What Makes For A Good Social Life In Retirement?

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In a previous article I talked about how early retirees can have a hard time staying socially connected. When you retire young, most of the people in your social circle are still working. And so you run the risk of spending too much time alone.

But social isolation is also an issue for those retiring at the conventional age. In fact, maintaining a social life gets harder with age. Little by little the ones we were close to pass away or move away, and when we leave our job we lose a broad network of friends and acquaintances. As our social pool evaporates, filling it back up is a problem, because it’s either too hard or we’re not motivated enough to meet new people.

Difficult as it may be, it should be pointed out that staying socially connected is essential to one’s well-being. A good social life…

  • Provides a sense a belonging that feeds our personal identities and validates our thoughts and actions.
  • Adds personal meaning and value to our lives, strengthening our self-worth and confidence.
  • Offers social events that give us routines and schedules, adding structure and purpose to daily living.
  • Is a source of emotional support, making it easier to handle problems and keep stress levels in check.

On the negative side, social isolation is potentially as high a health risk factor as obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Our identity can feel threatened and our self-esteem can be weakened, and we run a higher risk of depression.

There are also physical consequences. Those who feel socially disconnected…

  • Have a higher risk of high blood pressure, coronary disease and stroke
  • Have a faster breakdown of cognitive skills and greater likelihood of suffering dementia because their minds are less active.
  • Have greater decline of functional skills, such as walking or climbing stairs.
  • Suffer from chronic stress, the health consequences of which are debilitating.
  • Have a weakened immune system because white blood cells remain immature and ineffective.

So, there’s not much choice but to work at staying socially active. But what makes for a good social life? For sure, it’s the number of people we interact with and the amount of time we dedicate to them. But it’s also about diversity — the broader and more diverse one’s social circle, the better. That’s how you get exposed to new ideas, different ways of thinking, and a greater variety of activities, and that’s what keeps your mind active.

Here’s one mistake to avoid — focusing too much attention on family members. Certainly, hanging out with the grand kiddies has it’s value, but it’s not a good idea to rely on family exclusively. Your children’s priorities are about building their lives, raising families, and working, things that aren’t relevant to your stage of life. You shouldn’t ignore your kids, but avoid becoming overly dependent on them. What’s important is balance – a social life that includes equal parts family and friends.

We all know that making new friends is no easy task. But that can’t be an excuse — you need the health benefits. One has to commit time each day to seek out ways and places to meet people. Here are some ideas that might help you get there…

  • Set up regular play dates with your current friends and acquaintances and rekindle old relationships from your past.
  • Join clubs and senior organizations or start your own club. You might try setting it up on a theme basis, e.g.,  dining, wine tasting, golf, etc. — that’s a way to spend time with people who share your interests.
  • Become a volunteer or a mentor.
  • Take a class or two at your local college, library, or community center.
  • Consider taking a job outside the home, specifically for the social benefits.

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So, if you’re not sure whether your social life is good enough, it probably isn’t and you need to fix that. Do it for your health, if not for the sheer enjoyment.

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