Sometimes retirement means you have time to reinvest in old friendships or make new ones, or it can lead to a loss of contact with others. Existing friends do not seem to be available, or you or your friends move away from your local area.
It is well known that having and making connections with others is good for your health.
According to research, when you have friends you see yourself as having a better quality of life. You are more satisfied with life and have a lower risk of dementia, less likelihood of developing anxiety or depression, better self-esteem, recover faster from illness and live longer.
It is important to have a range of friends. Different friends fill different roles in your life.
Bill told me that his low mood began when he lost his friends and his mood was in danger of developing into a full depression. He lived alone as his wife had died many years earlier, but he had three good friends.
Two had been in the same club for many years as fellow motor bike riders and they had weathered many good and bad times together. The third had joined them more recently (10 years ago) but was not good at planning or commitment and did not like playing cards.
Together, the three met Bill’s social needs and provided support as needed. Then, one left the area to live with and support his daughter. Not long after, one had a stroke and went into care.
Bill was bereft and suddenly left with the non-card playing bloke who did not like to plan ahead. The pleasurable planning, anticipation of outings and get-togethers, and the card mornings all disappeared.
Over a few months, Bill became more introverted and less enthusiastic about life. The obvious answer was for him to make new friends. So why had he not done so?
Making new friends, even just being friendly, is hard work. As a minimum it takes self-confidence and energy. These are hard things to find when you are feeling a bit bereft or are in a new place.
I am suggesting something very small but powerful. The suggestion is that you find, and take, every opportunity just to say a friendly hello to another person.
If you are getting to the end of the day and have not had contact with another person make sure that you go out and about and create the opportunity, even if you go no further than your front garden or the foyer of your apartment building.
Once you are doing this each day you are in the process of forming a micro habit. A micro habit is a small positive behaviour completed every day. Over time, it becomes an established habit. Often, we fail to make new behaviours into habits because we try to do something that is too big or too hard, and we give up.
It can be hard to be friendly when you are feeling down and a bit isolated. What seems simple – giving a smile and saying hello – can be surprisingly difficult. This is a case of JUST DO IT.
Remember that others often feel as awkward as you do. Take the lead. Be friendly. Be positive and smile. You are not committing to a marriage or to being mates for life. You are just saying hello.
Don’t forget your body language. Keep your eyes up and smile ready. Looking at the ground doesn’t help. Even that small contact (especially if you look into someone else’s eyes) will give your brain’s dopamine reward system the boost it needs so that you will feel better about yourself and about the day.
Be the change you want to see in your own life. If you want people to smile at you and say hello, then you do it first and see what happens.
Be brave and give yourself a push!
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Judy Rafferty is a psychologist and author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It. Available at all good bookshops and online.