Exploring Retirement

Welcome to the July 2015 edition of Exploring Retirement. Each month we feature articles on well-being in retirement as well as showcasing an activity to consider. For the past five months we have been focussing on flourishing in retirement, using Martin Seligman's PERMA framework (Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement). This month we examine an earlier initiative from the positive psychology movement - character strengths and consider how this concept fits with an active retirement.

Michael has been asked to contribute his reflections on retirement to a programme called "Time of Our Lives" on BBC local radio. The programme features life stories, experiences and ambitions of older people in Northern Ireland. You can listen to the 14/06/2015 broadcast on the BBC iPlayer or read the transcript in Michael's monthly blog (see below). Michael's contribution begins at 35 minutes into the programme and should remain available until the middle of July.

This month our cinema goers have been to see "Far From The Madding Crowd" based on the novel by Thomas Hardy. Retirement:My Way comes from a swedish lady Michael met for the first time many years ago while he was working in that country.

New writers are welcome, so if you are interested, please contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk. For ideas to write about, have a glance at the July 2014 issue of Exploring Retirement, available by clicking on "Past Issues" in the navigation bar on the left of this page. These are only suggestions, please contact us if you have a different topic you would like to share your thoughts on.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining their principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

Character Strengths

In vocational guidance theory, clients are usually recommended to consider their interests, values and skills when trying to find a career path that they will find satisfying. To be perfectly honest, this is usually easier said than done. When asked to rate the strength of their interests or skills most people struggle. Ask them about their values and it gets worse. The reason is not hard to see -

"In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name." - Benjamin Franklin.

Having tried to produce a short list of values for a class to consider, I can completely understand Franklin's point. While everyone agrees that values are important, there is a lot less agreement about which values are acknowledged as important, across all cultures.

When Martin Seligman invited some of the worlds top psychology professors to produce an agreed list of the most universally accepted human values, we should not therefor underestimate either the scale of the task or the magnitude of the achievement. While the argument about precisely what should be included continues, most people accept that the list of 24 "character strengths" they arrived at is a very significant step forward. At the very least, it gives us something to work with.

Character strengths such as enthusiasm and self-control possess trait like properties, that is to say they persist over time and across different situations. Thus while many things in our lives may change as a result of the retirement transition, the person we are remains a constant. When we are seeking a compass to guide us in this new and unexplored territory, a knowledge of our character strengths can be invaluable. To provide us with this knowledge, the VIA (Values In Action) Survey of Character Strengths has been made available, free of charge. This is a well constructed questionnaire and you should allow 15 - 20 minutes to complete it properly. To date over 2.6 million people have taken part in this survey. To register to complete the online questionnaire, click here. The results, in rank order, will be sent to your e-mail address.

Your top strengths or "signature strengths" have the important characteristic that using them in everyday life should make you feel more energetic and engaged. Seligman recommends that you try to find new ways to use your signature strengths. To help you with this task, take a look at "340 Ways to Use the VIA Character Strengths" by clicking here.

Featured Activity: Citizen Juries

Citizen juries are intended to involve the wider community in the democratic decision-making process. A representative sample of citizens (usually selected in a random manner) are briefed in detail on the background and current thinking relating to a particular issue and asked to discuss possible approaches. Citizen juries are intended to complement other forms of consultation rather than replace them. Citizens are asked to become jurors and make a judgement in the form of a report, as they would in legal juries. The issue they are asked to consider will be one that has an effect across the community.

Though first coined in the US in the 1970s and developed during the 1980s in Germany, it was not until 1994 that citizens juries began to be used in the UK. Yet the appeal of juries was such that within four years, over one hundred juries had taken place on issues as diverse as Northern Ireland educational reforms, health rationing, youth drugs policies and genetic testing.

How do they work?

In most citizens juries a panel of non-specialists meets for several days to examine an issue of public significance. The jury, made up of between twelve and twenty people, serves as a microcosm of the public. To encourage recruitment from as broad a range of backgrounds as possible, various provisions are available including an honorarium payment, creche facilities, and easy-access jury locations.

Jurors must be:

The juries are given facts and figures that have been independently verified and hear "evidence" from a range of experts. The jurors then discuss the issues among themselves before reaching a conclusion. Their decisions may be used to help advise government officials on policy.

Older People, social justice, and quality of life

Older people, together with groups studying and representing them, have long acknowledged that their perspectives are sidelined from decision-making processes even more than those of other age groups. In a 2002 initiative based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North of England, the idea of Citizen Juries was introduced at meetings of older people's groups, including lunch-clubs, community centres, health action groups and campaigning organisations. A particular effort was made to interest those older people who did not already have a big voice in local organisations. Eventually around sixty people came together to begin hearing about citizens juries and discussing what issues mattered to them most. This gradually evolved into a small, closely knit steering group that identified health, in particular new medical technologies, as an area of concern on which the citizens jury should focus. They were particularly interested in the following questions:

Citizen Juries is one of a number of initiatives aimed at involving older people in the democratic process (see April 2014 - Pensioner's Parliament). Throughout the developed world, older people are the fastest growing proportion of the population as well as the proportion most likely to vote in an election. Yet as a body we encompass considerable diversity: of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, health status, class, political persuasion and life experience. Participation in such initiatives as Citizen Juries may well serve to focus our collective mind as much as that of our political leaders.

Retirement:My Way

Michael's first job after he graduated from University was working in a bank in Sweden. While there he got to know a lady called Astrid Andersson Wretmark, who is now a retired priest of the Church of Sweden. Astrid has been walking parts of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that passes through Northern Spain. She agreed to write a short article about her experiences for Exploring Retirement. To read her story, click here.

If you would like to send us a story for publication, e-mail editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.


Michael McSorley

"What is there not to like about being retired?" Michael has certainly found plenty to like in his own retirement. He shared his thoughts on the subject in a recent broadcast on BBC Radio. To read the transcript, click here.

Jeanette Lewis

Jeanette has been reading about happiness and shares what she has learnt and what works for her. To read Jeanette's article, click here.


Reflections is intended to showcase short pieces of poetry or prose that reflect on our life experience. This month features another poem by my late friend and colleague, Philip Clarke. Here Philip muses on an experience we all share, that deep inside we are still the child we once were. I'm grateful to his wife, Noelle, for permission to publish these poems.

I am fortunate that I live only a few miles away from the wonderful gardens of Mount Stewart, ancestral home of the Londonderry family. This photograph is one I took recently from the lake walk.

To read Philips poem "The Child In Me", click here.


Our cinema goers this month have been to see "Far From The Madding Crowd", starring Carey Mulligant as Bathsheba Everdene and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak. To read their review, click here