Beating The Winter Blues

Felted Hearts

Felted Hearts

Yesterday, as I sat with a knitting group watching snow flurries drift past the window, some of us mentioned how we were ready for spring. I live in South Carolina so whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, come February, spring is just around the corner. By the time we get to Valentine’s Day daffodils and other early spring bulbs are beginning to break bud, flocks of robins land in the fields looking for nibbles and the trees give off a red glow as leaf buds swell. But, everything is relative. At the risk of sounding whiney, I still have a bit of the winter blues.

When I lived north of the Mason Dixon Line where winters are truly harsh with piles of snow and winter temps sometimes dipping into negative numbers, February 14th marked my personal turning point toward spring. I looked forward to it every year. My mood lightened as the sun sat higher in the sometimes clear sky, the days grew longer, snow easily melted off the roof and a crocus or two began to poke up through the snow. Many, many years ago a doctor suggested I have a mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If that’s the case, I would venture I’m far from alone.

While winter is often seen as a time of death, it is, in fact, a time for regeneration. As Jean of ( recently observed in her post The Beauty of Winter Trees “dormancy should not be confused with death.” As Jean points out, the trees are shutting down to survive the harsh winter environment but it is more of a restorative sleep.  Like the trees, I found that approaching winter as a time to re-energize helped me survive the winter blues with a happier disposition. These are the things I do to stave off the doldrums.

1. As I shoveled snow off the driveway and sidewalks of our Michigan home, I discovered the outside activity actually put me in a happier mood. So, even if you don’t feel like getting outside in the cold, refrain from becoming a winter couch potato. I bundle up and go out for a walk, clean up garden debris and work on clearing underbrush from our overgrown woods.

2. Look at winter as a time to work on inside projects. I spend more time reading, writing, painting and knitting. I declutter and reorganize. I get the taxes done early! I listen to music, watch movies I’ve been wanting to see and play with the cats. I start seeds for the spring garden. This has changed my view of winter. It’s a time to catch up on delayed projects and put your house in order. Then, when spring arrives, you can get outside and play.

3. Cheer up your space. I fill clear vases with things like origami hearts I make or found feathers or sea shells or dried botanicals from my garden. I force bulbs or branches of flowering bushes like forsythia or bring in a bunch of hellebores blooming in the garden.  I make felted hearts of various cheery colors.

4. Stay socially active. I look forward to winter classes at OLLI, meeting friends for lunch or dinner or inviting them to my house and going to group activities like Sit n’ Knit, where we socialize more than anything else. Volunteer or help out a friend in need. Last week I helped a friend with their blog _ it made me feel good to lend a hand.

5. I stopped saying, “I hate winter!” Instead, I look at winter as an opportunity to do all of the above. I also look at it as time to peer inside me and contemplate, meditate and just be.

You may have some ways you beat the winter blues. Let me know if you have other suggestions. In the meantime, the sun sits higher in the sky, the days are lengthening, the buds are swelling and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. No matter where you are, no matter what your winter, no matter if you have the blues, the blahs or not, Happy Valentine’s!

Will Decluttering Make You Happier?



Last week a friend sent me an email with a message about days gone by when, instead of throwing something away when it broke down, our parents generation fixed the item. That’s how I grew up. We repaired shoes, lawn mowers, televisions and washers. My friend’s email also reminded me how every spring we took part in the ritual of spring cleaning, opening windows after a long winter and clearing away the season’s accumulation of dust and grime. Today, in our material driven economies, we tend to hang onto all kinds of things, broken or not, which may not add anything purposeful to our lives, but take up plenty of space in both our homes and our minds.

It must be all the years I spent as a real estate broker, looking at garages crammed so full the family cars wouldn’t begin to fit in them. While I no longer take part in a spring cleaning ritual, each January I have my own ritual of decluttering. Since retirement, that is one habit I have not changed. Why? There are lots of reasons to declutter.

1. Decluttering helps me start the year off fresh, clear and focused. Without excess stuff in my desk, closets, art work space and garage, I can focus on what matters most to me. Activities like writing, drawing and gardening can take precedence without having to sort through clutter to find what I need. Everything has a place and is in the place it should be. Whew! I can relax and not only enjoy these activities but have time for my spouse, family and friends.

2. Since I donate what I no longer need or want, it also helps those less fortunate in my community. Clothing, sports equipment, home furnishings, eyeglasses, cell phones and other electronics can be put to good use. Some people hold a garage or yard sale and make a few extra bucks. I’d rather give it away and use my time for activities that hold more meaning to me.

3. Clearing unnecessary items also clears out places for the dust and dust mites to accumulate. That’s right. Dust mites _ ick. As someone suffering from allergies, including an allergy to dust mites, I’m all for reducing places for the little darlings to accumulate. So, allergic or not, decluttering may also help you breathe easier.

4. While you’re decluttering, take a clue from our parents’ generation.  Take the time to fix the fixable. I learned years ago how decluttering removed a lot of life’s little annoyances. Fixing things has the same effect. Even a broken shoe lace can nip at the edges of your subconscious mind clouding your thoughts. Replacing burnt out light bulbs, smoke alarm batteries, weed whacker string, filters or anything else you have waiting for attention clears your mind for more important thoughts, like what are you going to do today to change the world?

5. Once you declutter and make a habit of decluttering yearly, you’ll find that you actually accumulate less clutter during the year. Why? Because you start looking at the accumulation of stuff differently. You start asking yourself, “Is this an item I really need or will I end up donating it next year?” I find myself living a more minimalist lifestyle. I am decidedly knick-knack adverse. Every time I look at something pretty or cute in a store, I think to myself, “Who’s going to dust that?” My answer is always, “Not me.” Then, I put it back down and walk away. Decluttering changes your mindset.

