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Retiring Retiree Myths / Part 3: If It Makes You Happy

We live in a culture where the right to pursue happiness is guaranteed, along with life and liberty. But notice there is no guarantee that one will capture the elusive gold ring among life’s quotidian rhythms.

Are older adults happier because they’ve lived long enough to roll with what happens — or less happy due to unfulfilled goals and dreams? And is happiness worth pursuing, or might it be better to view it as a happy by-product (rather than “buy product”!) of a life well lived? In our last post (Great Expectations: Tips for Boomer Women), we explored the upswell in unhappiness among Boomer women as they move into retirement. But is unhappiness a foregone conclusion of aging?

According to an article in Greater Good, published by the University of California/Berkeley, happiness is associated with being a valued, contributing member to the groups you belong to. In other words, the concept of “doing well by doing good” also works in reverse: doing good allows you to do well in daily life, which translates to happiness, if not necessarily into financial riches — though gratitude and appreciation sustain us through tough times, says the article.
What does this mean for your reverse mortgage clients? Take a tip from Hedda Bolgar, a 103-year-old practicing psychoanalyst and cofounder of the Hedda Bolgar Psychotherapy Clinic in Los Angeles. Her advice echoes the Harvard study described previously (Retiring Retirement Myths Part 2). Bolgar tells despondent patients, “Food, alcohol, and drugs are no substitute for a relationship. If you’re lonely, do something about it. If you love the arts, take a course at your local community college. And if you can’t find a place to get involved, create one.”
Besides seeing patients several times a week, Bolgar plans to start a group where immigrants and refugees can talk about their feelings. Sharing leads to compassion, and that raises the level of happiness — something Bolgar understands abundantly after an extended career as a psychotherapist: “It’s important to be part of a community!”

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4 Comments

  1. The following from “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” is not a contrarian view but rather a confirmation of what living to one’s self ends in:

    “As I walk this land of broken dreams
    I have visions of many things
    But happiness is just an illusion
    Filled with sadness and confusion”

  2. Why, The_Cynic, I didn’t realize you were well versed in popular music! Appreciate your sharing. I think the lyrics are more about lost love, but/and, I agree with you: when we live to serve, happiness is often an aspect of the result: not sought,, but (happily) received.

    Thanks, and blessings!

  3. Amara,

    I believe lost “love” is what the lyricist had in mind as well but I have met many who are so disillusioned with life, their visions, and broken dreams, they are in despair and see happiness as little more than fleeting experiences and generally, an illusion. They fill themselves with drugs, pills, and alcohol just to past what life brings. We all know some like this.

  4. Agreed. I find that when I’m in a challenging frame of mind, focusing on someone else’s needs is a surefire antidote 🙂


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