What Makes for a Happy “Retired” Life?

January 1, 2016

Maybe it is due to genetics, or my lifestyle choices, or just dumb-luck, but I am not very prone to depression, though sometimes, especially during the holidays, I do experience a bit of the melancholy.

As they tend to do during this time of year, the holidays are once again upon us. It’s a time to enjoy the warmth of family and friends, and be happy like you are supposed to. But wait. What if family and friends and the people you most care about in the world are more than 8 thousand miles away?

How does a transplanted retiree get happy and deal with the holidays (and all the other days of the year for that matter) with their loved ones in one country, and we halfway around the world in another? This is a question that lots of prospective retirees never think of when they list the challenges they might face as they make plans for that big move to living  their golden years in a place so far from home.

Well, there’s always Email and that gift-of-the-Internet-gods, Skype, but just one real hug from my grand children would make me a lot happier Grand Pa.

And just as I have been thinking about this, synchronistically (not sure if that is a real word or not), my son Darin from Orcas Island in the Great Pacific Northwest sent me a link to a TED talk by Robert Waldinger entitled “What Makes A Good Life?  Lessons on the Longest Study on Happiness”.

Dr, Waldinger starts out by stating that the latest studies on “Millennials” asking them what would make them happy gave this answer: Being “rich”, and right after that they would want to be “famous”, or preferably both of them together. According to Dr. Waldinger’s analysis of the happiness study’s results, if we lived our lives seeking fame and fortune, then happiness might be quite illusive.

Waldinger, a psychiatrist, is the current leader of an on-going study of over 700 Harvard men looking to answer the question, “What makes a good life?” Every few years, each of the study’s participants are interviewed, their medical and psychological health is recorded, and their perceived happiness is assessed. The study has been following this group of men for more than 75 years. (Watch the TED video on the link above to see a complete description of the study and the results.)

The answer to what gives this group happiness: “relationships”

Only a few nonagenarians remain from the study which began in the 1930s, but it wasn’t riches that made these men happy. And it wasn’t fame. It was being around people whom they cared for and who cared for them. The men who had better relationships, according to the study’s objective measures, had happier and healthier lives.

Now, most of us retirees are not looking to become wealthy. We have either done that already, or the riches have passed us by. And if we haven’t had our 15 minutes of fame yet then we have probably given up waiting for them (although I personally still dream of some day being a “Piano Man” in some sleazy dive somewhere, with a tip glass on my piano).

So if we are to believe the Harvard study then it is relationships that we need in order to live a happily retired life. But with most of our loved ones living about a million miles away from us, what do we do?

Keeping Connected

Relationships are connections to others.  Some of us retirees to Thailand bring our relationships with us; our significant others. I am quite happy on those cold season mornings to be hugged by the same person who has been hugging me for the last 45 years. I even have a retired neighbor and his wife whose 2 grown children also live here with their growing families. He has no trouble getting a family Christmas dinner together.

Others, and these are mostly men, begin their own new relationships here. I used to be a little condescending about these May/December relationships, but now I see a bit more clearly how and why these can be a real benefit to a happier life. Sometimes children are produced, great for those Christmas family dinners, and it would be fine as long as that “December” man could only live long enough and have enough money to raise and support their offspring to their maturity, and of course as long as the “May” contingent doesn’t treat her man as simply a living “ATM machine” as quite often happens here.

Something to consider

This is something that I have done that helps. I have been lucky enough to have been able to send a few members of my family round trip tickets to visit me here. I get to bask in family warmth and they get a tropical vacation they never dreamed of. Luckily I have a little extra and can afford to do that, albeit very occasionally, and it’s not as expensive as you would think, and since it really does increase our happiness it is a better investment than just about anything else.

If your current means don’t allow for this you can at least live in a home that has an extra bedroom reserved for visitors – and if you live in a tourist destination you will probably get all the visitors you can handle.

