Want a more fulfilling retirement?
Aging Matters

Social isolation and disconnection contributes to depression. If you go online in search of the latest health news, one trend you're sure to spot is loneliness and its detrimental effects often compared to smoking.

In the Facebook group for elder orphans, older adults living alone with little help frequently discuss how loneliness and isolation affects their well-being. The members share stories of feeling lonely, emotional hardships, and the flip side of adversity, like traveling the world, making solo trips via a car, retiring to another country, finding a more challenging job, while others go back to school for a second or third degree. It's interesting to read them all and observe how some move out of tough circumstances.

There are big differences between thriving in retirement and struggling to get by. The people who thrive are active, resourceful, and curious. Growing older isn't a road block, but instead a new phase of advancement and here's what they do differently:

  • Volunteer locally
  • Take up a new hobby for the fun of it
  • Learn a new skill that adds value
  • Travel and take day trips
  • Step beyond your comfort zone and meet people of different cultures
  • Grow a vegetable or flower garden
  • Find a part-time job to get out of the house
  • Make new friends to build a support team
  • Visit the local library, senior center or community college and sign up for a class
  • Help a neighbor next door or do a project together
  • Take cooking classes

Years ago when feeling isolated and alone, a dear friend suggested to connect with strangers when out and about in the community. She gave me simple instructions to follow when checking out at the grocery market:

  1. Look the cashier in the eye, and say, "thank you."
  2. Ask them, "how is your day?"
  3. When done with checking out, say, "have a nice day."

In the beginning, the outreach felt uncomfortable, but over time, it felt like the normal thing to do. Now, there's never a stranger in my world. Try it and give it some time. After awhile, it will be your normal.

Here are other ways to connect:

Attend meetings and activities at senior centers, do hobbies, find local Meetup groups for writing, dancing, cooking, walking, and tech classes. Libraries are another wonderful resource to build friendships.

If you're open to meeting new people and I hope you are, then pick up the phone or go to the web to locate the organizations online. If you stay at it and make a reasonable effort, I bet you'll wind up having a lot of fun and adventure with new friends.

Carol Marak, aging advocate and editor at Seniorcare.com. She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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