Happy People Have Strong Connections During Retirement Years!

Student Loan Repayment ProgramsHappy people seem to be the ones who maintain solid personal connections to others after they retire according to an 85 year study from Harvard University.

In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a study that continues to this day.  The study is one that seeks to learn: What makes us happy in life?   Researchers have gathered health records from 724 people from all over the world, asking detailed questions about their lives at two-year intervals.

As participants entered mid- and late-life, the Harvard Study often focused upon retirement.  Based on their responses, the No. 1 challenge people faced in retirement was not being able to replace the social connections that had sustained them for so long at work.  Fred Barstein writes about happy people in 401k RealTalk at WealthManagement.com.  Apparently happy people can become that way through connections made among colleagues in the workplace.

Retirees don’t miss working, they miss the people

When it comes to retirement, retirees often stress about things like financial concernshealth problems and caregiving.

In retirement, happy people seem to be those who find ways to cultivate connections.  Surprisingly, almost no one talks about the importance of developing new sources of meaning and purpose upon leaving the workforce.

One participant, when asked what he missed about being a doctor for nearly 50 years, answered: “Absolutely nothing about the work itself.  I miss the people and the friendships.”

Leo DeMarco, another participant, had a similar feeling: After he retired as a high school teacher, he found it hard to stay in touch with his colleagues.

Mr. DeMarco admitted “I get spiritual sustenance from talking shop.  It’s wonderful to help someone acquire skills,” he said. “Teaching young people was what started my whole process of exploring.”

Taking on hobbies might not be enough

Henry Keane was abruptly forced into retirement by changes at his workplace.  Suddenly he had an abundance of time and energy.

He started volunteering at the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.  He put time into his hobbies — refinishing furniture and cross-country skiing.  But something was still missing.

“I need to work!” Keane told the researchers at age 65. “Nothing too substantial, but I’m learning that I just love being around people.”

To retire happy, invest in your relationships

Keane’s realization teaches us an important lesson not only about retirement, but about work itself: We are often shrouded in financial concerns and the pressure of deadlines, so we don’t notice how significant our work relationships are until they’re gone.

To create more meaningful connections, ask yourself:

  • Who are the people I most enjoy working with, and what makes them valuable to me?
  • Am I appreciating them?
  • What kinds of connections am I missing that I want more of?  How can I make them happen?
  • Is there someone I’d like to know better?  How can I reach out to them?
  • If I’m having conflict with a coworker, what can I do to alleviate it?
  • Who is different from me in some way (thinks differently, comes from a different background, has a different expertise)?
  • What can I learn from them?

At the end of the day, notice how your experiences might affect your sense of meaning and purpose.  It could be that this influence is, on balance, a good one.  But if not, are there any small changes you can make?

Every workday is an important part of our personal experience, and the more we enrich it with relationships, the more we benefit.  Work, too, is life.

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