Creating a happy life


Bleeding Heart flowersReinventing Barb (3)

A series of articles about reinventing life after unexpected job loss


By Barb Carriere
Manager – Continuing Education

(This is Barb’s third and final article)


Wind blowing through my hair in a classic two-seater convertible on our way to the beach for ice cream…

My husband and I recently purchased a classic car, which was the realization of a dream removed from the back burner of years past. Retirement does that to your life. You begin to ponder those dreams of years past, dreams postponed by reality. You assess where and how you want to spend your time. I must say Year 2 of retirement differed from Year 1. Year 1 felt vacation-like, whereas Year 2 felt like an opportunity for the creation of a lifestyle reflective of us.


Finding meaning

As George Sheehan said, “Anything that changes your values, changes your behaviour.”  This was the case when I chose to volunteer at the hospice.  Although volunteering had always been part of my life, choosing to spend time at a hospice was different. It required the completion of a Palliative Care course, which drives you to examine your thoughts on end-of-life and how you can support the people moving through that experience, as well as their families. I’m not sure I would have been comfortable providing this care earlier in my life, but now it seems to fit. It is a privilege to provide support to those moving through that journey. Not only that, this choice brought about a change in my understanding and therefore behaviour towards end-of-life care.

On the lighter side, the urge to give back spurred me to return as a non-profit board member, to organize a multi-family garage sale, to support my grandchildren at sporting events, and to assist in organizing – with my siblings – my Mom’s 90th birthday celebration. These kinds of opportunities help me to live a meaningful life, which in turn brings me joy. I don’t believe this is new in my retirement, but focusing on what has meaning to me seems to happen more easily when my plate is less crowded with others’ needs.


Living more urgently

Resurrecting past relationships with friends, creating family time through reunions, girls’ weekends, camping, road trips, and visits all seem to be more urgent now. The passing of those long before ‘their time’ shakes up my mind and reminds me to enjoy each day, as the future is unknown. I appreciate nature through walks, hikes, cycling, and gardening. And it doesn’t hurt to know that these activities boost mental health, strengthen immunity, improve creativity and problem-solving skills, reduce stress, and enhance the quality of life. What more could you ask for?

The other day, a friend stated that she thought we were all becoming members of the ‘medication library,’ knowing all the medications needed for those aches and pains that have increased as we’ve aged.  But our outlook and gratitude can realign our thoughts when we look around and see others in circumstances more dire. Although retirement gives us the time to dwell on those pains, it may also give us enough humour to keep us from digging ourselves into a hole. As George Burns said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”


Boosting mind and body

I read in Zoomer Magazine that 70 (just to be clear, I’m not there yet) is the new 50. Our generation is more active and expects to live 15 years longer than our parent’s generation. People have defined the beginning of old age as when you feel a decline in function – physical or cognitive. So, function and health are at the heart of it. Proof that you are as young as you choose to be.

I’ve tried my hand at art and I’ve continued with my yoga class; learning to kayak with my spouse is next on the list. Whatever gets me out of bed and moving is good for my body and the soul. This has even greater meaning now: HOW I spend my hours is totally my decision. Cognitive exercise can take the form of committee work, Sudoku, education, music, and problem solving. I’ve found some ideas don’t stick in the memory like they did in the past, even recalling why it was that I entered that room. We tend to form solutions to these challenges. The calendar in my phone is my best friend. I’ve often said that if I lost it I’d stay in bed. (Unless it was one of those free days on which I do as little or as much as I want.) My password journal is another lifesaver, as who doesn’t have at least 20 places that require a password to gain access. Another is the ‘Important Folder’ in my email account, where I store information I know I will have forgotten by next week.

Some might say retirement is about NOT working, but others choose to remain in the workforce or they return to work after retiring. Part time, full time, contract, or sporadic employment may produce health and social benefits as many studies have shown. The actress Betty White still ‘has it’ at 95! I believe spending time doing what makes you happy is the bottom line. My continued work at a local garden centre fulfills that need. I see that continuing until it interferes with other priorities in my life. Who knows what the years ahead will bring.


Abandoned joy

The joy of getting older is much greater self-confidence. It’s the loss of angst about what people think of you. It’s not arrogance but an understanding of who you are and no longer feeling the need to ‘fit in.’ My husband would laugh at this statement – he witnessed me gardening while in my shorts and pink rubber boots after the rain last week. Didn’t matter to me; I was involved in what makes me happy.

The media would have you believe that aging is an entirely negative process. Yet, retirement gives us a chance to create a happy life. Forums of the 50-and-over group connect joy with social connection and carefree enjoyment of life – an abandoning – when people can be themselves. I have found grandchildren provide the chance to play like a kid, to let go, sometimes with them, but not necessarily. The most interesting thing I’ve discovered is that joy comes in intensely personal ways. I find it joyous to help others, which I believe is part of being really human. For me, joy is a byproduct of being kind to people.

When you feel great, you exude a certain energy that translates as beauty. So, I’ll keep moving, smiling, and finding things to be grateful for each day, as these are the BEST years of my life.

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