Color & Control:

15 ways to make your retirement meaningful

By Mary Bart

Retirement has a different meaning for each of us. Some will say that it is a wonderful time, while others really are not sure what they’ll do with all their extra time. It’s important to plan for this new stage in your life, because staying engaged and having a meaningful retirement is good for your health and happiness. 

Let’s take a look at some of the issues and ways you can create a time that is satisfying for you. Why not start by asking yourself these questions: 

When do I want to retire?
Think of an approximate date and year that you plan to retire and make a list of things you need to review and organize to match with your retirement timetable. 

How is my health and the health of my family?
Will you need extra health insurance? What will your current employer cover? Will your dental and extended benefits and prescription coverage be different? What does your provincial health plan really cover when it comes to homecare, medical equipment, or long-term care? Does anyone in your household have significant health challenges (perhaps an adult child with severe disabilities) that you will need to deal with for years to come? 

What does my financial picture look like?
It’s never too early or too late to start planning, saving and preparing. This is where an accountant or certified financial advisor may be helpful. 

How will I evolve and not dissolve?
How will you stay engaged and motivated when retired? How will you define yourself? How do you want to be remembered? Answering these questions will be a continual, changing journey, an adventure of discovery. To help you answer these questions, let’s take a look at some ideas to help shape your retirement in meaningful ways.

What can I learn from others?
Take a look at people you know who have been retired for some time. They can be positive role models, or equally powerful examples of what you don’t want to happen. Look at what people are doing, what keeps them busy, how they present emotionally, and how they are managing financially. This will give you some insights for your plan.

How can I develop a plan?
Where to begin? That is a challenge in itself! A great place to explore new ideas is both online and at your local library or bookstore. There are thousands of books, websites, seminars and even “retirement coaches” to get you thinking about how to make your retirement fulfilling and meaningful. And remember to take time each year to review your plan to see if you’re on track. 

To help kick-start your planning process, here are a few ideas to consider:

1) Celebrate a new beginning: Take this new chapter in your life as a positive opportunity to redefine and re-invent who you are and what you do. This should be seen not only as a milestone in your life, but as a true turning point for your future directions. Navigate these uncharted waters with passion and excitement.

2) Focus on your health: This is perhaps the most important area of your life to focus on. Without good health, your plans and dreams may never happen. Being proactive in this area includes annual medical checkups, having a healthy diet, consuming less “junk food” and watching how much alcohol
you consume. 

3) Stay fit: Find a routine that suits your lifestyle and budget—and stick with it. It may be walking the neighbourhood, going with a friend to a yoga or tennis lesson, or simply doing some weight training
at home.

4) Volunteer: There is no shortage of worthy causes that will be very appreciative of your support. You will be making the world a better place and enriching your own life at the same time. Volunteering is a very clever and popular way to stay active, meet new friends and contribute in a worthy way to your community. 

5) Expand your social circle: Isolation is often an issue for people as they age, and making new friends is a fabulous way to stay socially engaged. People who do not “work” at making friends often find their world shrinking. Having several groups of friends with different hobbies and interests will keep you from being isolated and less likely to be a victim of elder abuse. 

6) Try new gadgets: Laptop computers, e-readers, webcams, and mobile devices are sure ways to stay connected and in touch. They’ll keep you learning new things, exploring and researching. Social media sites like Facebook can be used to share photos, messages and have virtual visits with friends and family—ideal if you’re unable to get out for some reason. 

7) Have a makeover: Now is the perfect time to donate your work wardrobe to a worthy cause and go for a vibrant new look. Dare to change your hair. Wear different colours or styles. Experiment with hats and accessories. There is nothing like finding something new and exciting to wear. You’ll feel great, and others will catch your energy and may even join in the fun.

8) Plan for continuous learning: Take a cooking class, learn conversational German in preparation for your European trip, or simply read a book on an interesting topic. It’s good for you. Public libraries as well as community and senior centres are wonderful, cost-effective places to expand your knowledge. 

9) Go back to work: The decision to work part-time may be a necessity for some; others may simply enjoy it as a chance to stay sharp and to bring in some extra cash. Often retirement brings the chance to start your own small business, or even a new career (perhaps consulting, real estate or teaching English as a second language), or the opportunity to help younger family members with their businesses. 

10) Start a blog: Blogging may be new to some people, but in its simplest terms, it is a way for you to share your thoughts, experiences and ideas with others. It is usually free and can be a great way to engage others in conversation. Since blogging leverages the power of the Internet, it is especially beneficial for people who have mobility issues, live in rural areas, or are “shut in” due to poor winter weather conditions. You’ll be amazed who connects with you and comments. Just remember, however, that what you write is public. Be cautious and read things over a second time before you hit the “post” or “send” button.

11) Build on your hobbies: Joining a group where the focus is on something you already know about and like can be extremely rewarding. Your experience and skills will be of value to others in the group, and you can learn from them too. It doesn’t matter what your hobby is—golf, fishing, quilting or cooking—seek out others who share your passion and you’ll reap the rewards.

12) Help your family: Perhaps there’s a sister, niece or great-nephew you could help out more now that you are retired. This may be anything from babysitting or helping with homework, to looking after them if they are ill. Your sense of purpose and self-worth will be enhanced and truly appreciated. A word to the wise, though: Be cautious with your time. It’s important to set limits and be clear about what you can and cannot do. Often seniors are “left with the grandchildren” or abused as caregivers. Don’t over commit, and make sure you’re appreciated. 

13) Write a book: You could write about your life, or start work on the next bestselling novel or cookbook. You could start by keeping a journal, or by organizing and sharing all those family pictures that have been hidden away for so long.

14) Keep a youthful attitude: Don’t become known as that “Grumpy Old Person” (or worse). Stay energetic and work to maintain a positive attitude. If you act and look old, then you are old. If you act and look young, then you are young. As the saying goes, “You’re only as old as you feel.” 

15) Remember your partner: It’s not just about what you plan to do with your retirement years but also what your spouse is doing (or not doing). Make space in your plans to do some things you can enjoy together, whether that is volunteering or learning a new hobby. 

A final note: Finding your purpose in life and having a meaningful retirement will help you maintain a healthy body, mind and spirit. It will bring you greater joy, inner peace and satisfaction while keeping you intellectually and socially engaged. Dare to explore new ideas, new dreams and create a new journey for yourself.  

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based registered charity that offers education and support to people dealing with the declining health or death of a parent.

Source: Jaqueline Nelson and Angelina Chapin, Top 10 Retirement Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.


Key factors for positive and active aging

• Productive, active participation in all aspects of economic, social and community life.
• Good physical and mental health and ability to function.
• Mutually supportive social relationships and contacts.
• Self-reliance/self-determination.
• A positive outlook about self and future.
• Financial security.
• Safe and supportive environment to live and work.
• Availability of adequate support.
• Recognition as an actively contributing member of society.

Source: Report of the National Seniors Council on Volunteering Among Seniors and Positive and Active Aging, Canada


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