Exploring Retirement

"The institutions and instruments which have been created to meet the problem of ageing, are in no position to provide us with a policy for that great majority of retired people who present no problem at all"

Peter Laslett: A Fresh Map of Life.

Exploring Retirement is written by and for retired people, to assist active retirees make the most of their additional years of good health. If you are interested in writing for Exploring Retirement, 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.

We trust that you will continue to enjoy our monthly publication and please tell your friends about the site.

Welcome to the December 2017 edition of Exploring Retirement! All of the team at Exploring Retirement would like to wish our readers a Very Happy Christmas! Throughout 2017 we have been focussing on different aspects of creative activity in retirement, especially those activities that offer the opportunity to make new friends. If you are engaged in an unusual creative activity, we would love to hear from you Contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk. .

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

Creating a new social network in retirement

Social relationships have as much impact on physical health as blood pressure, smoking, physical activity, and obesity, as demonstrated in 1988 by House, Landis, and Umberson. Their meta-analysis of 148 longitudinal studies found a 50 percent increase in survival of people with robust social relationships, regardless of age, gender, country of origin, or how such relationships were defined.

One of the downsides of leaving work for good is that we may lose contact with some good friends in the process. This need not necessarily be a problem if you have a wide social circle outside of work. But for some people, who may have been very work focussed, there can be a sudden loss of connection with the people they have known for years and with whom they have a shared background.

The importance of staying socially connected when we retire has been reported in many studies. People with strong social connections are significantly happier, less likely to become depressed and are much more likely to maintain their cognitive skill set as they grow older. Perhaps a more surprising correlate of social connectivity is it's impact not just on quality of life but on how long we live. A 2007 study by Pressman and Cohen examined published autobiographies, counting the number of relational words like "we" as compared to individual pronouns like "I". Pressman and Cohen found that those who heavily referenced social roles in their life stories lived, on average, five years longer than those who did not!

A research team, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London have published a recent report looking at social connections and mental wellbeing in older people. They found that life satisfaction was greatest amongst those with the largest social networks, and highest contact frequency. Having a diverse network of friends and acquaintances however did not impact greatly on life satisfaction. The researchers suggest that this may be because simply having an array of friends does not guarantee their support or any emotional connection. It may not be as simple as the number of friends you possess but rather how satisfied you are with the quality of your friendships that really matters. Some people can be very satisfied with a small but valued social circle. In many ways it is quality not quantity that counts.

Professor Laura Carstensen has developed what she calls "socio-emotional selectivity theory". Simply put the theory suggests that as we grow older we are less motivated to invest our time in making new social connections and more interested in the upkeep of the ones we already have. Professor Carstensen's studies have found that older people show a strong preference for spending time with members of their immediate family or with old friends. This does not mean that we should shut ourselves of from forming new friendships but it does help to explain why many older people seem reluctant to make the effort required.

Building your social connections in retirement

There are some simple but remarkably effective approaches you can use.

Start close to home

For most people their family is really important, so it is a good idea to invest time and effort maintaining the links with those you love. Spending time together is great but it is also important to spend time apart. Give yourself some space to develop your other interests and friendships so that when you do get together you have so much more to share. For many older people their links with their grownup children may be infrequent at best. You don't want to be clingy but the occasional phone call or even e-mail can help to keep in touch. Like most men, I am rubbish on the phone. So I might sit down beforehand and have a think about what has been happening in my life, so when the children ask me what I have been up to, I am not struggling to find something to talk to them about!<,/p>

Look for others who share your interests

Laura Carstensen may be right about older people being more selective but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make new friendships. Joining a club or a class can be a way of meeting like-minded people. It's largely a matter of being patient and getting to know others slowly. I find it is a good idea to arrive a little early for class as this provides a little time to talk to the others before the class begins. And if someone suggests going for a coffee afterwards, don't be in a rush away.

To make new friends - first be a friend

The mistake we often make in a new setting is being too quick to talk about ourselves. Why should strangers be interested? Try listening to them and getting to know about their lives and their families. Knowing the names of someones spouse or children can make you seem more interested in them. Given time they will want to know more about you.

Featured Activity: Conversation Cafés

A great idea for people who are feeling lonely is to join a Conversation Café. A Conversation Café is a one-and-a-half hour hosted conversation, held in a public setting like a café where anyone is welcome to join. A simple format helps people feel at ease and gives everyone who wants it a chance to speak - it's also fine for people to simply listen. At a Conversation Café there is nothing to join, no homework, no agenda, just a simple process that helps to make the shift from small talk to conversations that matter.

Conversation Cafés operate within a set of guiding principles. These include:

  • Inclusivity: The host aims to create an inviting climate in which everyone is inspired to speak and listen, and where diverse perspectives may emerge.
  • There should be one host at least - and if everyone is able to host that is better. There should be at least one host present at each Conversation Café gathering - ideally every table should have a host.
  • Open access: Anyone may participate who follows the "rules". Conversation Cafés are open to all, without charge.
  • During Conversation Cafés (between the opening and closing rounds) and when working with others to support and grow the initiative, there is a commitment to:

  • Public ownership. What is said cannot be owned by anyone person: What is said in the Conversation Café must be considered to be in the public domain. No one at the table nor outside the conversation can claim exclusive ownership of the ideas that emerge.
  • Commercial-free [and agenda-free] zones: No one may attend primarily to promote or impose a particular agenda, point of view, outcome, solution or cause - or market a product, service or event.
  • No committees: There will be no political networking, committee formation or action groups.
  • Continuing to push our edges: Encourage people to become hosts in a wide variety of settings.
  • Empowering hosts: Provide clear information to all hosts and participants about the mechanics of hosting a Conversation Café and the open, inquisitive spirit of hosting.
  • Maintaining integrity and fidelity: Any event calling itself a Conversation Café must abide by the Conversation Café "Process and Agreements" and principles. Borrowing from or altering these is encouraged, but such adaptations should not be called Conversation Cafés.

You may be wondering about what sort of topics Conversation Cafés talk about? Here are a few suggestions you might like to think about.

  • Restarting your life
  • Discovering who you are
  • Accepting others
  • How much Is enough?
  • What have I learned from life?

As you can see from the above short list, the only limit to the conversation is imagination! If you would like more suggestions, click here.

To learn more about Conversation Cafés, watch this short video. Vicki Robin, one of the co-founders of Conversation Cafés talks about how the idea first arose and how it quickly developed into a world-wide phenomenon.

While Conversation Cafés started in America, the concept has been adopted here in the UK. You can learn about how the idea is being applied to tackle social isolation in Edinburgh, Scotland by clicking here. If you would be interested in starting a Conversation Café, then you can visit their website where you will find a wealth of materials to help you get up and running.


Michael McSorley

Michael continues to share his love of Russian music, including Prokofiev's Troika, one of the best known "Christmas" tunes. To read his essay on the joys of music, click here.

Jeanette Lewis

With television and radio providing a constant reminder that it's nearly Christmas, Jeanette has turned her thoughts to how best to survive the holiday season! To read her article, click here