Exploring Retirement

- the online magazine for retired people

"The biggest mistake people make is not realising there is a psychological component to retirement".

Professor Nancy Schlossberg, author of "Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path In Life".


Welcome to the second edition of Exploring Retirement, the online magazine for people who have recently retired or are about to retire. The first issue can now be found by clicking on the Archive button on the left.

This month we look at the lessons to be learnt about psychological health in retirement from the MIDUS study in the United States, one of the biggest studies of its kind. Our featured activity is Friendship Force International, a world-wide movement with a very active local group on the North Coast of Northern Ireland. A link is also provided to the Friendship Force International web site, were you can watch a short video giving some of the background to the movement.

Feedback from readers is welcomed, whether you want to add your thoughts on well-being in retirement or share your experience of an activity you have enjoyed since you retired. E-mail editor@exploringretirement.co.uk

Psychological Health in Retirement

Professor Carol Ryff is Director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carol is also the Director of MIDUS (Midlife in the U.S.), a longitudinal study of health and well-being. Based on a review of the research literature Professor Ryff suggests that psychological health has six components. These are

  1. Self acceptance - accepting yourself as you are, with all your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Positive relatedness - caring for and identifying with others.
  3. Autonomy - living your own life, rather than following the dictates of others.
  4. Environmental Mastery - creating surroundings that suit your personal needs and capacities.
  5. Personal growth - continuing to develop your personal potential through learning and experience
  6. Purpose in life - continuing to be creative and productive.

For a fuller definition of each of these factors, click here.

Professor Ryff used the results from the MIDUS Study to examine the differences in these six factors across young, middle and older aged adults. What she found was that while most of the six factors remained reasonably stable, there was a marked decrease of both personal growth and purpose in life among the oldest age group. The decline in purpose in life was particularly marked among older women.

Re-examining her results to take account of level of education, Professor Ryff found that all six psychological factors increased with level of educational attainment, but particularly so for personal growth and purpose in life. We can attribute this perhaps to education conferring many more opportunities for people to make the most of their talents and abilities. It would, of course, be an enormous mistake to think of education as something entirely in our past. Education is not only for life but can also promote personal growth throughout our lives. The American humorist Will Rogers once remarked "All of us are ignorant, just on different subjects". Retirement provides a great opportunity to pursue new learning opportunities and decrease your overall ignorance!

We are more likely to experience a sense of purpose in life when we are engaged in an activity that is closely aligned with our personal value system. The continuity theory of retirement considers that during their working lives people gravitate towards work that supports these basic values. This is especially likely to be true if you remained in your job for a long time. It is not surprising therefor that you might seek opportunities in retirement to fulfil the same needs. By reflecting on your experience of work in the years before you retired you can identify those aspects of working life that provided you with the most satisfaction. You can then use this information to guide you when you select the activities you wish to pursue in later life.To see a list of possible satisfactions in work, click here. Of course, not everyone will have found work satisfying but this exercise can also serve to highlight what may have been missing that you you would have liked your job to have provided. The checklist is provided here as a stimulus to start you thinking about the direction you would like your retirement life to take.

Professor Ryff views the decline in personal growth and purpose in life as a challenge to society to provide older persons with meaningful roles and opportunities for growth. Sociologists have termed this the "structural lag" problem, in which contemporary social institutions lag behind the added years of life that many people now experience. While we are waiting for the social institutions to catch up, some people are forging ahead and creating their own institutions and their own roles. It is in this area that some of the most exciting developments for retired people are now to be found.

Professor Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, has suggested that we derive our sense of meaning and purpose in life from attachment to something greater than ourselves. This can take many forms including religious belief, charity work, playing an active part in an organisation we believe in and so on. Friendship Force International, which is featured below, is one example of people attaching themselves to an organisation that promotes something bigger, in this case international understanding and goodwill.

Featured Activity

Friendship Force International

Friendship Force is a global community comprising 360 clubs (chapters) in 55 countries. Its members are ordinary people of all ages who share a desire to spread goodwill, to better understand people of other cultures, and to value one another as friends. Cultural exchanges and home stays are the signature program of Friendship Force. A club prepares an itinerary of cultural activities, inviting members from other clubs in other countries to come for four to seven days and stay with them in their homes.

The Friendship Force began in the USA and was introduced on March 1, 1977, by President Jimmy Carter at a White House gathering of state governors. At that time, President Carter asked the governors to return to their states and identify a volunteer leader who would serve as State Director for the Friendship Force in their state. Rosalyn Carter served as Honorary Chairperson until 2002.

While the size and number of exchanges has changed dramatically since 1977, the basic Friendship Force formula is the same, with visiting ambassadors spending a week in the home of a host family. While each exchange is now in just one direction, the participating ambassadors and hosts develop a shared understanding of each others culture, so that a true cultural exchange takes place. In many cases, the friendships established during an exchange continue for many years, with follow-up visits through later Friendship Force exchanges or through private visits.

Since its founding in 1977, The Friendship Force has brought together millions of people. Today they are active in more than 50 countries, promoting friendship and goodwill through an extensive program of home hosting, or exchanges. In 2007 alone, 5763 friendship ambassadors traveled between 58 countries, with thousands more serving as hosts.

In Northern Ireland the local branch is located on the North Coast. Incoming Exchanges are met at the International Airport. During the week visitors are taken to see the immediate area, including the Giant's Causeway; Old Bushmills Distillery, (the oldest licensed distillery in the world and famous for it's Black Bush whiskey) , the Glens of Antrim, Castlerock and the Mussenden Temple and many local seaside resorts and small fishing ports, some tucked away in secluded coves. The historic walled City of Londonderry with its Tower Museum is also included in the visits.

A day excursion further afield is also arranged to one of the following places:- Belfast City Hall, Stormont where the Legislative Assembly meets and the Ulster Folk Park at Cultra. The Ulster American Folk Park at Omagh and the Tyrone Crystal Factory at Dungannon. Armagh -The Cathedral City, the Bishop's Palace and St. Patrick's Trian. Carrickfergus - the Norman Castle and the Antrim Coast Road.

Apart from the opportunity to play host to some interesting people and to show them the best of what your region has to offer, there are a number of other strong attractions to the Friendship Force concept. Not least is the opportunity it provides to travel abroad not as a tourist but as a welcome guest. To live for a few days with a local family and experience their daily life. To experience a country through the eyes of its own people while feeling relatively safe and part of a larger group.

For further information, including a video presentation, take a look at -

Friendship Force International