Building our own relationship networks

Here are some things we can do to build new connections: Join an Expat Group, join a club (bird watching, bicycle riding, bridge, yoga,Tai Chi, and archery are a few here I know about), take classes (Thai language, photography, music, cooking), play a sport with a partner (my golf partner and I have been playing together once every week for the past 10 years). But remember that the further out in the “sticks” you choose to live, the harder it will be to attract visitors or join with groups to build new relationships.

Make as many new friends as you can and don’t forget to keep connected with your old friendship network back home, through E-cards and Emails and an occasional phone call. Skyping, although not allowing for hugs, works pretty good too. You might want to consider going to that next reunion you get invited to. Old connections can be renewed.

Then there’s the Social Network of Twitter, messaging and Facebook, though you might end up with more “friends” than you know what to do with. And you can always write a blog and get lots of “visits”. Works for me.

Another thing that works for me

I never thought of this until I recently returned to Seattle for a visit. A great way for people to feel connected to others is by cheering for a local sports team. When your local team sucks, then we, as one big family, all feel the connected pain. And when that team is successful then we all enjoy the success together, as a family.

My football team is the Seattle Seahawks. I am sure most of you have your own team, Man U, the All Blacks rugby team, India’s National Cricket team, the United State’s Women’s National Soccer team, etc. I was working with some Brits in New York back in the 60s when England won the World Cup. Shut-the-front-door; those guys went bonkers together. If you don’t have a home-team then I invite you to join me and cheer for the Seahawks.

And here in Chiang Mai, every Monday morning in the fall and winter I get up at 4 am (It’s Sunday, 1 pm Seattle time) and I put on my Seahawk’s jersey (just like every Seattlite does) and along with every Seattle fan I watch my team win and lose. By doing this I join along with millions of other Seattle fans. I am connected – to the “Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat”; and every Seahawks fan has known both well these past 2 years.

Keep connected, be happy, and Go Hawks!

My son Darin will be spending part of the winter here in Chiang Mai (the Pacific Northwest is not so “Great” in the winter), and Warren and Sonya will visit from Okinawa with these three little Seahawk fans in just a few day.  And hugs will be had all around.

My son Darin will be spending part of the winter here in Chiang Mai (the Pacific Northwest is not so “Great” in the winter), and Warren and Sonya will visit from Okinawa with these three little Seahawk fans in just a few days.  And hugs will be had all around.

 

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7 Responses to “What Makes for a Happy “Retired” Life?”

  1. dannyol said

    Thanks for more good advice Hugh,
    Making friends was first on my list when moving here 3 years ago. I now have a breakfast gang meet-up every Monday morning, tennis buddies 3 times a week, and the best and most satisfying group is being a member of a singing group. Harmonizing together beats any other group for camaraderie “hands-down”. Maybe you can catch us in performance sometime. The group is called “Global Harmonies” and we sing mostly Bulgarian/Georgian folk tunes.

    • Dannyol,

      I love singing too but usually do it alone (as a benefit to society). It turns out that singing is also very good for you health and breathing. Would love to hear you guys. Keep it up.

  2. Lani said

    I just watched that same TED talk 😉 as it came up in my feed. Great post. I’ll have to link to in the future…something I’m working on. Happy New Year, Hugh! Hugs from Cambodia.

  3. ivan1949 said

    Thanks !
    Great Ted’s talk, I think we all know this wisdom, just get distracted into our old family patterns, so something like your post is always a welcoming alert to look up. In NH now, snowing a little, sun goes down at 4:30, so may join my wife to a Nokhan Sawan trip to visit her family this April. Keep your post coming as they are always welcome

  4. karstenaichholz said

    Great TED talk – relationships really do matter – and more so than any other thing it appears.

    Connectedness (and the ability to form new relationships with like-minded people) is one of the biggest reasons for me to stay in Bangkok as opposed to a more remote location in Thailand. While certain aspects of life – nature, ability to have an acceptable-sized dog, no traffic jams – would be really nice, it’s the disconnect from the expat community that I would consider a too high price to pay. But oh well, that might very well change over time.

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