The study began in 1938 by gathering health records from 724 people from all over the world, asking detailed questions about their lives at two-year intervals over 80 years. Over time, the study found a similarity as people reached the age of retirement. They discovered that the biggest challenge people faced in retirement is not being able to replace the social connections that had sustained them for so long at work.
When we look towards retirement, it is assumed that the biggest challenges will focus on things like financial concerns, health problems and caregiving. However, the study confirms the importance of developing new sources of meaning and purpose and finding ways to cultivate connections.
The study focuses on important lesson not only about retirement, but about work itself and suggests to retire happy, remember to invest in your relationships now.
One participant in the Harvard study, when asked what he missed about being a doctor for nearly 50 years, answered, according to the article: “Absolutely nothing about the work itself. I miss the people and the friendships.”
Leo DeMarco, another participant in the study, had a similar feeling the article notes: After he retired as a high school teacher, he found it hard to stay in touch with his colleagues.
“I get spiritual sustenance from talking shop. It’s wonderful to help someone acquire skills,” he said. “Teaching young people was what started my whole process of exploring.”
According to a Forbes magazine article, as we get older, staying socially connected is essential to one’s well-being. The article, entitled ‘Why It’s Important To Stay Social in Retirement and Why’ states this is because it:
- Provides a sense a belonging and feeds our personal identity.
- Adds meaning to life and strengthens self-worth.
- Provides support, making it easier to handle problems and keeping stress levels in check.
- Gives us something to do and someone to do it with
To create more meaningful connections, the Harvard study also suggests that we ask ourselves:
- Who are the people I most enjoy working with, and what makes them valuable to me? Am I appreciating them?
- What kinds of connections am I missing that I want more of? How can I make them happen?
- Is there someone I’d like to know better? How can I reach out to them?
- If I’m having conflict with a coworker, what can I do to alleviate it?-
- Who is different from me in some way (thinks differently, comes from a different background, has a different expertise)?
- What can I learn from them?