Having quality relationships is the best predictor of happiness and overall health, according to an 85-year-old study Harvard University longitudinal study. But as you get older, it can be hard to maintain those connections and make new ones.
Earlier this month, journalist Josie Duffy Rice asked her Twitter followers on ways people over 60 can make friends or build community, after one of her friends said their parent felt “very isolated”.
Her question reflects the struggles with loneliness that people face throughout their lives., but especially as they get older. A study revealed that 43% of Americans over 60 reported feeling lonely. Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation are associated with increased risk negative health effects like dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, and even premature death.
Loneliness is a state of mind in which you feel only. Social isolation means you have few social contacts or people to interact with on a regular basis. “Social isolation can lead to loneliness in some people, while others may feel lonely without being socially isolated,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After age 60, certain life changes may explain why a person may feel lonely or have difficulty making new connections. Maybe they are an empty nest, divorced or widowed, or have recently moved to a new place.
Maybe they are retired, nearing retirement, or watching their old friends retire. “The loss of work relationships can be a big contributor to loneliness,” Los Angeles psychologist David Narang told HuffPost.
“You can also develop chronic health issues such as heart problems or back pain. And unfortunately, feeling physically vulnerable can also hurt your social confidence,” said Narang, the author of “Leaving Loneliness.”
“You might feel, for example, that if you’re unable to do everything – like long hikes, travel the world, work long days – that you once could, that you’re not as valuable to others anymore. .”
And for some, the time, effort, and initial discomfort that comes with trying a new activity or getting to know someone might seem like too much of a hurdle.
“I’m in my 60s and my social circle is the size of a Cheerio.”
– Craig Tomashoff, 63-year-old writer and producer.
Ten years ago, Anne R., a divorced mother of two adult children, retired from her career as a surgeon. She went from talking to 50 or 100 people a day in the office to not talking to anyone on certain days, she said.
After her retirement, her work friends stopped contacting her.
“If I had to talk to them for some reason, they were like, ‘Oh, let’s have lunch.’ I was like, ‘OK, you let me know. You work, I’m retired. I will come as soon as you can come. Never heard of them,” said the 67-year-old, whose last name has been withheld to protect her privacy.
“It was a complete shock,” she said. “These are people I would have considered friends, people I spoke to several times a week.”
Anne still keeps in touch with some dear friends she has known for decades. “I don’t necessarily talk to them every day,” she said. “But I know if I pick up the phone and they hear I’m not well, they’re right there.”
She has also met people through her local gym and training classes for her dogs. In recent years, however, these new acquaintances have not turned into genuine and lasting connections.
“There are a lot of people I’ve met through my dogs, but I haven’t really found the energy or the desire to meet them outside of dogs as a friend,” she said. declared.
These days, she said she’s been “much more selective” and “much more careful” with her friendships.
“I find that people become very egocentric. And then they might say, ‘Oh, I’m going to have surgery.’ You say, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll drive you.’ Then you tell them, ‘I’m going to have an operation, would you like to drive me?’ They say, “Oh, I have to do this, I have to do that,” Anne said.
“So if I’m going to give from myself what I consider to be the energy you should give into a friendship, I need to know that there will be some reciprocity.”
Craig Tomashoff, a 63-year-old divorced father, writer and producer, said he noticed that after 60, making new friends “is something that takes effort, which is not the case for making friends in your twenties”.
“When you’re young, you have co-workers and roommates all the time. You go out in a group where you meet other people. You find a mate and their friends become yours,” Tomashoff told HuffPost.
“At my age now – with the only thing shrinking more than the days of work I have left are the ages of my colleagues – there is no natural way to just meet people with whom you want share time. It’s about signing up for classes or, as I had to do recently, using apps not to date but just to socialize.
Tomashoff realized that he had spent so much of his adult life focusing on his children and working hard to save for retirement that he left little time for socializing and making friends. friends.
Between the ages of 20 and 50, you are “constantly reminded that you need to save money for your golden years. It’s all designed to save every dollar you can so you can live a comfortable life when you hit your 60s,” he said.
“However, the one thing you never hear about is doing the same for your social life. You rarely read articles or watch advertisements telling you to bank as many friends as possible for lonely years ahead.
He called it the “biggest mistake” of his life.
“I’m in my 60s and my social circle is the size of a Cheerio,” Tomashoff said. “I would like not to plan too much how I will pay my mortgage, [but] more about how I will spend these days once the mortgage is paid off.
So how can you make friends in your 60s and beyond?
To find your contacts as an older adult, tap into your interests. This might mean enrolling in an art class, finding a part-time job, looking for a book club at the local library, trying a new activity like pickleball, or joining a religious, political, or volunteer group for a cause that is close to your heart. heart.
No matter what you choose, expect some initial awkwardness as you get to know people in this new community. Tolerating this temporary discomfort is a “mandatory part of the process,” Narang said.
“In adulthood, we expect everything to feel new and are less bothered if the experience of joining a new group is initially uncomfortable,” he said. “We can keep this openness to new experiences throughout our lives by expecting new experiences to be inconvenient for a while and allowing for that temporary discomfort necessary to rebuild social community.”
Because society isn’t “organized around gathering places that everyone regularly visits,” Narang said, know that you have to be intentional about seeking those social connections.
“If I have a date with you, you’ll probably come. … It allows us a better support system for each other because we come regardless of how we feel.
– Anne R., 67-year-old retired surgeon.
Choosing a class, activity, or group that meets regularly can be key to building new relationships. Repeated exposure to the same people can bring you closer together and make you feel like you’re part of something.
“You’re surrounded by people,” says Anne. “And if you don’t show up, people say, ‘Where are you? What are you doing?’ Sometimes they call – “Why haven’t you come for a week?” And it makes you feel connected.
Anne also has a bagel date once a week with a friend she’s known since kindergarten. This ensures that they spend face-to-face time on a regular basis. Putting it on the schedule means they’re more likely to stick to it.
“What we found out is, if I call you today and say, ‘Hey, do you want to go to lunch?’ — if you don’t feel quite up to it, you’re probably going to bag it,” she said.
“If I have a date with you, you’ll probably come. And what that does is it allows us a better support system for each other because we come regardless of how we feel.
And finally, remember that you have something valuable to offer and that your collaborators are there.
“Everyone needs to connect, to be understood, to relate to others and to have company,” Narang said. “If you can offer that connection and that companionship, there’s someone with those needs whose personality would fit well with yours, and that person would want you as a friend.”
Need help with mental health or addiction issues? In the United States, call 800-662-HELP (4357) for SAMHSA National Helpline.