(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this holiday weekend. We are re-running a letter published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I never see any questions from retired people that address my needs so I decided to write to you about my dilemma. Last year I retired after running my own business for more than 30 years. I spent all my work years tending to the business and to my family’s needs and activities, and now, with the kids grown and my business sold, I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m used to being busy all the time. The usual activities for retiree’s don’t interest me at all. I’m bored and am starting to wonder what makes life worthwhile. My wife has lots of friends and social activities she has developed over the years. I just can’t seem to get into gear with this new role of being retired.
Dr. Norquist responds:
Usually our life passes us by while we are busy tending to the needs and responsibilities of our work and family and home lives. You are in a fortunate position currently. With a break from most of your work and family demands, you have an opportunity to see through the clouds to the vast beyond, and to ask yourself what brings meaning to your life. Given the energy and resources and time, what would be the best use of your remaining energy and time on this earth? What can you invest your time and energy into that is not temporary, that gives to life and gives back to you? What brings you a sense of happiness and contentment? Ask yourself these questions. Review past times and activities and situations in your life that stand out as enjoyable and meaningful to you. What are the key components? Generally, the two main components are meaningful connections with others, and creativity.
Depression is born of a sense of disconnection and separateness. Meaningful connections with others sustain health, and make life feel worthwhile. You can choose to make this one of the focuses of your day, and it will fill the emptiness and dissipate the lack of meaning you experience in your current life. Cultivate love in your life. You can do this in a myriad of ways. Be brave and express your love to your family and friends. Think of ways to express your love for them through your consideration, thoughtfulness and through being willing to listen and to share. Make friendliness and kindness a daily practice with those you meet throughout your day. Find or create a structured way of giving to others – through volunteer work, an involvement in local community, church, neighborhood, or school activities. Perhaps there is a local community need that you can address through your skills, knowledge, and interests. Practice seeing the best in others, and thinking the best of others. This will enhance both your inner experience and your outer experience of your day. When we are caught up in ourselves and our own needs, desires, lacks, and general discontent, love and happiness are unlikely because we are in a disconnected state. Conversely, when we are engaged in activities that support, sustain, and uplift others, a rich feeling of connectedness and contentment pervades our lives. Remember also, meaningful connections can be made with nature and animals as well as with people.
Creativity is another key component of a contented life. I believe humans have a need to bring forth and express their essence in some way in the world. I’m not speaking here of creativity in the narrow sense of an artistic creation. Creativity is inherent in our thoughts, perspectives, dreams, relationships and activities. Listen to what interests you. What engenders a spark of enthusiasm for you? Do something with that spark. Perhaps you’d like to teach, to cultivate a garden, to create a structure for helping others, or to design and build a cabinet. Just do it! Follow that impulse. Be sure to let yourself have fun in the process.
Take time out to enjoy the process of life. Now that life is less demanding of you, it should be easier to observe, enjoy, and soak it all in. Watch the wind in the leaves, smell the air, watch children play in the park, really take time to enjoy that cup of coffee. Always remember that you create your own experience of your life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2011 Chaitanya Counseling Services