No, it’s not just you—making friends and forming healthy relationships is hard.
And it becomes even more complex as you age.
The Stanford Center of Longevity, led by founding director and psychology professor Laura Carstensen, uncovered that baby boomers display the most signs of disengagement from “traditional modes of social relationships.”
Unfortunately, many retirees experience a profound sense of loneliness. Research from the University of California found that a staggering 43% of surveyed retirees over 65 felt lonely—but only 18% actually lived alone.
That doesn’t sound good, especially considering the rapid rate of boomers saying sayonara to the workforce. According to Pew Center Research, just over 53% of adults over 55 retired as of the third quarter of 2021.
More people are retiring, but without a comprehensive plan to build a purposeful next step, you may find that your golden years can tarnish, after all.
One area of retirement where people forget to plan for is relationships and community, but it’s imperative to your overall happiness.
How can you intentionally form community and lasting relationships that fill you up?
Isolation In Retirement Is So Common (And It Can Take You By Surprise)
Your career has likely been a defining part of your life. People spend on average one-third of their lives, roughly 90,000 hours (at this rate, you’re an expert 9 times over based on the 10,000-hour theory!) at work.
In that time, you’ve not only mastered skills, pioneered new avenues, and made plenty of mistakes, but you’ve also developed meaningful relationships.
Morning coffee chats with your office neighbor, lunch laughs with your peers, bonding happy hours, and team events were all significant parts of your experience. You shared and created so many memories with your colleagues over the years, and whether you realize it or not, they play a significant role in your community attachments.
You’ve probably felt the pang of that loss and change when you switch jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American has 12 jobs throughout their career! That’s potentially 12 times of awkward icebreakers and trying to form new work relationships.
But in retirement, you’re not necessarily “changing jobs” where you have a built-in network of people to grab lunch with and bond over your shared love of hiking. All of a sudden, the support system that’s been there to celebrate big wins and support during hard times isn’t there.
Work comprises a significant part of your community throughout your life. While you may be ready to move on from a stressful 40+ hour work week, you may not expect to genuinely miss your work community; and on top of that realizing you don’t have an automatic replacement.
In retirement, nothing is “automatic;” it’s custom, so you have to build, shape, and mold it into something that will bring you joy and fulfillment.
Here’s a little tip: your spouse can’t replace your entire social network. Many couples struggle in the early years of retirement because they aren’t used to spending all day every day with one another. Your spouse can and should be part of the community you build, but not the sole pillar.
We’ve heard some people say “I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch!” Spouses need space to determine how to spend meaningful time together throughout retirement.
Loneliness Can Negatively Impact Your Physical and Mental Health
A strong community thwarts loneliness. And when left untouched, loneliness can manifest into additional health problems later on.
Unfortunately, retirees are more susceptible to developing clinical depression. The London Institute of Economic Affairs even found that the likelihood of people suffering from depression increases by 40% after they retire.
A 2020 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) revealed that one-third of adults over 45 felt lonely, and a quarter of adults over 65 are considered socially isolated.
What does it mean to be socially isolated?
It simply refers to a lack of social connectedness.
Even though the definition is simple, the impacts are not. It’s so much more than not having a Friday lunch date and could dramatically impact your health long-term.
The CDC simplified the NASEM report and unearthed some shocking links between social isolation and health problems. Here are the most significant findings:
- Social isolation increases a person’s risk of premature death.
- It was associated with a 50% increase in dementia.
- Your risk of a stroke jumps to 32%, and heart disease soars to 29%.
- People who have profound loneliness are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
And, when you think about it, the reasons become increasingly more apparent. Society has told one (relatively simple) story about retirement—you never have to work again, and you get to relax. But that’s not the reality many retirees want.
Sure, it may be nice to stay in your pajamas until noon or get lost on a beach walk for a couple of weeks, but those activities, while relaxing, aren’t stimulating, and retirees need mental stimulation to create purpose, meaning, and joy in this next season. Remember, vacation isn’t a permanent life plan.
