Maintaining an active social life gets harder with age. Little by little people we were close to move away or pass away. And when we retire, we lose about half of our social network. As our social pool evaporates, it’s difficult to replenish, because options are limited or we’re not motivated enough to meet new people.
Even the relationships we’ve held onto can feel burdensome because we can become more judgmental with age. Psychologist William von Hippelhat argues that the filtering part of our brain, which inhibits inappropriate or negative thoughts, gradually weakens. Without that filter, the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of others we’ve tolerated in the past become more annoying.
Now, some might argue that getting rid of annoying people should have been done years ago. That might be true, but it might also be the case that have closed down our minds, surrendered our patience, and let our less-tolerating brains take over.
Of course, we should acknowledge that we all have idiosyncrasies, traits that others have tolerated over the years. As we get older, everyone is a pain in the neck to everyone else, maybe not all the time, but for much of it. Besides, even if we find replacements, there’s no guarantee they’ll be any less annoying than the ones we gave up. Better to have the poison you know than the one you don’t.
But here’s the real issue: staying socially connected is essential to one’s well-being. A good social life…
- Provides a sense a belonging and feeds our personal identity.
- Adds meaning to life and strengthens self-worth.
- Provides support, making it easier to handle problems and keeping stress levels in check.
- Gives us something to do and someone to do it with.
Social isolation, in contrast, is as high a health risk factor as obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day. On the psychological side, self-esteem can be weakened and there’s a higher risk of depression. There’s can also be physical consequences, possibly from a lack of activity but also from the stress of feeling alone. Those who are socially disconnected…
- Are more at risk of high blood pressure, coronary disease, and stroke.
- Have a faster breakdown of cognitive skills and greater likelihood of dementia because the mind is less active.
- Have greater decline of functional skills, such as walking or climbing stairs.
- Have a weakened immune system, possibly linked to stress.
So, what makes for a good social life? For sure, it’s the number of people we interact with and the amount of time we dedicate to them. But it’s also about diversity — the broader and more diverse one’s social circle, the better. That’s how you get exposed to new ideas and different ways of thinking.
Also, avoid focusing too much on family. Your children’s priorities are about building their lives, raising families, and working, things that aren’t as relevant to a retiree. Your friends are your peers — they maintain the same lifestyle, have the same issues and concerns, and provide opportunities to participate in shared activities. Not that you should ignore your kids, just avoid becoming overly dependent on them. Balance is important – a social life that includes equal parts family and friends.
Commit time each day to seek out ways and places to meet people. Here’s some ideas that might help you get there…
- Meet up with your current friends and acquaintances regularly — even the annoying ones. Nurture these relationships and recognize the benefits they provide.
- Use the internet to track down old friends with whom you’ve had meaningful relationships in the past.
- Join clubs and senior organizations or start your own. This may sound silly, but if you know one person who knows another who knows another, soon they’ll be enough folks to meet anyone’s social needs. You might try setting up a group on a theme basis, e.g., dining, wine tasting, golf, etc. — that way you can spend time with people who share your interests.
- Take a class or two at your local college, library, or community center.
- Consider taking a job outside the home, specifically for the social benefits.
If you’re not sure whether your social life is adequate, it probably isn’t and you need to fix that. Do it for your health, if not for the sheer enjoyment.