I was speaking with a neighbour recently. She and her husband retired within the past few years and they are looking forward to winter this year with apprehension. Usually, they would participate in some social winter sports. But, due to COVID, where they usually play their sport of choice has canceled its season. Usually, they would be preparing to go on a trip right about now, and then go away again at the end of January. Not this year. Once the cottage is closed, they can’t go there. They have been doing backyard visits with friends, but once it is too cold to visit outside, what will they do? She figures they will have to hunker down. On the plus side, she said at least they would be spending nearly as much this year. I asked her if I could give her an unsolicited piece of advice based on observations of working with retirees for many years: Do everything you can to keep your world as big as you can for as long as you can. Even when you must stay close to home.
You see, for the most part, people’s retirements follow a very similar trend. Retire and be active – this is what they have been looking forward to, planning for, and saved for many years. Then something happens. It could happen suddenly. Maybe it is a health issue, or a circumstance in the family, or a big house expense. Or it could just happen one small degree at a time as we get more comfortable with what we know as we age. It could be the result of anything. What happens is, either quickly or by small degrees at a time, for most people their world gets small. A shrinking of one’s world could be literally, meaning travel distance shrinks or instead of exploring new places, you’re only comfortable going to the same place all the time. It could be intellectually – maybe your eyes give you trouble, and you have to stop reading as much, or taking courses for a time. It could be socially the number of people you interact with gets smaller. Regardless of how it happens, unless you consciously fight against it, your world gets smaller in retirement, and once it gets smaller it is very hard to open it up again. Not only is it hard to open up again, we start to age faster.
For those who are retirement age and older, like my neighbours, beyond the obvious COVID health concern, my worry for them is that because their world has been forced smaller with lockdowns, closed borders, and other activities shut down, especially with winter rapidly approaching, is that their world is going to stay small even once a vaccine or effective treatment is found. And with that smaller world may come faster aging.
I do know some retirees who have been able to maintain a big wide-open life and world into their later years and have found 7 key traits they generally share. Even though snowbirds may not be able to go south this year, and we may not be able to do what we would typically like to do, doing what you can to practice these 7 traits will hopefully help you keep your world big when it physically has to stay small.
- Find ways to interact with people – video get-togethers, bundling up, and taking a blanket to keep warm while having lunch on a patio (that is the Scandinavian way!). Play Bridge or other games online with your friends. Whatever you do, keep your connections. Keep the conversation going with a wide variety of people from a variety of different age groups. Different age groups typically have different perspectives, interests and challenges – conversations with those of different ages keep your mind open.
- Keep Physically Active – When the sun is shining and if conditions allow for it, get out and walk. If you are physically able, try taking up a new winter activity, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Lots of personal trainers and gyms are offering classes virtually. Anything to keep physically in shape is important so you can physically resume more normal activities when our world opens up again.
- Be Adventurous & Creative – Try new things. Is there a new hobby you have wanted to try or skill you wanted to learn? This is the year to give it a go. While leaving the country might not be an option, traveling within still is. If you are comfortable taking day trips by car, take a day trip. If you like some mystery or want someone else to do your planning and you live in the Toronto or Ottawa area, check out guesswheretrips.com and they will do the work for you.
- Keep Your Mind Active – use it or lose it. Try an online course, read about historical events, join or start a book club that can meet virtually. Stimulate your brain, don’t just watch TV.
- Accomplish something – Your closets may already have been cleaned 3 times by now, but what is something you have put off? What is something you have been needing to do but just haven’t gotten around to it? Make it a goal to do this winter.
- Have something to look forward to – This means next week and next month. What it also means is what will your post COVID reward be? How will you celebrate? Spend time researching and planning it. Everyone needs something to look forward to and anticipate.
- Be Positive – Your mindset matters. Numerous studies have found that people with a positive attitude benefit from being happier, having more energy, greater resistance to the common cold, and get this, an increased life span.
Keeping your world big in the face of adversity is a challenge. If having a happy, healthy, and active retirement for a long as you can is an objective, do you what you can during the rest of this COVID time to practice these 7 traits. You worked hard to be able to retire, you saved diligently for retirement. Do what you can now to make sure when our physical world does open up again, you will be at the front of the line to embrace it.