Mind Games

Dennis Friedman

I FEEL LIKE THERE is a death cloud hovering over me. I have been retired for nine years. I have lost my father and two of my best friends to cancer. I have seen aunts, uncles and cousins pass away. I have watched my mother struggle every day to do simple activities. When I talk to my friends, it usually ends in a discussion about our aches and pains or latest doctor’s appointments.

I’m not looking for sympathy or pity. I feel lucky that my father lived to age 90 and that my mother is going to be 95 this year. As you grow older, it’s only natural that you start losing family members and friends at an increasing rate. What’s important is how you deal with it.

I have found that, in retirement, your mental outlook is as important as your finances. You might find yourself as a caregiver to a loved one. Taking care of an elderly person can be stressful and mentally exhausting. Waking up and knowing a good friend is gone can leave a hole in your life.

But I have also found there are things you can do to deal with these issues and give yourself a more positive outlook on life. As I mentioned in a previous blog, having a good social network of friends is important. You need, however, to diversify your friends, as you would your investment portfolio.

For instance, you need to have friends who are younger: These friends will give you a different outlook on life and will outlive your older friends. I find talking to my younger friends refreshing and invigorating.

You might feel there’s less need for friends because you have a large family.  But according to a study in the journal Personal Relationships, having a supportive network of friends in old age has greater benefits than having robust family connections. You tend to do things you enjoy with your friends, while many of the things you do with family might be out of a sense of obligation.

A healthy lifestyle can also help you maintain a positive state of mind. Exercising and eating a healthy diet are two ways to improve your mental and physical health. Don’t wait until you retire: You need to start early in life, just as you would your retirement savings plan. An added bonus: You could save thousands of dollars in retirement by being a healthy version of yourself. Health care is one of retirement’s biggest expenses—and those costs are increasing faster than inflation.

Dennis Friedman retired at age 58 from Boeing Aerospace Company. He enjoys reading and writing about personal finance. His previous articles include Looking Forward, More Than Money and Leap of Faith.

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3 years ago

Wonderful post- thank you! So glad I read it…the title almost caused me to pass it by. No indication what the subject matter was, but turns out it was one I’m very interested in.

My wife and I walk our dog together 2-3 miles regularly, and the other day on such a walk I described a simile that occurred to me as she was lamenting the thinning of our pool of mutual friends. (You know, other couples we both like getting together with, or who are common to both of our pasts, not just mine or hers).

I likened close friendships to hair on a man’s head; when he is young, they are countless, and when he is old, they can be scarce and hard to find (not counting in the ears, eyebrows or nose!!). Like hair growth and hair loss, the problem is not that new ones cannot be created – it’s simply a relative replacement RATE problem. Young men and old men lose hair at basically the same rate as each other. Old men simply grow NEW hairs on top of their head at a much slower rate than they lose them, while for young men the loss & replacement rate are about equal.

Fortunately, if we will only focus on making a greater effort to do so, we can change (increase) the rate at which we add new friends, unlike the case of speeding up new hair replacement growth on our head (infomercial lies to the contrary notwithstanding!)

I agree completely with making a conscious effort to cultivate friendships with a younger generation. (BTW, it’s good for THEM, too!). Likewise, I encourage people to try to cultivate friendships with people of a completely different socio-economic background, and political leanings. You don’t really learn or grow living in the comfort zone of an echo chamber consisting solely of people who think (and vote) the same way you do.

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