Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The 9 Keys to a Happy Retirement

What the experts say, plus 8 great retirement books

Credit: Getty Images
It turns out that happiness and retirement do go together.

Well, based on the research and books I’ve read and interviews I’ve done since becoming
editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels at Next Avenue in 2011, they can go together if you play your cards right.

And it’s not just about having saved enough money or having a great pension, though both of those help. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are nine keys to a happy retirement, one of them pertaining specifically to couples. I’ll lay them out shortly and suggest a few books that can help you retire happy.

Of course, the definition of retirement isn’t what it was even 10 years ago. For many people, retirement in 2016 is not about quitting your full-time job full-stop at 65 and then living a life of leisure.
What Is Retirement, Anyway?
For one thing, 65 was the retirement date set in 1935 when FDR signed Social Security into law. It made more sense when people didn’t live as long as they do today and at a time when most employers provided guaranteed pensions once their employees retired. A March 2016 Ameriprise study said 71 percent of current retirees rely on guaranteed pensions from their former employers while 75 percent of pre-retirees plan to rely on anything-but-guaranteed 401(k)s when they retire.Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, recently told me that many workers now envision retirement as a transition, something that happens over time. The current catchphrase is “flexible retirement,” which means either going from full-time to part-time work or working in a different capacity or working as long as you’re able.

That said, here are the nine ways to increase your chances of being happy in retirement:
1. Figure out in advance what you want out of retirement. By that, I mean things like: how you’ll spend your days, where you’ll spend them and what would make you fulfilled.Stan Hinden, the author of How to Retire Happy, recommends starting to think seriously about retirement when you’re around 50 or 55.

One key decision is where you will retire and how much traveling you’ll want to do. Some people choose to retire in another country. It’s not for everyone, but a recent
survey of 389 expats by the website Best Places in the World to Retire found that 81 percent were happier in their new country than where they lived before.

Why is that? For one thing, the cost of living was often less — sometimes much, much less. That meant they didn’t need to worry as much about their expenses or finding a high-paying job in retirement.

Many of the expats also said they were less stressed than before because their new country wasn’t as fast-paced as America. Many also said they loved their new “simple life,” especially because they now had more free time to volunteer (I’ll come back to that last point shortly).

If you’re wondering which are the best places in the world to retire, the answer depends on which survey you believe.
International Living says the top places are Panama and Ecuador. And the Live and Invest Overseas site has picked the Algarve region of Portugal and Cayo, Belize.

2. The corollary to No. 1 — If you have a husband, wife or partner, talk frankly together about what you both want out of retirement. Neal Frankle, a noted financial planner, recently
wrote on Next Avenue that he finds it helpful for couples to discuss their retirement dreams and write them down. Then, he says, they should mark each item as a “must have,” a “want” or a “wish” and be ready to compromise.

One thing you’ll want to figure out is how much time the two of you will want to spend together, since this may be the first time you’re both available all the time.

Hinden told Next Avenue that he and his wife came up with a system that worked for them: Early in the week, they each would spend time alone or with their own friends. Then, toward the end of the week, they’d do things together, like go to museums, theaters or restaurants.

3. Come up with a
retirement income plan. By that I mean: sit down and figure out how much your 401(k) and other accounts will translate to in monthly income; how much you’ll get from Social Security and any pension; how much you can afford to withdraw each year (the rule of thumb is around 4 percent) and which accounts you’ll tap first for withdrawals to keep taxes down.

Devising a retirement income plan before you retire will relieve stress once you are retired. But only 52 percent of pre-retirees have done so, according to Ameriprise.

By the way, don’t be surprised if your retirement income or expenses don’t turn out the way you expected. When Ameriprise surveyed retirees, it found three types of expenses were higher than the retirees expected: health care, food and taxes.

4. Choose when to retire and then follow through (if you can). The authors of an excellent book called
The Retirement Maze surveyed 1,477 retirees to see what made the happy ones happy. One thing they found was that workers who were able to retire by choice were happier than ones whose retirement was thrust on them: 69 percent of the retirees who retired by choice were satisfied with their lifestyle but only 36 percent pushed into retirement said they were.

I realize many people aren’t lucky enough to be able to decide when they’ll retire because they lose their job or their health forces them to stop working. But if you can pick your date, you should.

5. Stay engaged and healthy (if you can). The career coach
Bill Ellermeyer says the happiest retirees he knows are either engaged in some kind of meaningful activity or are actively employed. Some have become entrepreneurs; some have started encore careers, doing either paid work or volunteering for the greater good, some are just volunteering here and there.

