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Retire into Happiness

Machla Abramovitz

How can retired men adjust to their new lives, navigate the psychological transition, restructure their days, and open themselves up to new, unforeseen possibilities?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

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PLAN AHEAD So what differentiates successful retirees from unsuccessful ones? One’s mental attitude, says Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark. Successful retirees are generally more positive and motivated. Also, it’s vital that retirees have a plan

It came like a bolt out of the blue.

After more than four decades, the Hebrew day school where Rabbi Nosson Fisher* worked gently informed him that he wouldn’t be returning the following school year.

It wasn’t that they were unhappy with his performance as a high school rebbi. On the contrary, he was viewed as one of the most popular and respected teachers. The school simply wanted to bring in younger rebbeim to revitalize the Jewish Studies department, the executive director told him.

“I didn’t know what hit me,” Rabbi Fisher says. At age 62, he thought he was at his prime both physically and intellectually. He even trained younger colleagues on how to work through their teaching and classroom-management challenges.

He found himself at an emotional impasse. “Being a rebbi was more than a profession, it was my vocation,” he says. “I loved my talmidim. They invigorated me and kept me young, and I respected and admired my colleagues.”

For Rabbi Fisher, the transition to early retirement has not been easy. And he is not alone. According to a 2012 happiness study conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Mokyr Horner, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, many retirees find themselves unhappy after the “sugar rush” of well-being that sometimes accompanies retirement dissipates. In fact, one out of four retirees, whether they are financially secure or not, reports having a hard time adjusting to their new lives. For these retirees, the years between middle age and the onset of frail elderhood is anything but golden.

But if retirement sounds like a setup for discontent and frustration, it needn’t be. Ideally, retirement is a time for creating new opportunities and identities after the working years have ended. For men, whether that means learning in kollel, training for a new profession, or volunteering their time, successful retirement means finding the wherewithal to actively structure their days and confront not only what’s needed to gratify themselves emotionally and psychologically but to come up with creative solutions to implement those plans.

The Vacuum

When Stanley Scher retired from the New York City Board of Education as a special-education administrator at the age of 58, he was looking forward to his new life. Increasingly, his work at the Board had become stressful, and a generous pension plan made it easy for him to walk away. Moreover, he was eager to pursue personal interests he had long dreamed about, including opening a health club and establishing a teacher-training program.

Regardless of how people enter this stage in life, their needs are the same: to find a new sense of purpose in life, generally on more than one level

But despite his enthusiasm, none of his long-planned ideas panned out. “Retirement is a love-hate relationship,” he admits. “I was glad to be retired from my high-tension job. But on the other hand, I was left with a vacuum that, despite all my outside interests, I couldn’t fill.”

So when the Board offered him a fill-in job for the year, he grabbed it. In the end, the temporary job provided a transition into retirement that has since blossomed into a period of personal growth and accomplishment.

No longer pursuing entrepreneurial goals, Scher has assumed the care of his 16-year-old autistic grandson, a vocation he finds extremely gratifying. Last year, Scher, now 74, and his wife Ethel were honored as Grandparents of the Year by Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities.

But not all retirees have the confidence, self-motivation, or enthusiasm to boldly pursue new opportunities.

Those who can’t transfer their interests into other areas can become physically ill or even clinically depressed. According to Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work, on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, retirement scores a significant 45. Compare that to divorce, which scores 73 on the high end of the scale, and being fired, which scores 47. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 676)

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