Preventing Loneliness in Retirement

Written by: The Yass Phoenix


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In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a study that continues to this day to find out: What makes us happy in life?

The researchers 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 later life, the Study asked about retirement. Based on their responses, the most significant challenge people faced in retirement was not being able to replace the social connections that had sustained them at work.

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.

“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.”

To help prevent this loneliness the researchers recommend that prior to retirement people consider the following questions:

  • 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 co-worker, 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?

Retirees should seek to keep up friendships made in the workplace as well as endeavour to grow their friendship network through activities and volunteering opportunities.

From: “An 85-year Harvard study on happiness found the No. 1 retirement challenge that ‘no one talks about’” by Marc Schultz and Robert Waldinger, published 10 March 2023.

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