He also says they “eat well, sleep soundly, play often, exercise at least three times a week and maintain strong social connections.” In fact, a survey by Age Wave and Merrill Lynch of 3,300 pre-retirees and retirees said “good health” as the No. 1 key to happiness in retirement.

6. Get a
part-time job in retirement. Some of the happiest retirees are people who phased into retirement by gradually reducing their full-time hours. But if you can’t arrange to do that, then just quitting your job and then finding part-time work can be very satisfying, not just financially but psychically. Studies show that working in retirement helps keep your mind sharp and helps you avoid getting isolated and lonely.

The trouble is, not enough employers are helping their older workers work out a flexible transition to keep a job there part-time in retirement. A recent Transamerica study found that although 61 percent of American workers envision a flexible transition to retirement, only 25 percent said their employers offer the opportunity to shift from full-time to part-time work as they phase into retirement.

So, it’ll probably be up to you to figure out how to work part-time in retirement. Maybe you can take the initiative to come up with a plan through your current employer. If not, try securing a part-time job somewhere else, perhaps by setting up shop as a consultant or a project-based contractor.

7. Learn new things or pursue your passions. Those passions could be ones you had when you were much younger but somehow stopped doing over the years, like playing an instrument or painting. Retirement is a great time to discover new passions, too, by taking classes or finding one-on-one instruction.

Check out local colleges for adult education and continuing education classes, too. These courses could teach you new skills or just provide knowledge for the pure joy of it.

8. Keep a schedule, but not like the one you had before you retired. I came across
one study from Taiwan that said the key to a happy retirement isn’t how much free time you have, it’s how you manage whatever free time you have.

 The authors didn’t recommend blocking out every minute of every day, but instead advised setting goals and priorities for your free time and then evaluating whether they were appropriate and achievable. Then, they said, organize your activities on a daily or weekly basis — just not hourly. Having some kind of schedule prevents you from getting bored, depressed or lonely.
9. See your children and grandchildren if you have any. Hinden said his favorite tip from his retirement do’s and don’ts list was: Do find ways to be friends with your children and grandchildren, even though they are very busy. You need them, Hinden added, and, whether they realize it or not, they need you.

Incidentally, just retiring itself is likely to make you happier. A study by
Utah State and George Mason University professors found that retirement immediately tends to improve both happiness and health, and that the effects of this life satisfaction are long-lasting.

And here’s one last piece of good news: Most retirees say they are happy because of all the things retirement has given them the opportunity to do. In fact, a MassMutual Financial Group survey found that retirement just might pay you a happiness “bonus.” In its poll, 82 percent of retirees said retirement gave them an opportunity to enjoy themselves and about two-thirds said they now had a chance to have new experiences and feel fulfilled.

Finally, my reading list — here are some Next Avenue articles and some books that could boost your chances of a satisfying retirement:

Next Avenue ‘Happy Retirement’ Articles

These Next Avenue articles have more details about the nine keys to a happy retirement:

The 4 Traits of the Happiest Retirees

Time Management Is Crucial to a Happy Retirement

 The Secrets of How to Retire Happy

 Retirement Just May Pay You a ‘Happiness Bonus’

 How Couples Can Make Smart Retirement Decisions Together

 4 Reasons Expat Retirees Are Happier Than You Are

 The One Retirement Book You Need to Read

8 Books for a Happy Retirement

Happy Retirement: The Psychology of Reinvention by Professor Kenneth S. Shultz

How to Retire With Enough Money by Teresa Ghilarducci

The 5 Years Before You Retire by Emily Guy Birken

The Retirement Maze by Rob Pascale

The Couples’ Retirement Puzzle by Roberta K. Taylor and Dorian Mintzer

The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboher

Second-Act Careers by Nancy Collamer

Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies by Kerry Hannon




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Front Porch Leads the Pack in Innovation!

Reposted from Life.Bio
For over a decade, has helped tens of thousands of people tell their life stories using our online platform, which guides the user through a series of biographical questions, then allows the individual to create his or her very own book. In addition to serving the consumer, however, it has been the great privilege of LifeBio to assist senior living communities across the nation capture and preserve the biographical information of their residents, which staff and volunteers can use to focus their person-centered care plans to meet the unique needs of each individual.

Recently, LifeBio received some feedback from Front Porch ( explaining how they used the LifeBio tool kit in an entirely new and innovative way! Project Specialist Julie Santos from the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) shared the following:

"Today we had our employee appreciation event. As a nice touch, we incorporated LifeBio Story Cards around the table to enable some engaging conversations we normally would not have with our colleagues. At our table, for example, we had conversations about vacations. Following that we had a question about gardening, and we stuck with that topic for a while.

