Want a more fulfilling retirement? Get connected

It’s no secret that isolation and disconnection from others plays into 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 is often compared to smoking. Even today, I read an article about it on WebMD.

In the Facebook group for elder orphans, older adults aging alone with little to no nearby support, frequently discuss how loneliness and isolation affects their well-being. And to prove it, there’s preliminary data of the group showing that 52 percent feel lonely.

The members share stories of loneliness, physical pain, emotional hardships, and also 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 those who thrive and those who struggle. 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:

  • Play games for entertainment, solve crossword puzzles, and consistently participate in brain exercises
  • Volunteer locally with organizations that feed their soul
  • Take up a new hobby for the fun of it
  • Learn a new skill that adds value
  • Travel and take day trips
  • Step outside the comfort zone and meet people of different cultures
  • Grow a vegetable or flower garden
  • Get to know the neighbors and invite over for morning coffee
  • Find a part-time 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
  • Throw a block party

The platinum standard that sets thriving apart from struggling is actively making local connections. Quite simply, one must get up and get going — and that means get out of the house and start real-life conversations.

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 small 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, you may not create close connections immediately but don’t give up. Go back regularly and as you form new friendships, ask them to lunch and to bring a friend next time. Over a few months you’ll enjoy meeting more new friends and seeing the lunch group grow.

Participate in hobbies and other activities together in addition to lunches. Find local Meetup groups that offer other interests like writing, dancing, hobbies, cooking, walking, and classes to learn technology skills.

Libraries are another wonderful resource to build friendships. The Dallas public library, where I live, offers free painting classes, exercise and yoga, and book clubs and lots more, so check out your local library.

Volunteer – Check with your local Area Agency on Aging Department to find ways to help the frail and elderly. Other organizations like AARP, the Senior Corp, and Points of Light will steer you to people or pets who have needs.

Foster friendships

Making and retaining friends takes consistent effort. But it is possible. Here are a few practical tips to forge new friendships and strengthen old ones. Just remember with all relationships, be honest, forgiving, and supportive.

Be yourself – You have a better chance meeting like-minded buddies when pursuing hobbies and activities you enjoy.

Be persistent – Don’t give up. Send the person an email asking them to lunch or a coffee next week, and follow up afterward to say you had a good time.

Set a goal – The next time you go to an event, don’t leave until you’ve made at least one new friend. That way, you’ll feel encouraged and open to doing it again.

It’s important to remain hopeful and with self-confidence, flexibility, and patience, it’s possible to find friends in almost any situation, and keep them for life.

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.