships affect
our health and happiness as we age. The results
showed that the benefits we get from healthy family relationships stays level
throughout life, but the value of good friendships has a greater impact on our
health and happiness as we age. According
to Dr. Chopik:
“Friendship quality often predicts health more so than the quality of other relationships.”
The Problem + The Solution
So the benefits of friends are huge, but there’s a
problem. Making and maintaining quality
friendships gets harder as you age. In
mid-life you have competing priorities like kids and work. As you age, caring for your parents often
gets added to the list. And life isn’t
static. Circumstances change and
friendships ebb and flow. Major life
events—death, divorce, job loss, moving and retirement—can derail even the best
of friendships. So if you want to enter
retirement with good friends that have a positive impact on your health,
happiness and cognitive function, you need to be intentional.
That means investing time, effort and often money into your friendships. It means being kind, likeable and trustworthy. It means listening and being transparent. It means being reliable and available. It means celebrating victories and being there when life is challenging. It means being loyal and avoiding drama. It means being proactive about spending time together. All those things have a compounding effect over time. They deepen friendships and give them a solid foundation. And as we saw earlier, those deep friendships take on added meaning as you age.
A Few Practical Applications
The primary takeaway is this: Don’t underestimate the power of friends. They can make or break your retirement. Start working on them now. If you’re looking for a good place to begin, forward this article to one or two of your friends and start a conversation. Ask how you can be a better friend. Plan an adventure or fun outing. Start a new tradition. Discuss ways to deepen your friendship. Compare retirement plans and make sure they overlap in ways that will allow you to maintain your friendship. All of this takes effort, but it’s worth it. The payoff is a healthier, happier life for both you and those you care about.
“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.”
The scorecard he’s talking about is how you measure success in any given endeavor. Are you playing your game or someone else’s? Do you compare yourself to others and try to win based on what they or the rest of the world think of you? Or do you focus on the things that matter to you and judge your success based on the goals and metrics that you’ve set for yourself (i.e. your internal scorecard)?
You can “succeed” with either scorecard. It’s just a question of whether or not that
success is likely to bring you happiness and fulfillment. Most people use a combination of both
scorecards, but during the first two-thirds of life the external scorecard
often wins. As a student, you had a
literal scorecard and it measured how well you did compared to the other
students and whether you reached the milestones of success set by the school. You likely focused on that scorecard to
please your parents or gain acceptance into college or a career.
During your working years there’s pressure to focus on the external
scorecard as well. Are you the top
salesman? How much money do you
make? What is your job title? How much is in your 401k? What professional designations do you
have? What industry awards have you
And since we use the external scorecard at work, we often
use it in our personal life as well. How
big is your house? What kind of car do
you drive? What brand of clothes do you
wear? Where do you vacation? Are your kids in private school?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things,
but if the only reason you want them is to please others or win some foolish
game of status or achievement, then you’re winning at the wrong game. It’s possible to look totally successful on
the outside and be a mess on the inside.
The internal scorecard and retirement
When you retire, you buy yourself the freedom to design your
own game and set your own rules. You get
to decide what constitutes a success.
This is a much more rewarding game to play and it is more likely to
result in happiness and fulfillment, because the metrics you’re focusing on are
the things that are important to you. It
takes work, however, because you need to create the game and set the
rules. That means deciding what you
really want out of life and then holding yourself accountable to achieve it
using your internal scorecard. Your scorecard
will look different than mine, so I can’t tell you what to do, but I can give
you some general ideas on how to do it. Below
are a few resources that can help.
Read this quote from Jeff Bezos and then let’s apply it to retirement.
“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”
What won’t change in retirement?
Bezos was talking about business, but you can just as easily apply his idea to retirement. Most people spend decades preparing for retirement. If you’re going to do that, you want to make sure that the time, money and energy that you’re investing will get you to where you want to be and will pay dividends for years to come. So, what won’t change? What is likely to be just as true 10 or 20 years from now as it is today? Here are three ideas:
You’ll want to be healthier. I have yet to come across the retiree who doesn’t care about their health. Everyone wants to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. I’m sure the same will be true of you. So the time and effort you spend on improving and maintaining your health will be well spent. That could mean making a long-term commitment to eating better. Or hiring a personal trainer. Or buying better quality food. Or going to your doctor for regular checkups. Or going to a physical therapist to finally treat those aches and pains. Or flossing (seriously…new research links gum disease to Alzheimer’s). Or getting that knee or hip replacement surgery that you’ve been putting off. If it’s an investment in your health, it will pay dividends for years to come.
