While money is always a top-of-mind concern for retirees, there’s an even bigger worry that practically no one talks about: the loss of social connections and a sense of purpose.
AARP recently found 49% of Americans fear outliving their money in retirement. No wonder. The Federal Reserve says the average American has a mere $65,000 socked away for retirement.
However, it’s not money that is the downfall of so many in retirement. A Harvard study conducted over the past 85 years finds that the No. 1 challenge people face in their golden years is not being able to replace the workplace social connections that gave them a sense of satisfaction, purpose, and, in many cases, joy, throughout their lives, CNBC reports.
Relationships Are Key
As one of the psychiatrist authors of the Harvard study puts it, “People who fare the best in retirement find ways to cultivate connections. And yet, almost no one talks about the importance of developing new sources of meaning and purpose.”
One of the respondents to the survey, a doctor for nearly 50 years, said he didn't miss the work itself but “the people and the friendships.”
A high school teacher explained how he lost a sense of purpose and missed being a mentor when he retired: “I get spiritual sustenance from talking shop. It’s wonderful to help someone acquire skills. Teaching young people was what started my whole process of exploring.”
The authors advise pre-retirees and retirees to cultivate relationships and reassess what makes them happy and drives them.
Setting personal goals for retirement can start by asking:
- Who are the people I most enjoy working with, and what makes them valuable to me?
- What kinds of connections am I missing that I want more of? Is there someone I’d like to know better? How can I reach out to them?
- Who is different from me in some way (thinks differently, comes from a different background, has difference expertise)? What can I learn from them and how might that enrich my world view and life?
The 4 Pillars of Retirement
The Harvard study echoes forward-thinking research from asset management firm Edward Jones and retirement services consultancy Age Wage. They’ve come up with new guidance for retirees – and, by proxy, the financial planners who serve them – on how retirement in the 21st Century can be completely reshaped.
Their “four new pillars of retirement”, in order, are: Health, Family, Purpose and, then, Finances.
Edward Jones and Age Wage found from a survey of Americans that their retirement goals are more about a sense of purpose than getting by financially or estate planning.
Here are the rather surprising results:
What People Want Most in Retirement
- 93% want to feel useful in retirement;
- 67% want to spend time with loved ones;
- 55% said they want to do interesting/enjoyable things;
- 53% want to be true to themselves;
- 40% want to be generous or give back;
- 38% want to live a faith-filled life;
- 32% want to live a fun-filled life;
- 27% said they want to fulfill their life’s goals; and
- 16% said they want to be financially wealthy.
Source: Edward Jones and Age Wave survey of 9,000 North Americans across five generations
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