Then, the conversation turned around when someone talked about how her neighborhood growing up used to be an olive grove. I also heard feedback from another table. They had conversations about their favorite memories of their siblings. There was plenty of chatter in the room!"

Julie also shared these beautiful photos from the day’s events, and the attention to detail that was put into making the occasion extra special for everyone involved is evident:

What a wonderful and creative way to get to know the people you work with! After all, you SHARE over forty hours per week with these folks. Shouldn’t you get to know them? applauds the network of Front Porch communities for thinking outside the box – and for deeply sharing not just with their residents, but with one another, too!

Read FPCIW’s Impact Story on LifeBio!

For more information about
www.LifeBio, our products and services, please contact us at:
Or call 1-866-543-3246
Or visit empowers millions of people to share their life story, memories, pictures, and experiences before it's too late. has the premier online Autobiography and Biography template to use to write and complete a life story that is ready to print. We help people build relationships through life stories.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Wesley Palms: Mid-Century Modern Reimagined

By Ben Geske, Executive Director at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

Wesley Palms Patio Home

When I first started working at Wesley Palms as the newly minted Executive Director, my boss told me, “You’re next Ben.” He was referring to the upcoming campus-wide redevelopment project. 

What he meant was that Wesley Palms would be the next Front Porch community to be “revitalized.” Subsequently, we held a “Visioning Meeting” to determine the direction of the “new and improved” Wesley Palms campus and the wheels were set in motion. 

It was determined that the entire Wesley Palms campus, including its central main building, would be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. Density was to more than double and all existing trees, (including its iconic palm trees), were to be removed in order to accommodate the nearly 450 new accommodations that were to be built. It was not certain if the name “Wesley Palms” itself would remain after the campus-wide redevelopment was completed. An architecture team was hired and plans were drawn up and submitted to the City of San Diego for approval.  

But then we paused for a period of time and started to rethink our approach …

We asked ourselves just what is it that has made Wesley Palms such a wonderful and unique community for seniors for nearly half a century? Time and again we kept coming back to the openness, the beauty, and the wonderful array of plantings and trees that sets Wesley Palms apart from any other retirement community. If we knocked everything down, we reminded ourselves, then everything that has made Wesley Palms what it is and what it stands for would be lost forever.

Wesley Palm Patio Home Kitchen
So it was at this point that we started formulating “Plan B,” which called for preserving as much of the essence and beauty of Wesley Palms as we could, while at the same time upgrading the community to be a viable, cutting edge community that would be a leader in retirement living for the next century to come. In this vein it was decided that we should capitalize on the original mid-century architecture and celebrate what was all around us – not only on the Wesley Palms campus but in the surrounding Pacific Beach neighborhood as well. The architecture team of M.W. Steele was hired, along with Nuera Construction, plans were drawn up for a campus that would be remodeled in the mid-century modern ascetic.
The project broke ground on April 1, 2015, and as of this writing we are more than half-way completed with this award-winning, awe-inspiring project that is garnering praise from residents, staff, family members, and visitors alike. We are very proud of the campus as it blossoms into a beautiful, modern day showcase of elegance and sophistication, while at the same time paying homage to the relaxed and comfortable feel that is inherent in its mid-century modern design.

I encourage you to come for a visit and see our new patio homes and all the wonderful amenities that go with them.

On Right: Ben Geske, executive director
 at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

Friday, June 9, 2017

Why I Call My Dad Even if It's Not Father's Day

My phone calls to him used to be obligatory, but loss has a way of changing things

By Jill Smolowe for Next Avenue

Jill Smolowe with her father

When I was a college undergraduate, I used to call my parents every Thursday night. The calls were mandatory, the price of college tuition, so to speak. Invariably, my mother would answer, then yell, “Dick! Pick up! It’s Jill.”

Nothing of substance was ever said about my coursework. And certainly I wasn’t going to tell them who I was sleeping with or what I was smoking. So, I remember not one thing about these phone calls beyond this: both of my parents were on the line, I was itchy to get off so I could get back to my life and any parental input pretty much came from my mother.

Our No-Obligation Daily Phone Call

On Father’s Day this year, I, like millions of Americans, will call my dad. But there will be nothing dutiful or obligatory about it. These days, I speak with my father daily. Sometimes I dial his speed number; just as often, he dials mine. Often the conversation begins, “Hi, I can’t remember if we talked today.” We laugh. Then we talk, whether we’ve already talked earlier in the day or not. These conversations are never obligatory and most definitely are never a chore.

