Just eight weeks before Maery Rose retired from her 30-year career as a business-process analyst, she went curling as part of a company teambuilding event. The result was a broken shoulder and torn rotator cuff.
While such injuries would be upsetting to anyone at any time, they were devastating to Rose, who planned to spend the first six months of retirement traveling, biking and gardening, activities that were now off limits while her body healed.
When life gives you lemons, make miso soup
Retirement is a time of big changes, ones we all hope will be positive, but Rose started out with physical losses that required letting go of her existing plans and embracing new ones.
She despaired at first. But then she shifted her attention from what she couldn’t do to what she could do. One of those things was educating herself and others about the importance of bone health. She enrolled in a culinary nutrition certification program. For her final assignment, she developed two YouTube videos: one on osteoporosis and another on how to cook bone-friendly miso soup.
Her new retirement activities, such as drawing her dogs or posting new articles on her blog, aren’t nearly as grand or glamorous as what she had planned.
“Coming to terms with that wasn’t easy,” says Rose. “But now, a year later, I can sometimes manage to think of my accident as a blessing—and perhaps even the pathway to a second career. It definitely changed my trajectory and my attitude for the better. I’m much more aware of all the things I CAN DO, and I have so much to be thankful for.”
Develop an attitude of gratitude
Anne Sussman, a 60-year-old meditation and mindfulness instructor, is all about the benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratitude. In fact, she’s written a book on the subject. It’s titled The Bliss Buddy Project: How Sharing Gratitude Increases Joy and features Sussman’s “good NEWS” formula (Notice, Experience, Write it down, Share), which she credits with improving her attitude, health and quality of life.
“My personal belief is that gratitude is the foundation for joy so if you want more joy, especially as you age, you have to start being grateful,” says Sussman. It’s that belief that led her to write her book. It’s also what led Sussman to Jana, her bliss buddy of five years.
“We’ve only seen each other three times in person—she lives in Houston and I live in New Jersey—but we’re in contact regularly, sometimes every day, sometimes every few weeks.”
That contact typically takes the form of text messages in which either Sussman or her bliss buddy share what they are grateful for. Now and again it’s big things such as a new car or an exotic trip, but more often the women “bliss out” about little things: an unexpected hour of solitude, a handwritten letter from a friend or the bright reds, yellows and oranges of a fall maple tree.
Having a gratitude practice helps us live with joy and resilience, even in the face of retirement and the inevitable changes and losses that come with age,” says Sussman. “Once you can focus on what you are grateful for, and you stay more present and in the moment, then each day can be a gift each challenge experienced as an opportunity.”
Positive attitude delivers real benefits
Cultivating a positive attitude delivers a host of physical and psychological benefits. Here are some noted by the Mayo Clinic:
- Better psychological well-being
- Less depression
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
What’s more, research shows that a positive attitude may also increase our sense of purpose, as well as both the length and quality of our retirement years.
Tips from those who have an aptitude for gratitude
One of my teachers used to tell me that a bad attitude was like a flat tire. That if you didn’t change it, you wouldn’t go anywhere. So if you’re attitude isn’t flying as high as you’d like it to be, here are a few tips to help amp up the positive:
- Focus on what you can do. “I’d been thinking that I’m too old to do anything with what I’m learning,” says Rose. “That starting a business or submitting an article for publication at age 62, was crazy. But now I think, why not?”
- Buddy up.“When I go on a diet or start an exercise program, I want someone to do it with,” says Sussman. “It just makes it easier and more fun when you have someone to share life with.”
- Practice positive self-talk.My teacher had a simple rule: Don’t say anything to or about yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
- Use your skills. Rose discovered that research writing and developing instructions—activities she didn’t enjoy when they were part of her job—now are energizing when she uses them to teach others about topics and activities she enjoys.
- Run out the clock out on negativity.Visiting “Pity City” is allowed, but only for 10 or 20 minutes at a time. When the timer goes off, turn your attention back to the positive—and what you can do to create it.
- Set some goals. Goals have a way of creating the future. So whether you want to improve your posture, read more books, run a marathon, spend more time with your grandkids or enjoy a full life after retirement, having goals gives you something positive to work toward and feel good about.
- Keep on reinventing. “At 55, I quit my job and went back to school to get my certification to teach meditation/mindfulness, something I hope to do until I’m 90,” says Sussman. “I believe in reinvention, and I don’t think age is a factor.”
- Humor helps us look at things differently and comes with important mental and physical benefits: less stress, improved focus, stronger relationships.
Bev Bachel is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It. A lifelong goal-setter, she’s tapped into the power of goal setting to sell a business, eat healthier meals and read at least 52 books a year since graduating from college. One of her attitude-adjustment goals? Being more open to change.