Preparing to flourish in retirement—part 1
The goal in life should be to flourish. That’s what psychologist and founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, says. In 2016, the Australian Psychological Society reported on an Australian Wellbeing Survey that used his five pillars underpinning the ‘flourishing life’ to comment on wellbeing.
Seligman’s five pillars for a flourishing life are:
Positive Emotions: Experiencing positive feelings such as joy, calmness, and satisfaction.
Engagement: Being interested and involved in life.
Relationships: Feeling loved, valued, and connected with others.
Meaning: Having a sense of direction, feeling that our lives are valuable and worthwhile, and connecting to something bigger than ourselves.
Accomplishment: The belief and ability to do things that matter most to us, including achieving goals and having a sense of mastery at some things.
The sense of wellbeing
Wellbeing is something we desire—and particularly for retirement. In fact, the survey demonstrated that good health/wellbeing was the top response (57%) when people were asked to list three things that make for a good life. Family/relationships (50%) and money/wealth (39%) were the others in the top three.
Peggy Kern from the Centre for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne says, ‘It is also clear that wellbeing does not just happen. People who are actively doing things to support their wellbeing through positive physical, social, and mental activities, are doing much better than people who do not do such activities.’
Interestingly, it’s older Australians who say they have a higher sense of overall wellbeing—and rated themselves lower on negative emotions and loneliness than the rest of the population. Those over the age of 65 scored highest.
It may be that retirement naturally brings with it a sense of wellbeing. But I suspect not. Check again the quote above from Peggy Kern—particularly ‘actively doing things’.
The survey shows that the ability to connect with yourself—by recognising your reactions and feelings—is important.
The evidence is that having a hobby, being open to new experiences, and learning about the broader world are all related to higher wellbeing scores.
Know thine others
We’re wired to connect. Relationships help in several ways. They give us a sense of belonging to a specific group. They give us a sense of identity in contrast to others in our group. And it’s like a ‘therapeutic support system’.
Those who connect to close ones every day and people who take the time to connect with colleagues or peers socially, scored high on wellbeing. The good news here is that three in four Australians (75%) often or always connect with their family, partner and/or children every day.
Individuals who rarely connect with people close to them report significantly higher levels of negative emotions and loneliness.
The survey also demonstrated that being engaged in your community is a key to wellbeing. That could be in a variety of forms: being part of a local fitness or sports club, actively contributing to the community, and having a sense of community are all related to higher wellbeing. As social beings, connectedness is important for overall wellbeing and gives a sense of purpose.
The downside of social media
Connecting through social media doesn’t have the same impact. The survey found that Australian adults who heavily engage with social media also scored significantly higher on negative emotions and loneliness than those who didn’t.
‘There is both good and bad in social media,’ says Erica Frydenberg from the University of Melbourne. ‘People who are more engaged in social media experience more negative emotions and greater loneliness.
‘Nevertheless, for some segments of the population such as people in rural and remote settings and for older adults, social media can be a helpful way of overcoming loneliness.’
What we do know from this survey is that we can work on having both a flourishing life and a sense of wellbeing. The two go hand-in-hand.
Next week, Part 2: What the Wellbeing Survey said about self-care.