To the contrary, I can’t imagine a day going by without speaking to my dad. (Well, unless he’s traveling. He and cell phones — fuggedaboutit.) I talk with him not because I feel I have to, but because I want to. At this point, he’s not just my father. He’s my financial adviser. My friend. The one person in the universe, other than my husband, with whom I touch base daily. I know the details of my father’s days; he knows the details of mine. At 60, I find my relationship with my father widening, our intimacy deepening, our love (always solid) developing still new layers.

Some days, we talk about the markets and dividend reinvesting. Other days, we discuss news developments: the Syrian refugee crisis, Putin’s latest maneuvering, the U.S. presidential campaign. The only topic I try to steer wide of is Israel. (Generational differences. It never ends happily.) All days, we discuss the weather, but only briefly.

How Dad Dazzles Me

Some days, he dazzles me. Last November, for instance, I dropped him at the airport at 6 p.m. for a 9:44 p.m. flight. (He has this thing about getting to airports waaay early.) He was heading home after a visit and should have been walking through his front door at 1 a.m. Instead, when I phoned the next day at 11 a.m., he greeted me with, “I just got home.” Plane problems, followed by flight reschedulings the airline didn’t sort out until after midnight, had resulted in my dad spending the night on a couch in a food court. The guy is 85!

Did he tell me about his aches or the airport chaos? No. Instead, the guy who used to run a women’s apparel business said this about his ordeal: “It made me think about the refugees. All that trekking. This was not planned, very disruptive. I wanted to get back home. Think of those people, losing their homes, their countries, then landing in countries that don’t want them. It rocked me.”

My Rock During Tough Times

These days, we also discuss our personal lives — sometimes in intimate detail. My two brothers and I joke, “TMI.” But for me, actually, there is no too-much-information when it comes to the man we all call Big D. That barrier began to crumble in 2007 after my husband, Joe, was diagnosed with leukemia.

At the time, I was spending long days at the hospital, then coming home to a barrage of voicemail messages I was too exhausted to handle. I needed someone who could relay the day’s medical developments to other family members. My father was hardly the obvious choice, given his family standing as the “ostrich,” my mother’s term for his tendency to put his head in the sand when emotional stuff kicked up. But I knew my father to be a succinct and reliable communicator. I could count on him to relay the often-complicated medical details to my mother and three siblings without spin or distortion.

As the weeks, then months, went by, I realized that I’d come to rely on Dad as my sounding board. He never tried to steer my thinking on difficult medical decisions. Rather, he helped guide me back to information I’d given him previously that might help inform whatever decision Joe and I were facing.

After Joe died in June 2009, I haven’t a clue how frequently I spoke with my father. That period, frankly, was too much of a blur. Certainly, there was an uptick in our phone calls come the turn of 2010. My sister was dying from colon cancer up in Vermont; my mother was dying from age-related complications down in North Carolina. It was, to put it mildly, a very bad time. My touching base with my father, him touching base with me, helped steady both of us.

It was after my sister died in August of that year, followed less than three weeks later by my mother, that I began to call my father daily. Initially I called because I was concerned how he was weathering widowerhood. But in short order, self-imposed obligation became habit became a genuine desire to hear his voice and his thoughts each day, every day.

Our Intimate Relationship, After All These Years

By this time, I’d met online the man who would become my second husband. I wanted my father to venture into the cyber-dating world, too. My mother had pounded him with the message that he should look for a new mate quickly. She did not want him to be alone. Neither did I.

And so, our conversations took a more intimate turn as I helped my father sign up on the same two cyber dating sites I’d used. As he began to venture out, meeting not-Mom women for the first time in some 60 years, he could sound like a giddy schoolboy with his (OK, sometimes TMI) stories.

I’ve loved seeing this social being emerge. And I love the intimacy that has evolved between us as a result. At times, I find myself telling him things I haven’t shared with even my closest female friends. It’s so unexpected. So trusting. So lovely.

Next month, my dad turns 86. He exercises daily, eats a healthy diet and has all his faculties. But I am very aware that he is aging. Very aware that he is slowing down. Very aware that there will come a day when he will not be there to receive a Father’s Day call. I am also keenly aware that I am not at all prepared for this. Every time he doesn’t feel well (which isn’t often), a mantra begins in my head: “I’m not ready for him to go.”