You’ll want to be happier. That was true when you were 2. It was true when you were 20. It will still be true if you live to be 200. So think about the things that make you happy and invest in those. Here are a few suggestions based on happiness research. Invest in relationships. Learn new things. Focus on experiences rather than things. Work on something bigger than yourself. Exercise. Meditate or pray. Spend time outdoors. Help others. Get enough sleep. Forgive. Stop comparing yourself to others.
You’ll want to be more financially secure. I’m sure everyone has dreamed of winning the lottery, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Financial security simply means you’re not worrying about money at night. It means having enough to buy your freedom. Enough to control what you do with your time. Enough to do the things that you want to do. Enough to help those you care about if they need help. Enough to take care of yourself if/when your health changes. Enough to design the kind of lifestyle you want. The desire for financial security will not change, but it takes most of us a long time to get there. So be a good steward of your assets. Save diligently. Pay off debt. Invest wisely. Calculate how much you need to fund the retirement you want and make a plan that will get you there. Hire an adviser if you need help. Get your finances in order and it will pay dividends (literally) for years to come.
Because retirement is a time filled with fun, travel and leisure it is easy to make the pursuit of pleasure your orienting principle. That would be a terrible mistake. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, but it must exist in the context of something deeper. Let me explain.
Meaning vs. Pleasure
I’ve written before about Viktor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning about his time as a concentration camp prisoner. Frankl founded a school of psychology called Logotherapy (literally “meaning” therapy). He believed that striving to find meaning is the primary motivational force in humans. This was in contrast to Freud, who believed that the pursuit of pleasure was the driving motivation.
I’m in Frankl’s camp. In my experience with retirees, those who focus on meaning often have a deep sense of satisfaction, purpose and happiness. Pleasure is a welcome byproduct of their pursuit of purpose. Alternatively, those who can’t find this deeper sense of meaning often self-medicate with pleasure. Pleasure with no greater purpose eventually feels hollow for most people. So how can you orient your retirement around meaning?
How to find meaning
According to Frankl, there are three different ways to find meaning in life. I’ll list those below and then relate them to retirement.
Through projects or work. All of us are designed to do something meaningful and productive. Retirement doesn’t somehow remove that need, it just means that you no longer have to base your choice on how much something pays. Maybe that means working part-time in a field that’s always interested you or volunteering for an organization you’re passionate about. Or maybe it’s running for your local school board or working on a big community project. Whatever it is, find something that will engage you and leverage your time, treasure and talents. What people really need, according to Frankl, is “the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
Through experiences and relationships. Retirement (and life) is at its best when we have loving, healthy relationships with friends and family and we are engaged in meaningful pursuits.
Through challenges or suffering. This one might seem a bit counterintuitive at first, but if you think about the times in your life that made you who you are, that taught you the most, that filled you with pride and a sense of accomplishment, my guess would be that a lot of those times grew out of a significant challenge, heartbreak or tragedy. Frankl believed that we should welcome challenges and suffering, not because they’re fun, but because they can often bring meaning and growth. He knew that we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always control our response to our circumstances. That from a guy who was in a concentration camp and found a way to redeem his suffering and use it as the soil from which he grew his philosophy, vocation and life’s meaning.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
So as you move toward retirement, absolutely plan on doing fun and interesting things. Splurge on yourself. Be a little selfish. Just don’t treat the pursuit of pleasure as your ultimate goal. If you do, you’ll likely be disappointed. Instead, seek meaning and you’ll likely find pleasure and happiness as well.
Just a short post today. As spring arrives, I want to share one of my favorite poems with you and encourage you to use this time of warming weather, blossoms and new beginnings as a visual reminder to make the most of your time. The poem, by A. E. Housman, is below.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now Is hung with bloom along the bough, And stands about the woodland ride Wearing white for Eastertide
Now, of my threescore years and ten, Twenty will not come again, And take from seventy springs a score, It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom Fifty springs are little room, About the woodlands I will go To see the cherry hung with snow.
You don’t need to be a poetry expert to understand what Housman was saying. Life is short. And when you realize how quickly years pass and you do a bit of mental math, you understand that there’s not much time left. So don’t wait. Don’t continue to procrastinate and defer your dreams. Decide what things, big or small, are important to you and then get busy doing them. Have a great week. And, as always…
P.S. I took Housman’s words to heart in a literal way last year and went out to Washington D.C. to see the cherry blossoms (see above photo). Sometimes the best way to “stop and smell the roses” is just to stop and smell the roses.
Quick summary: Loneliness and depression are growing problems with the baby boom generation. In this article I talk about why that is, the problems that it causes and a few ideas on how to fix it.
