Most of us have seen some version of the motto stitched on a cap, printed on a coffee mug, or slapped on a bumper sticker: “No boss … No schedule … No pressure … No money … RETIRED!” Especially amid the tension of a busy and stressful work week, many of us sometimes idealize retirement as a time to slow down, sleep late, set your own schedule, and do the interesting things that you never had time for during your career. (Side note: all these goals involve having enough funds set aside, so I hope the “No money” part of the motto isn’t in your retirement plans!)
But it is important to remember that, even in retirement—and maybe even especially during retirement—we human beings are hard-wired for meaningful connection. Even if you aren’t making that daily trip to the office or the shop any more, you shouldn’t completely unplug from that complex web of relationships that we call “life.”
In fact, according to recent research by psychologist Susan Pinker, maintaining solid connections to the people in your world is important, and not only to quality of life. It also appears that staying connected may strongly indicate your chances of living longer in retirement. In her 2015 book, The Village Effect, Pinker reveals ten principal predictors of a long life. The data included factors you might expect, like whether you smoke or drink, blood pressure, weight, exercise, and other factors. But the top two predictors of longevity might not be on your radar screen. The second most important predictor of longevity, according to the study, was the quality of your close relationships. And the most important predictor—the factor most highly correlated with a long lifespan—was a factor Pinker labeled “social integration”: the degree to which you interact in person with a variety of people during the course of your day.
By “social integration,” Pinker is referring to things as simple as saying hello to the checkout clerk at the grocery store; talking to your next-door neighbor for five minutes about last night’s ball game; exchanging pleasantries with the barista who serves your coffee. This also includes your closest relationships, too, but it expands beyond them to those with whom you have even brief interactions.
What are the implications for retirees? First of all, if you want to enjoy a longer and more satisfying retirement, make sure to include interpersonal interaction in your regular routine. This might take the form of a book club, or volunteering as a docent at a local museum, or a regular Thursday night poker game (as long as the stakes aren’t too high!), or even the simple act of running everyday errands that require you to get out of the house and talk to someone. The key is to make sure you stay connected to your community and the people in your surroundings.
Also, don’t forget the importance of your close circle—spouse, children who live nearby, and intimate friends. Retirement isn’t the time to start taking them for granted! Instead, continue to pay attention to these relationships and invest time and energy in maintaining them. Such emotional and social investments may be just as important as your financial holdings in ensuring that you have plenty of years to spend doing all the things you dreamed of doing once you made it to retirement.
Stay Diversified, Stay Your Course!