The promise of one day living the life of a happy retiree can sometimes be all that gets us through the stress and struggles of daily life. All of our superhuman efforts focused on doing the job, raising a family, paying the endless bills and saving whatever we can is ultimately deemed successful only if we eventually graduate into the ranks of the retired. Once there we hope for a peaceful more sane second act, one in which we pursue what excites us and avoid as much as possible all things negative. It is a beautiful picture and who is more deserving?
The reality is retirement like any stage of life is not always smooth sailing. Along with the good we typically must deal with situations that are not to our liking. Challenges await, many in areas where we have no experience. Until we retire none of us has been 100 percent responsible for how we spend our time. It may be fun planning a two week vacation to Tahiti but what about figuring out what you will do to stay engaged with life for the next two decades? Without something worthwhile on your schedule it’s not always easy to find the motivation to get out of bed. And should you find yourself mired in a boring predictable routine those dreamed of happy retirement days can feel like a burden rather than a relief.
All of us have experienced moments when we are not quite “on” – when we are a bit tired or out of sorts. But until you get on in years you will not face the many challenges an aging body can throw your way. You may imagine how it will be but until you walk in those shoes you never know for sure. And there are many more surprises likely along the journey.
Who can we turn to when we have a problem?
For many in need the first choice is family, with us through thick and thin. Few know us better or are more concerned with our well being. But I personally don’t want to be perceived as a burden. I never want to be known as the cranky old guy who only talks about his aches and pains. For those of us married we can turn to our spouse. But again we don’t want to suck the life out of a relationship by being overly negative. And face it there are some things we may not want to discuss with a spouse for whatever reason. There are support groups, book clubs, volunteer opportunities, community organizations, all sorts of possibilities. And for some they provide a conduit to share important issues.
When we were part of the working world we had regular interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and customers. There was always someone to talk to sometimes more than you may have wanted. Around the coffee machine we talked about the good things we were blessed with, shared a laugh or even hinted at a dream with a fellow human being. And if we faced challenges we had someone to reach out to for support or a helping hand.
If we find ourselves going through tough times a little human interaction goes a long way. Someone to talk to, to unburden ourselves, to bounce ideas off, to just listen to us can be incredibly helpful. We don’t necessarily need a solution to our problem, just an attentive ear. Sometimes a silent listener enables us to better sort out confusing thoughts just by verbalizing them.
I recently spoke with Jeremy Fischbach, a psychology graduate from Princeton, who along with a group of fellow graduates is studying the importance of having someone to talk to during difficult times. They are discovering the promised land of retirement can be fraught with loneliness, boredom and sadness. “Retirement, like divorce, job changes and major moves, is a life changing event that many find extremely stressful. Not having to go to the office, shop or business anymore requires major adjustment and can engender feelings of loneliness and a lack of purpose.”
Jeremy and his team are working on an inspired solution called the Happiness Amplification Project:
“Help for retirees experiencing these challenges is available, and it’s free. Happiness Amplification Project (happinessamplificationproject.org) is a new free service established by psychology graduates of Princeton University. They make providers with retirement experience and expertise available by telephone to be compassionate listeners who can quickly restore perspective and significantly boost a retiree’s happiness and health. This is not psychotherapy. You will not be psychoanalyzed. It is human interaction with an unpaid peer who enjoys helping people and who is really good at it. The purpose of the telephone conversations, which can be five minutes or an hour, is to provide a compassionate listener, one who can impart the strength and confidence required to help you meet the challenges that retirement presents, turn the corner and experience the real happiness that is within your grasp.”
Having someone who listens when you are alone, afraid or depressed can make a real difference. Although the options may seem fewer in retirement there are many out there who care. Retirement should be what you hope for. Sometimes we just need a little help along the way.