How can I be? At this point in my life, this amazing man is not only my father. He is my friend. My adviser. My ear. My shoulder. My witness. For that, I not only love him. I adore him.

Happy Father’s Day, Big D. I am so grateful you’re my dad.
© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Too Old to Learn a Language? Don't Believe It

As an older adult, you have skills that can help — and your brain will thank you

Bill Ward for Next Avenue


Credit: Adobe Stock

Conventional wisdom holds that the older we get, the harder it is to learn a new language. Which is true — except when it’s not.

Turns out that while our brains might not be as quick or deft as in those halcyon days of youth, all that hard-earned experience, knowledge and discipline can come to the rescue.

Using Our Adult Knowledge to Learn a Language

“[Older adults] know more about culture, about how the world works, about how our native language works,” said Lisa Frumkes, senior director of content for Rosetta Stone, an education technology software company that develops language, literacy and brain-fitness software. “So we can build on these things. We also have to have discipline when learning a language, and that is something older people have more of. Knowing how to regulate your schedule, that’s 90 percent of the exercise.”

Other experts agree, pointing to learned skills such as a better grasp of syntax, grammar and pronunciation, plus a broader vocabulary in our native tongue.

Catherine Snow, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has written that older adults are better at intentional learning and literacy skills.

High Expectations

The benefits of learning a language are enormous, but sometimes so are the barriers, starting with busy schedules and self-doubt (thanks in part to that old bugaboo, conventional wisdom).

“As we get older, we have much, much bigger expectations of ourselves,” Frumkes said. “We ask a lot more of ourselves, so we need to cut ourselves some slack. I think Americans also think there is something particularly difficult about learning a language. But it isn’t harder than learning to do anything at an older age, whether it’s calculus or golf. I see older people going out and learning the violin. No one tells them it’s hard to do that, even though they have less dexterity and learning how to read music is hard.”

The Brain’s Resilience

Even for those who have suffered cognitive decline, learning a language can be feasible.

Judith Campisi, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s Buck Institute for Research on Aging, said research on “chemobrain” (cognitive loss after chemotherapy) indicates that our brains are more resilient and adaptable than previously believed.

“When there’s a decline, the brain has the ability to call on other parts of the brain,” Campisi said. “We suspect that’s happening in aging, that the brain has more plasticity and we have better ability to draw on other parts of the brain. It could be that people learning a language are calling on other parts of the brain.”

Or, as Frumkes put it, “As long as you’re continuing to work your brain in a variety of ways, you will find things in your brain that you thought were gone that are still there. There’s a lot locked up in our brains that just needs to be shaken.”

Babies vs. Adults

That goes against the prevailing thinking from a half-century ago, which centered around a “critical period hypothesis:” that infants and toddlers effortlessly acquire language and that such learning becomes increasingly difficult after the first few years of life (dubbed “the critical period”).

A research paper called “The Older Language Learner” by University of Michigan education professor Mary J. Schleppegrell, a linguistics expert, put the kibosh on that notion: “Studies indicate that attaining a working ability to communicate in a new language may actually be easier and more rapid for the adult than for the child. Adults learn differently from children, but no age-related differences in learning ability have been demonstrated for adults of different ages,” the paper said.

Besides, as Frumkes noted, “When you learn something as a child, you’re not learning at a high level. It’s not as high a bar.”

Bilingual Benefits Abound

The ability to learn a new language varies — “everything like this is always individual,” Campisi said — and, not surprisingly, those who already are bilingual have advantages.

“It’s just as if you played tennis when you were younger, some other racquet sport will be easier to learn,” Frumkes said. “With bilingual people, knowing that words and phrases are not one-for-one and that word order works differently — that grammar works differently — really helps, because you know what things to look out for.”

Frumkes added that she’s not sure if there are gender differences for learning a language when you’re older. “There’s always been talk that women are better, but that may be more of a social construct rather than how we are biologically,” she said.

Changes in the Brain

Regardless, experts are absolutely convinced that whatever the gender, learning a language improves overall brain functions.

Recent research has found that bilingualism
changes the brain structurally and functionally for the better and helps stave off dementia.

“Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger,” said Ping Li, a Penn State University professor of psychology, linguistics and information sciences and technology and an author of
one of the studies.

Enlarging Our World

In the end, immersing ourselves in another language at whatever age expands not only our minds, but our lives.

“Learning a language is about learning a culture,” Frumkes said. “It can take you in so many directions: literature, travel, learning to understand the news of the day or just being able to be in contact with people in other cultures. Once you think about these things, they change the way you see the world.”

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.