Retirement planning often seems to center around finances: How much is in my 401(k)? When should I start drawing Social Security? Will I be able to afford my current lifestyle?
But retirement is about more than just money.
It’s also about “where you want to go and what you want to be in this last part of your life,” said Cathy Graham, director of the Bethlen Communities Graceful Aging Wellness Center in Ligonier Township.
Figuring that out means planning for your physical, mental and emotional health when full-time work is no longer the focus of life. It’s time to assess the coming changes to your lifestyle and the feelings that go along with it — and to make peace with them.
“Society tends to have a negative viewpoint of getting old, and why is that?” she said. “I can think of a lot of advantages of being older, like the wisdom and experience of a lifetime.
“This might be the first time in your life when you really have the time to take charge and put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life,” she said. “The key thing is to have a plan, whatever that looks like.”
A big part of the plan should be figuring out how to fill the time and mental energy formerly spent on work.
“People tend to think that, with retirement, this part of me is ending, so I’m ending, but really, anything and everything is possible,” Graham said.
Some people opt for a second (possibly less-stressful) career or find it necessary to work a part-time job. Some take on a bigger care-taking role with grandchildren. Still others return to a long-neglected pastime, learn a new skill or delve into volunteer work or mentoring.
“You can follow an interest you never had time for, and it’s never too late to start taking better care of your physical fitness,” Graham said.
Without a plan, it’s easy to fall into isolation and depression, which can lead to physical illness, she said.
Pre-retirement is also a good time to plan for inevitable life changes such as illness and death, your own or that of your spouse.
“Have those conversations while you’re still healthy. Be clear with yourself and your family about what you want and your expectations,” Graham said. “It’s a terrible time to figure those things out when they happen.
“Think about retirement, instead of just letting it happen to you,” she said. “Time goes by quickly until suddenly it’s the here and now.”
According to newretirement.com, here are some unexpected skills that can lead to a successful retirement:
• Resilience in overcoming adversity — Characterized by positive attitude, optimism and the ability to regulate emotions.
• Ability to maintain a set of friends — Recent research suggests that loneliness can be a threat to health, on par with obesity, light smoking and anxiety.
• Ability to stay motivated — Setting a schedule and goals, having a purpose for each day.
The ability to recognize that you can’t/don’t want to relax at an older age also can be important. As your peers retire, it’s OK to realize that you love working and want to keep at it; retirement is not for everyone.
Retirement can mean more time to spend with grandchildren.
Newretirement.com also offers these suggestions for staying vital and engaged when work years end:
• Be a perennial — Keep “blooming” by keeping up with current events and trends, staying current with technology and engaging with people of all ages.
• Attitude of gratitude — Expressing thankfulness by journaling, meditating or writing thank-you notes can lessen negative feelings and lead to more social connectedness and better physical health.
• Embrace aging — Look for role models in people who are dealing well with retirement and the aging process. What is it that makes them admirable? What is their attitude toward life? How do they spend their time?
• Simplify — Make room for happiness by removing clutter, both physical and mental. Taking care of possessions can take up a lot of time and mental energy. As a bonus, selling unused possessions can pad retirement savings or fund a new pastime or travel.
• Final thoughts — It sounds counter-intuitive, but thinking about the end of life can help you prioritize what you want to do with the time you have left, leading to more satisfaction and overall happiness.
The Graceful Aging Wellness Center offers programs for physical fitness, along with social opportunities, wellness coaching and nutrition counseling, to people 40 and older. Exercise classes run the gamut from chair yoga to spinning.
The center bases its programs on the International Council on Active Aging’s seven dimensions of wellness, which promote “active aging,” regardless of age, socioeconomic status or health:
• Physical — Lifestyle choices that can maintain or improve health and functional ability
• Emotional — Coping with challenges and behaving in trustworthy and respectful ways
• Spiritual — Living with meaning and purpose, guided by personal and/or faith-based values
• Intellectual/cognitive — Engaging in creative pursuits and intellectually stimulating activities
• Social — Personal contact with family, friends, neighbors and chosen peer groups
• Environmental — Good stewardship of natural and man-made environments
• Vocational — Work or leisure-time activities that use personal skills while providing personal satisfaction.
Having time for new pastimes and hobbies can be one benefit of retirement.
‘It doesn’t matter’
A quote attributed to baseball pitching great Leroy “Satchel” Paige says, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”
Not dwelling on age can have its own benefits, as Paige himself illustrated. In his last game at age 59 (two weeks shy of his 60th birthday), he pitched three shutout innings.
Retirement happiness research from Becca Levy, a Yale University associate professor of epidemiology and psychology, showed that when older adults focus on the positives of aging — in terms of wisdom, self-realization and satisfaction — they function at a higher level, live 7.5 years longer and are more likely to eat well, exercise and avoid vice.
Again, as Paige said, “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, email@example.com or via Twitter .