Retirement Planning Can Help Avoid Emotional Issues

Happy Retirement

There is more to retirement planning than the financial issues. As a psychologist, I see people with avoidable emotional issues. If you incorporate mental health and life legacy goals into your planning as you approach retirement, you can create a happier retirement and a more peaceful marriage.


Sam retires and is finally “free to not have to get up and go to work every day…”

He has looked forward to this day, because he can spend the time with his wife Sally that he couldn’t when he was too busy working. He often felt guilty about being away so much, but now he can make up for it.

Sam didn’t have any personal male friends beside his coworkers. He feels lonely. Thank God his wife is his best friend, and he can hang out with her.

For years Sam has had a dream of having a sailboat and going on long voyages with his wife. Now, since he got his retirement package, he has the time and the means. He will take Sally to boat shows to help choose their boat. Retirement is good!
Sally had retired ten years earlier after a health scare. She now pursues her art. Sally had made some close friends during her recovery.
Most of her friends have taken up art in their retirement. They get together almost every week for lively discussions of their projects and their lives.
Sally also enjoys seeing her children and grandchildren every couple of weeks. Retirement is good!

Sam and Sally

A few months pass. Sam is feeling his dream slipping away. Immersed with Sam in the world of boats, Sally realizes that boats and long voyages are not her thing. Her art, her friends and her grandchildren are what give her fulfillment…and she says so.
Sam becomes increasingly jealous of her friends and family. He won’t leave her alone in her studio with her creative work. He resents her “ruining his retirement plans.” He feels abandoned and becomes very clingy.
Sally just has to get out of the house. She admits to her friends that she wishes Sam had continued to work, so she could have some space. It saddens her to see him so unhappy.
Retirement as a Creative Process
Your “work” as you face retirement is to recreate your lives for whatever time you have left. Retirement planning is a family affair. It requires anticipating issues and discussing them openly. It helps to start and test retirement activities long before retirement. It helps to establish non-work friendships while still working, or at least, plan how you will do it. Retirement represents major change, so you need to plan for the personal boundary issues that will arise.
Use your coaches and mentors wisely, both for you and for your marriage.

Are You Entitled to Happiness?

happy woman.jpg

Today I write about happiness, entitlement, achievement and meaning. How do they all connect?
A guest came to visit a Saskatchewan farmer for the first time at his farm. As the visitor took in the expanse of billowing wheat fields that stretched out from the well-maintained family home and farm buildings, he commented to the farmer, “God has been good to you.” The farmer replied with a smile, “He certainly has…but you should have seen the place when he was managing it by himself.”

A big-city businessman who proposed we work together on a deal took me out for lunch to his expensive and exclusive golf club. He gleefully went on and on about how well he had done. His oft-repeated mantra was, “I don’t want it all; I just want my share.” It was quickly apparent that the “share” he was entitled to was substantial.

I pulled back when I sensed his willingness to bully and cheat to get what he wanted, while staying just within the law. He became abusive to me when I did not go along with him on something.
He was late for our final meeting because some high-end ($700k and up) condominiums had gone on sale that morning for a yet-to-be-built high-rise project, and he had to wait in line for his speculative purchase.  He burst in with “I grabbed three,” and he went on to repeat his mantra. That was right before a major real estate correction. I never did hear how he faired.
Both the farmer and the businessman were intelligent and had achievements. Both were apparently happy. Why was the businessman so imbued with a sense of entitlement?
Let’s turn the clock back to when each of them was about 8 years old. I speculate the parents of each boy wanted their son to be happy, and each recognized their son to have good native intelligence. Both kids were optimistic, because all kids start out that way.
The parents of the future farmer had been teaching their son to develop his brainpower, work hard to overcome challenges and to stay optimistic in the face of obstacles. “My son figures out what to do when things don’t go his way and manages to stay positive.”
The other parents praised their son for his obvious intelligence. He should be able to do just about anything well. “My son is a brain. He’s always successful.”
When parents praise their children’s intelligence, the children tend to develop a fixed mindset about being able to do anything well, a sense of entitlement, and a right to be happy. Self esteem of children is based on a sense of entitlement. When they run into things they can’t handle, like a course that’s to hard or a job task they don’t understand, they are more prone than other children to cheat, lie or steal to avoid failure.
On the other hand, when parents encourage their children to develop their brainpower, the children’s mindset tends to be more fluid. It is up to them to learn how to get through the hard stuff and keep going.
The cult of happiness seems to be rooted in a sense of entitlement. When an economic downturn takes away what some thought they were entitled to, we hear bitter cries of blame and doom. “My right to happiness has been violated.”
Those not affected by entitlement are still experiencing positive emotions, are engaged in life and find their lives to be meaningful, even though they may have to do some belt tightening. Come to think of it, that is how Dr. Martin Seligman, who pioneered modern positive psychology, defines authentic happiness.

Thrivers, Survivors and People in Recovery

Tennis Player

We meet people everyday who have recovered or are in recovery from a major life changing event. Some deem themselves as survivors, and some just positively live their lives looking forward to the future (a thriver). What are the differences between a thriver, a survivor and a person in recovery?

A thriver is someone who grows vigorously, flourishes, or realizes goals despite circumstances. Thrivers are active agents in creating their futures. They look forward to an ever better future. They have a knowing that when setbacks come, they will land on their feet.
A “survivor,” in contrast, is someone whose identity incorporates a past wound such as sexual abuse, torture, cancer or some other horrible condition.
Renowned physicist and author of “A Brief History of Time”, Dr. Stephen Hawking, was again admitted to hospital April 21, 2009, seriously ill at age 67. Dr. Hawking has had ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease since age 21. Only 5% of people diagnosed with the disease live beyond the 10-year mark. Yet over the next 40+ years, he went on to become what many believe to be the world’s greatest living scientist. A true thriver!
I am close to a woman in her late 40s who has had cancer—skin cancer, deep muscle cancer, lymph node cancer, breast cancer, leukemia and bone cancer. She has had over 20 surgeries. To add to the horror of it, she is violently allergic to anesthesia.
Yet for this thriver, being a survivor is not part of her identity. She sees the cancer, endless operations, chemo, radiation and pain as just stuff she has had to put up with as she gets on with her life.
Others I have known have built their whole identities around trauma in the distant past. A woman in her 60s identified herself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When we discussed therapeutically removing “survivor” from her identity, she gasped, “Who would I be?” She discontinued therapy.
I reflected on how I had been abducted and sexually abused twice as a child, one of the incidents involving horsewhipping and hanging. Of course, those incidents affected my life. Thirty years later, when I heard a man identify himself as a survivor, I realized that had never been part of my identity.
Being “in recovery” from alcohol is another form of being a survivor. Some years ago I knew a competent alcohol and drug counsellor who had herself quit drinking a couple of decades earlier. She lived a stable, normal life. I assumed she attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings simply to support her clients.
One day in a disagreement with someone, she shouted, “You’re messing with my recovery.” Her recovery? Wasn’t that 20 years ago? Then it sunk in that being “in recovery” had become part of her definition of herself as a person, part of her identity.
Back in my 30s, I had stopped drinking, because the huge amount of alcohol I was drinking was killing me. It took about three years to work through all the changes and recreate my life after alcohol. Now 30 years later, I can see that time as my recovery period, but being “in recovery” had never become a part of my identity.
I am thankful that right after I quit drinking, I had no one in my life telling me I had an incurable, progressive disease and would have to be in recovery for the rest of my life. It might have made my identity as a thriver harder to maintain.
I invite you to discard any identity based on a past wound. Be a thriver!