enjoying retirement: what makes a good day?

a good day for ducks

It’s often when I’m lying in bed at the end of the day that I think “today was a good day”.  While I’m having a good day I just live it and enjoy it.

That’s what happened yesterday – only the second really good day I’ve had since my mum died on New Year’s Eve.  (The first one was spending my birthday in Brighton last week.)

 

a good day out in Brighton

What made yesterday a good day?  It was nothing out of the ordinary.

In the morning I met a friend for coffee and we shared stories of recent disasters and triumphs and laughed a lot about both.

I’d taken my cameras with me (one film, one digital) so I could go to one of my favourite parks on the way home and take photos.  The sun was shining, the crocuses were out, the ducks were getting amorous – it felt like spring had arrived! It was such a joy to be able to savour the beauty around me without worrying that my fingers would freeze off…

Back home I only had time to grab a bite to eat and organise my film processing before it was time to set off to meet my partner at our local cinema to see Three Billboards, the film at the top of my wishlist.

It was brilliant, the kind of film you get totally absorbed in and don’t want to end.  Then we came home and binge-watched several episodes of the serial we’re watching at the moment.

Later on, I lay in bed feeling a warm glow that I haven’t felt for a while and realised I’d had a good day.

What makes a good day a good day?  Obviously it’s different for everyone.  For me, a mixture of sociable and solitary is a good foundation.

You have to work harder on the social side of things when you retire unless you have a ready-made community around you.  Friendships are so important and need to be nurtured [I’ve written about friendship here: Friends are precious].

Not only is it fun to spend time with friends, research shows that connection with others is good for us.  Emma Seppala (of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, and author of “The Happiness Track”) sets out the advantages of social connection for physical health and mental and emotional wellbeing in a short article on “Connectedness & Health: the Science of Social Connection”.

The positive effects she cites include lower levels of anxiety and depression and higher self-esteem.  Social connection even appears to make us less vulnerable to disease and could add years to our life:  read more at stanford.edu.

We need to be prepared to make the running to see friends regularly.  It really is well worth the effort – as I always re-discover when I do.

Laughter is another essential ingredient of a good day for me.  It’s one of the things I really miss about work.  In spite of the pressure we laughed a lot – which actually helped us deal with the stress.

Laughing with my friend yesterday, relishing the somewhat black humour of the film and the slapstick comedy in the Netflix serial – all of this was balm to my soul.

Again, research shows that it isn’t just fun to laugh – it’s good for you too.  I was amazed just how many benefits are attributed to it when I read helpguide.org’s guide Laughter is the Best Medicine: The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter.

For instance laughing relaxes the body and releases physical tension and stress (this much we appreciate when we laugh), as well as decreasing levels of stress hormones.  It boosts our immune system making us less vulnerable to infections, protects our heart and burns calories – amongst many other things.

It’s harder to find things to laugh about if you’re on your own more in retirement.  Indeed it seems likely that many of the benefits of laughing are bound up with social interaction and connection.

But it’s still possible to find ways to bring laughter into our day when we’re not with other people. I can recall many times sitting on my own on a bus or in a waiting room laughing hysterically at the humour in a book I was reading.  And my cat is really funny – when she’s awake.  Find things that amuse you.  Dwell on the positive rather than the negative.  And laugh at yourself rather than taking everything too seriously.

Another important ingredient of a good day is building in something that you really enjoy doing.  For me, photography always engages and challenges me.  And then I have the bonus of watching the results of my creativity emerge in the darkroom, or on the computer if it’s digital I’m shooting.

It’s easy to drift through retirement as through life generally (I know, I’ve been the queen of drifters in my time).  That’s the route to regret.  Looking back at the end of our lives wishing we’d done the things we dreamed of doing but just never got around to.

Thinking more purposefully about what makes us feel good, what does us good and what we really want to do can help us have a good day more often.

I wish you an abundance of good days in retirement.

 

 

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2 Comments

  • Retirement is much more difficult than I thought it would be. The idea of long days of relaxation with infinite choices of how you spend them soon becomes tempered by the dilemma of exactly what and how much you choose to do before you feel like you’ve just got back on the hamster wheel.

    It’s easy to fill your days with ‘stuff’. It’s equally easy to slide into not doing very much and spend your day on the delights of daytime TV. The challenge is finding the balance of enough things that stimulate and challenge you – and are fun – while still allowing enough time to reflect, read and generally slow down. It’s not easy, but I guess there are worse problems to have!

    • You are so right Lorraine. How to strike that balance? I like being spontaneous, but actually getting retirement right requires a lot of planning to avoid both the hamster wheel scenario and having a desert of empty days. Being aware of the issue I suppose is a necessary first step towards getting it right.

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