Retirement is anything but static and straightforward; it’s dynamic, active, and full of life. But it won’t fall into your lap. You have to intentionally create it.
How To Build A Community Where You Thrive
This question requires a two-pronged answer:
- Spend time on things you enjoy
- Nurture relationships along the way.
Say one of your retirement goals is to write a book. That’s an incredible goal to push you mentally and help you grow, but writing is an inherently solitary activity.
How can you bring community into the mix? Perhaps you join a writing club/group within your specific niche. You can find people who write memoirs, children’s books, cookbooks, fiction, etc. You might meet weekly to get comments on your work and help others with their works in progress as well. By doing so, you’ll meet people with similar interests, and you may be able to make some incredible friends. This way, you engage in an activity you love and develop critical social connections.
Take some time to brainstorm a list of things that you enjoy doing. Some examples could include:
- Spending time with family and friends
- Attending religious services
- Hobbies (golfing, playing tennis, singing, painting, woodworking, etc.)
Start to develop a “curious list,” or the things you’d like to learn more about in retirement. The best thing about this list is that you don’t have to commit your time to complete it—it’s simply a space for you to nurture your desires.
Now, take that list a step further and consider how it could help you build a community.
- Closeness with family and friends is an excellent way to stay connected in retirement.
- Exercising isn’t just great for your physical and mental health; it can also expand your community. For example, you may end up attending the same yoga class with a group and go out for coffee afterward; that could easily become a Saturday morning tradition.
- If you have a green thumb, tending your garden may be an enjoyable part of your daily routine. How can you make it social? Perhaps you want to sell your veggies/fruits/bounty at a local farmer’s market. You could lend a hand to the community garden or package your veggies up to share with neighbors.
- Many retirees find a lot of purpose through regular volunteering. It’s so rewarding to spend time on causes and organizations that exemplify your values. You may find you want to be more involved in your community, religious organization, etc.
- Spiritual wellness can be critical for many retirees. Additionally, houses of worship are excellent places to meet like-minded people and form a rich community.
- Retirement is a wonderful time to lean into your hobbies by joining clubs and groups. If you love to sing, maybe join a choir. If you love to paint, find a class to further your skills. There are so many ways to turn your hobbies into a way to meet people.
Another way you can build a community is to keep working! If most of your social network comes from a full-time or part-time job, why not keep it? You may move to an adjacent field, start a new business, turn your passion project into a part-time job (music lessons, exercise classes, tutoring, creative work, etc.)—the opportunities are endless!
Ready for an idea that may seem a bit wild? Download an app. Yes, there are apps specifically for forming friendships! Some retirees find success with apps like Meetup, Friender, and Bumble BFF. Meetup is a fantastic platform that allows you to connect with people in your area. There might be a meetup for red wine tasting at a local wine bar, a running club, a book club, and more.
If you know you’re going to be retiring (whether full or part-time) in an area where you know people, consider reaching out to them in advance. Be proactive in your friendships and dedicate the time to rebuild the ones that mean the most to you.
An independent retirement community may also be an excellent option for those moving to an entirely new place without knowing anyone! Communities offer so many amenities and opportunities for socializing.
How will you know which relationships to prioritize? Check out this model to help you evaluate your relationships.
These are just a few examples of creating a community that fits your goals, values, and priorities.
Lifestyle Planning Is Part Of Retirement Planning
Retirement is an incredible opportunity to dedicate your time, talents, energy, and resources to the things that matter most to you. To make this season as rich and fulfilling as possible, you need to make a solid plan for your lifestyle.
Far too often, people forget that retirement is a life transition as well as a financial transition. At TFS, we’re so passionate about helping you use your money to enhance your life. Money opens up so many choices, opportunities, and possibilities, but it’s what you do with those options that make the process so special.
Planning ahead for your retirement lifestyle can help you feel confident, secure, and excited about the next step. We’d love to walk beside you on that journey. Let’s make a plan together. Set up a time to talk with us today.