Retirement Resiliency: Living a Long Healthy Life, Part 2

Adult and Child Hands

What does it take to live a long, happy, and resilient life in retirement? The answer was revealed at UC Berkeley’s Living Well in Retirement Conference, held May 22, 2018. The good news is that we’re living longer, much longer, than any previous generation in human history, as I reported last week in Part One of this two-part series. The better news is that we can use these extra decades to improve our health, increase our happiness, and contribute the wisdom that is so needed in the world today.

The fact that we grow happier with age may come as a shock if you believe the old myth of retirees going off into the sunset for that one Caribbean cruise before they die.  If there was ever any truth to that myth, it has been debunked by how people over 60 actually live. Think RBG, not rocking chair.

Old people, aging well, are nothing if not resilient.


“The ability to stay effective in the face of life’s challenges and setbacks, while remaining positive about the future.”

This optimistic message was delivered to conference attendees by Michael Pearn, Director of the Resilient Aging Lab. Given the losses of aging, it may seem challenging to remain positive. It turns out, though, that resiliency has more to do with mindset than the objective challenges of growing older. A resilient mindset gives us:

  • More flexibility;
  • The ability to navigate aging with grace;
  • Insight, connection, and productivity;
  • Mental and physical well-being;
  • Forgiveness of others and ourselves; and
  • The opportunity to become who we truly are.

Human beings are wired for resilience, and we tap into this reservoir as we grow older. Our life experience gives us a broad perspective that younger people simply do not have because they still have so much living ahead of them. Life gets easier as we age because our life experience gives us a larger view.

Nine factors of retirement resiliency.

While resiliency leads to a positive aging outlook, the lack of resiliency has quite the opposite impact. The high rates of depression and suicide among older people are clues to the stress of navigating the transition into retirement and older age. The fact is, a successful transition from engaged worker to happy retiree is not automatic. It requires a period of introspection, reflection, envisioning, and finally constructing  our new identity and life purpose.

According to Pearn, staying resilient as we age requires doing well in the following three areas:

1. The Fundamentals
These are threshold wellness factors. Optimize these and you optimize your life:

  • Physical activity
  • Sleep
  • Diet

2. Me @ My Best
These factors keep your heart and mind engaged and happy.

  • Positive Emotions
  • Social Relationships
  • Intellectual Engagement

3. Going Beyond
These factors provide a purpose for living and contribution to the greater good.

  • Meaningful Life Goals
  • Volunteering and Contributing
  • Spirituality, Values, and Meaning

On one hand, a set-back in any one of these areas can cause stress in the other. On the other hand, our strengths can help us bounce back from adversity.  Most of us have experienced the downward spiral of sleepless nights leading to a sugar-loaded day, leading to passing a social engagement by because we just feel tired.  Conversely, a talk with a good friend, walk in the park, or volunteer commitment can give us solace, purpose, and remind us that much of life is going well.

What steps will you take towards retirement  resiliency?

How would you rate yourself in these nine areas of resiliency?  Are you operating at your physical best or are your health conditions, lack of sleep, or diet holding you back?  Do you generally feel positive about life? How are your social relationships? Do you have at least one good friend or partner who you can confide in?  How are you living your values? What do you do to engage your intellect? Your sense of awe or beauty? How are you contributing to making the world a better place?

If you come up short in an area, how can you get support to shift your thinking?  Take action today to free yourself to be at your best.

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