Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Our unexpected early departure from the workforce has given us the luxury of spending a couple of years in “retirement” in Hawaii.  One of the benefits of the time we’ve had in Hawaii is exposure to seniors ten and twenty years older than us.  The people we have met in Hilo and Kona have graciously shared their stories and friendships with us and we have learned more than we could’ve imagined from them about how to have a happy life in our old age.  We put together a list of the attributes of seniors with happy, productive, and peaceful lives that differ from others who struggle with frustration, loneliness, and boredom. Here are notes to ourselves for us remember what we've learned from the happy retired people we have met.
  • See Humor in Themselves.  We have met a lot of unhappy seniors who take themselves very seriously. Their house, their property, their situation, their IRA performance, their opinions’ and their experiences are all very important and significant. Those that laugh at their behaviors, situations, attitudes and opinions are the happiest and very fun to be with. Looking back on one’s life and seeing the humor of it all is one of the great gifts we see happy older people give themselves and others.
  • Forget their Self Importance.  We’ve heard so many grumpy elderly men wax on about how amazing they are because they ran a business, were a VP of big company, or were the head of this or that.  Happy retired people don't look back on past jobs for self importance. They seem to simply give up self importance and focus on the moment. Though it may seem simple to let the past go and live in the moment, we know it is not easy. Hanging out with happy seniors feels a lot like a second childhood with days filled playing and having fun.
  • Respect their Adult Children.  Over 60% of any discussion with seniors is about their adult children and grandchildren (the other 40% is about their aches and pains).  The topic of children overtakes many a conversation regardless of whether the seniors get along with them or not, see them or not, or talk to them or not.  Seniors that still see their children as children are frustrated that their children did not do as they were told.. Happy elders see their children as adults and respect how they have managed in world that is different than the world they know. They do not judge their choices and have pride in what they have accomplished. Those that accept their children are considerably more at peace than those frustrated by their children’s lifestyles, money spending habits, choice of spouse, parenting style, food choices, career choices, etc.   We are taking this to heart with our own son and are glad to be learning this now.
  • Make Peace with how much they see their Grandchildren.  We don’t have grandchildren, yet, and so we were surprised at the angst most seniors have about the amount of time they get to spend with their grandchildren. Whether the grandchildren are far away or in the same town, issues arise about access to and time with grandchildren.  Observing the conflict has given us the insight that grandchildren are a big deal, and those that ignored their importance or didn’t have a plan for how they would nurture their relationship with their grandchildren were later regretful or financially strapped by travel and expenditures.
  • Be Fit.  Being healthy, fit and slim is not just vanity, it translates to decades of happiness.  The seniors that we have come to know in their late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s have ranged from incredibly healthy and active to having a cluster of serious health problems.  The healthy seniors are having a completely different life than those that struggle to get out of the house and are in constant pain.  We knew getting into shape was important, but observing the difference in happiness and fun that health brings in old age, we have come to think that it is the most important thing for us to accomplish in our life right now.  We also recognize that those that have stayed fit and healthy do things in moderation and with care in order to stay that way.  Being healthy and fit is one of the best ways to prepare for a happy old age.
  • Socialize with Peers  We are surprised at the degree to which social interaction moves to the forefront after retirement and how enjoyable socializing can be.  Community pools, senior centers, and clubs create constant opportunities for spending time together and talking. We notice that seniors tend to end up in a community of peers with other seniors that have achieved similar success financially and in their career.  Most socialization during a person’s career is hierarchical or based on one’s position at a company, in a community, or church and so a lot of seniors have not socialized with a group of peers before.  Some older people are used to their employees or underlings being socially accommodating and they struggle with peers that do not scrape and bow in their interactions.  The happiest seniors get along with everyone, treat everyone as an equal, and have a lot of tolerance for others. They let opinions that bother them roll off their back, they deftly avoid the jerks that they can’t stand, and they enjoy and get close to the people that make them happy and upbeat.
  • Reduce their Stuff.  We are surprised about how much stuff seniors have retained and continue to accrue and how time consuming and irritating it is to them.  Most of the seniors we know have several homes and lots of stuff.  Some of the stuff they accumulated is due to their retirement income plan, like house rentals, farms, and computers, and some is due to retirement hobbies, like skis, car parts, surf boards, bikes, musical instruments and outrigger canoes. The seniors that have minimized their stuff and focused on the few things that give them pleasure are the happiest and most peaceful.  Though we have reduced our stuff considerably, we still have a lot things that we can’t seem to part with even though we know it takes our energy and money to maintain them. Like losing weight, getting rid of our stuff seems almost impossible.  But as we focus on what will make us happy as we age, we know we will be happier with much less stuff.
  • Live Small.  We have noticed the happiest and most peaceful seniors eat little, say little, and take up little space.  We know that as we age we require less of the earth’s resources and that we are suppose to be wise enough to know that no one wants to hear our opinions (which is why we blog).  Unhappy seniors eat big, talk loudly, and walk in the middle of the sidewalk forcing others onto the road to get out of their way.  We want to be content and happy as we grow old and the happy people we have met step lightly and minimize their footprint on the world.
  • Slow down and Listen. Hawaii has the benefit of forcing one to slow down.  It is just the way of things here.  A wonderful aspect of slowing down is that we hear what others have to say.  And we have been amazed at what we have learned from others, people that we would never have slowed down long enough to hear.  Seniors have a wealth of knowledge and experiences that they are eager and willing to share. The happiest seniors listen and sometime they gain a piece of the puzzle of life from a peer that allows them to move on emotionally in their life. We are amazed at how enjoyable and enriching it is to listen to a long story someone has to tell about how they ended up where they are. 
  • Enjoy their Blessings.  Our generation has lived under a cloud of doom as long as we can remember. In kindergarten it was the doom of a Nuclear War, then the Cold War, an Economic War, an Oil War, and it goes on and on. But every day in Hawaii is a blessing, with warm sunlight, blue ocean, and gentle breezes. We have learned from our seniors to try and ignore the “War of the Week” and appreciate all the blessings of the moment.


Katherine said...

What a fabulous post about the art of living! Very applicable for us 20-somethings as well (though I'll have to substitute something in for the grandkids section).

I especially love what you say about slowing down and listening. That's a great skill I need to practice more.

Anonymous said...

You guys really do "get it".

Ego is a terrible burden to bear.

The realtionship between grandparents and grandkids
is a special realationship.

Humor is fun! The more subtle the more fun.

I love this post.

Bob said...

Added a link from this page to my blog about building a satisfying retirement lifestyle. Very well said. I couldn't agree more.

Charles Bromley said...

Growing old should be a pleasant experience. And it could only be like that if you prepare for it. It could be very difficult for retirees in the future to just depend on their social security and 401k to support them in retirement, especially after the economic downturn. I guess the reason why some old people have lots of properties is they want to live comfortably and have financial independence as they grow older by having a constant income from real estate.

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