In a recent study of hundreds of baby boomers, it became evident to me that many have had to adjust their expectations on longevity and financial resources. Far fewer are living the retirement of their parents' generation, or the one they personally anticipated.
With this reality in mind, and leaving the financial resolutions to the experts on retirement planning and investment, here are some psychological New Year's resolutions that may serve boomers well as they embark on this uncertain journey:
1) Do you have a bucket list? Do you want to learn or take up again a musical instrument? Is there a hobby that appeals to you? What about a class? One of my friends has become a guitarist who plays local gigs. Another has moved from running a company to part-time consulting. I have given more time to my writing and I'm advising new graduate students closer to my age.
2) Boomer men especially desire more social and interpersonal connections. Forgetting the potential disaster of revisiting your high school sweetheart, who might you want to spend more time with? Rediscovering relationships can be far more enriching personally than status or moving up another rung of the career ladder. What can you and your spouse discover together? Do you want more connection with your children or grandchildren? Which friends have been lost over the years that you may want to reconnect with?
3) The great baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, once said, "you don't stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing." What ways can you find to be more playful? At our age, this rarely involves a theme park or binge drinking! Playing at this age may take many forms, but primary among them is to live more fully in the moment, whether that is a quiet pursuit such as reading or listening to music or a strenuous one like a brisk walk or hike. A 55-year-old woman I interviewed is a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, but hadn't been to a game since she was a little girl. She organized a group of fans at work, and she's been going to games for five years now. On the other hand, I had a client who worked so much that he accrued more than a year of vacation. He passed away at age 47 from a heart attack, and his wife's second husband is now enjoying his accrued vacation pay!
4) Consider a moderate alteration to healthier eating, exercise and physical check-ups. Drastic changes in any of these areas are difficult to maintain, but portion control and walking a mile or two three days a week can do wonders for physical health and mental well being. Our bodies cannot do what they once did and healing takes far longer than it used to, so keeping your body as healthy as you reasonably can should make longevity more of a pleasure than a burden.
5) Rebalance, don't retire. Alter the intensity of the "have to's" and replace them with some additional "wants." Robert Frost recommended taking the road less travelled in his paean to freedom. The tension between freedom and security provide the energy to explore what is new and exciting. If you are a "security first" person, resolve to step out of the normal comfort zone to try something new and less certain. If you're the "freedom first" type, try exploring the more conservative side of your nature.
6) Borrowing from the title of the book I wrote based on these boomer studies, we should adopt resolutions that force us to face our fears and find meaning in our later years. In 2013, I personally resolve to live my life more consciously and fully each day and be more aware of the moments of life. And after four decades as a professor and psychotherapist, I will count my blessings, because each day may bring some small pleasure, and when one shows up I resolve to enjoy it. Each day we have the gift of life, there is something to savor, however small. That seems the best resolution of all.
And, like all New Year's resolutions, they come with the admonition to start immediately, although yesterday is preferable.
Jerrold Lee Shapiro is Professor and Chair of Counseling Psychology at Santa Clara University. The author of 10 books, his most recent, Finding meaning, Facing Fears in the Autumn of Your Years (45-65) from Impact Publishers, is an exploration of the baby boomer generation.