The Georgetown AgingWell Hub recently released a fascinating report titled No Normal: The evolving retirement journey and experience. It describes six themes that will help you live a long and healthy life and will have a significant influence on your retirement journey.
Two of the themes—Health and Finances—should be familiar to readers of retirement books and articles. The other four themes may be less familiar but are equally important: Learning/Education, Community/Place, Purpose, and Resilience.
Let’s look briefly at each of these six themes.
Health. To say the obvious, good health is the underpinning to a successful retirement. It will impact your finances, your ability to work if that’s necessary, your social engagement, and your enjoyment of life. But good health isn’t guaranteed and will take effort on your part, including following a healthy diet, exercising, getting sufficient sleep, and proactively managing your health care. You’ll also want to nurture good mental health and positive attitudes towards aging.
Finances. To ensure you’ll have enough money during your retirement years, you’ll want to do your homework to make sure that your regular retirement income will cover your basic needs as well as any activities that will help you better enjoy your retirement. For many people, reaching this goal may push them to extend their working years; if that’s the case for you, you might need to be flexible and resilient to find work that meets your needs.
You’ll also want to plan for unforeseen financial expenses such as house repairs, health care expenses not covered by medical insurance such as dental bills and hearing aids, and long-term care. Stress about finances can negatively impact your physical and mental health, so it’s well worth your time to prepare solid financial plans to lessen your anxiety about an affordable retirement.
Learning/Education. Continued learning keeps your mind sharp and updates your skills if you need or want to work. It also helps you understand how the world around you is changing and reveals any adjustments you may need to make to continue aging well.
Community/Place. A network of supportive family and friends is crucial to healthy aging, and it’s even more important when you become frail. Loneliness is a significant health risk and a financial risk for aging retirees. When you leave full-time work and also if you become too frail to leave your house, you’ll want to find new ways to engage socially.
Purpose. For many people, working gives them purpose and meaning, but that source of fulfillment can drop away when you leave the workforce for good. A strong sense of purpose and meaning can improve your physical and mental health. As a result, when you’re no longer working, you’ll want to consciously develop good reasons for getting up each morning.
Resilience. This is perhaps the least understood and one of the most important themes for aging well. A lot can go wrong during a retirement that can last a few decades, such as stock market crashes, inflation, frailty and poor health, family disruptions, and unexpected living expenses. And the world around you can change as well—think of all the changes that have happened in society in the past 25 years that impact how people live.
Don’t think these risks won’t happen to you: Look at the lives of your older relatives and friends, and you’ll most likely see they needed to navigate many disruptions and shocks in their lives. To help you counterbalance any unexpected disruptions, you’ll want to nurture and draw upon coping skills, such as flexibility, perseverance, and perspective.
The above themes provide a logical framework for planning a long, healthy retirement, and the full No Normal report provides many more details on these themes. But if you really want to understand at a gut level all the twists and turns that can happen over a long retirement, read the retirement journeys of sample retirees that are in the report.
These journey maps trace significant life events for these retirees throughout their lives, and they demonstrate how these retirees tapped into their supportive social networks and drew upon their coping skills to make it successfully through these events. The stories also demonstrate that not only will you need to navigate your own retirement journey, but that your journey is intertwined with the life journeys of your close family and friends—those connections can help support a long retirement.
Nobody promised it would be easy to live a long time in retirement, but there’s a lot to learn from the experiences of family and friends who have gone before you on your retirement journey.