Loneliness is the sadness you feel when there’s a gap (in
quality or quantity) between how much social interaction you have and how much
you want to have. Unfortunately, it’s a
growing problem among retirees. According
to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, loneliness affects between 25%
and 60% of all older adults. The baby boomer
generation reported the highest levels of loneliness and isolation. This is a serious issue because it not only affects
quality of life, but can also have severe health consequences. Why are retirees particularly susceptible to
loneliness (and depression) and how can you keep it from ruining your
As you age, there are a number of things that can affect the
quality and quantity of your relationships.
Death. Divorce. Leaving the workforce. Moving.
Physical changes, like arthritis, can affect your mobility and keep you
homebound. Common ailments like hearing
loss can make it harder to engage socially.
Women are especially vulnerable because they live longer and are
therefore more likely to be impacted by one or more of the previous risk
factors. What are some of the problems
that loneliness causes?
Loneliness affects more than just your happiness and quality
of life. It increases the risk of
depression, cognitive decline and dementia.
It weakens the immune system. It
increases blood pressure. In short, it
is linked to poor health and early death.
So let’s re-cap. Loneliness is
more common among older people and the side-effects are no bueno. How can you keep it from ruining your
retirement? I put several ideas below.
Work on your social
circles. A large study by Julianne
Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University found that those with greater social
connection had a 50% lower risk of early death.
Retirement is an amazing time, but it’s also a time where your social
network can undergo serious change. Some
of those are by choice (e.g. leaving work, relocating). Some not (e.g. death of a close friend or
spouse). Either way, you need to be very
intentional about making and maintaining relationships.
Use technology to maintain
your independence. Loss of
independence can have a huge impact on social interaction. If you can’t drive, you can’t meet a friend
for coffee. Thankfully, there’s
Uber. If you can’t hear very well, you’re
unlikely to attend social functions or join groups or organizations that
require you to interact and converse with others. Thankfully, hearing aid technology has improved
dramatically. Take advantage of it. I could give a hundred more examples. Unfortunately, some people are reluctant to
use these technologies because it’s like admitting that they’re “old.” That’s nonsense. We all grow old. We all experience health changes. Don’t let stubbornness or pride prevent you
from using technology to improve your quality of life.
Consider senior housing, an assisted living facility or CCRC. People understandably want to age in place and stay at home. It’s familiar. It gives a sense of independence. I get it. But if your physical limitations mean that your home becomes a place of isolation, maybe it would be better to move into a facility that is designed to provide social interaction, regular activities and assistance with issues that get harder as you age. People in these types of facilities report being happier and having higher levels of physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Most clients I’ve worked with over the years have viewed a move into one of these facilities as a positive, even if they were reluctant at first. In fact, I moved into one myself to see what it was like. You can read more about that here: So…I moved into an assisted living facility. Here’s how it went.
mentioned this in my article last week, but it bears repeating. Several large studies show that volunteering
can have positive effects on your health and well-being. One reason it’s so good for you is because it
provides lots of social interaction. Not
only that, but doing good deeds can reduce stress and lower cortisol levels
which can strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems and ultimately
lengthen your life. Use some of your
extra time during retirement to volunteer.
Chances are it will make you healthier and happier.
Evaluate social media
use. Sometimes social media is a helpful
way to stay connected with your friends and supplement your in-person
interactions. Sometimes it’s a vortex of
negativity that breeds discontent and FOMO (fear of missing out). If it’s making you happier and more
connected, great! If not, don’t be afraid
delete your profiles and invest your energy elsewhere.
Join a local group related to your hobbies or interests. Like to garden? See if there’s a local gardening club. Like to golf or play pickleball? Join a league. Like to dance? There’s a group for that. Like to travel? Consider group trips through organizations like Road Scholar. As with most things, hobbies are better when you can add others into the mix for friendship and fun.
Entertain. Everyone wants and needs social interaction,
but too often they just sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. They’d jump at the chance if someone took the
initiative. You can be that
someone. As our daughter has gotten
older, we’ve invested a little money in our house so it will be a place where
her and her friends will want to hang out.
I’m guessing many of you did the same thing for your kids. There’s no rule against doing that same thing
in retirement. Be the person that has
dinner parties, back yard barbeques or movie nights. Take the initiative and you’ll likely have
plenty of people excited to participate.
Get professional help. If you’re lonely or depressed, get some
professional help. There’s no shame in
that. I’m not a doctor, but I have had
several close friends and family members who have struggled with loneliness,
anxiety or depression. In each case they
sought help (counseling and/or medication) and saw drastic improvements. For some reason, there is a stigma associated
with mental health in the U.S. No one
blinks an eye when someone seeks treatment for cancer or diabetes, but there is
reluctance to treat depression like the disease that it is. There are a number of effective
treatments. “Cheer up!” is not one of
them. If you need help, get help.
If you have any other thoughts or ideas, feel free to share
them in the comments section. Thanks for