While I can honestly say decluttering probably hasn’t made me happier, it has made me saner. Every time you buy more stuff, you bring home a thing, which needs cleaning, maintenance, storage and, potentially, fixing. The more things you have, the more things you have to suck up your time with busy work. Is that what you want in retirement? Busy work? Or do you want your remaining years filled with work that really matters to you?

A decluttered life is a less harried life. Instead of feeling like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down one hole after another, I feel relaxed when I know exactly where to go to lay my hands on the scissors or the battery charger or my drawing pencils or whatever. I feel good knowing my time is spent on more productive activities that enrich my life. And, I love it, absolutely LOVE it, when the smoke alarm batteries are changed before the darn things start beeping at me, always, ALWAYS some time around midnight. Now that I think of it, avoiding that annoyance is cause for happiness!

How To Stay Positive With Negative People

Aging, it seems, brings out the negativity in certain people. We all deal with negative people from time to time during our lives. When we leave the workplace, we at least leave any of the negative types from our work life behind. I’ve recommended putting any other negative types out of your retirement life, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s difficult to expel a parent, long time friend, sibling or the person you’re sleeping with. Depending on how someone views the aging experience, negativity can surface even in those who once lived life with a positive attitude. For example, their world view may become one of calamity today as they long for the good old days. Their perception of the past is one seen through the proverbial rose-colored glasses _ time has muted their memory leaving only the good times. Or, and this is the one, which grates on my nerves, they start mouthing statements such as, “You can’t do that anymore. You’re getting old you know. You have to slow down. You’re not as young as you used to be.” I recently had a young sixty-four year old tell me they couldn’t get out and walk every day because they were old! Arrrrrgh!!!

So, what do you do about the nerve grating negativity? Well, first, take responsibility for your positivity. While the negative person may grate on your nerves, the extent to which you allow that to happen is up to you. Counteract their negative effect by taking steps to increase your positivity. Cultivate your optimism.

Years ago I started keeping a gratitude journal after watching an Oprah show. I first listed all the things _ activities, people, places, ideas _ in my life for which I was thankful. They were as simple as a beautiful sunrise or my garden receiving enough rain. I wrote in the journal each night before going to bed. Not only did it help me sleep better as it gave me a feeling of peace, this ritual added to my optimism each day as I made mental notes of items to write in my journal.

As a former news junkie, I can tell you we are bombarded by the media with negative news. Negative sells! So, another step I took was eliminating the newspaper delivery, thus limiting my exposure to the local murder and mayhem. Then, I limited myself to thirty minutes of TV news, if that, a day. Many days I don’t watch it at all. Very rarely do I miss anything that makes a difference in my life. Getting caught up in the world trauma can create fear-based anxiety. While we want to be informed, we don’t want to be inundated. Fill your brain with positive thoughts, readings and encounters with other optimistic people. Try it. You’ll sleep better for it.

Fear is often the basis for the negative person’s pessimism. Fear about world events, fear about aging and declining abilities, fear surrounding financial independence and on and on. Our very impermanence is unsettling to most. However, a Yale University study found that people with a positive view of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than people with negative views. Don’t get sucked in by fear. It’s important to hold on to your optimism!

We all have negative events in our lives _ all of us. This last year was a tough one for my family. I experienced more than a few moments of negativity. I’m grateful for the friends and family who listened to my ramblings with patience. Here’s where a little compassion on your part comes in, both for the negative people you encounter as well as yourself.

This past autumn I took a class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Furman University on living compassionately. Our instructor, Sandy Brown, taught us the tenets of loving kindness based on Buddhist philosophy. The thought of showing loving kindness toward someone engaging in negativity appealed to me. The appeal is actually seated in my own selfishness. It helped me let go of my negativity toward negative situations and people. I use the following prayer often, saying it mentally, but sending the thought toward the person who would otherwise be driving me nuts! It prevents me from expressing out loud how their negativity is, yes, grating on my nerves, which would only make the situation with them all the more difficult. And, drag me down into their negative spiral. Saying this simple prayer triggers acceptance of ‘it is what it is’. I’m becoming more patient, an attribute which often eludes me. With patience comes serenity. Try sending this thought yourself:

May you be well;
May you be happy;
May you be peaceful;
May you be loved.

Think of actions you can take in your life to increase your positive attitude in the face of negative people. By cultivating your optimism and practicing positivity, you may very well change the negative person’s outlook on life. If you stay mentally up, refusing to be dragged down into the depths of their despair, they will have their moment to vent, get it off their chest and then, maybe, join you in your positive views. If they don’t, well, at least your efforts will ensure you still have your sanity. You can walk away from the engagement with a smile on your face. No, you can’t put all the negative people out of your life, even in retirement. But, you can preserve your aging experience with optimism.


Today, there is a growing movement centered on being aware of, and staying with, the present moment. It is called mindfulness. Each time I hear the term, it reminds me that as a child, whenever I was going to a party or a friend’s house, my mother said, “Be sure to mind your manners.” She was telling me to pay attention to my behavior. Remember to be polite. Be aware of how you act. Mindfulness is simply an extension of what my mother was expecting from me. It’s paying attention to what is happening in your surroundings and within you at the present moment. It is staying with your current experience including all your sensory perceptions and emotions. It is remembering to stay present instead of letting your mind wander off into the past or future. It is being aware. I call it living consciously. While this concept has been around for centuries and is steeped in the Buddhist practice of meditation, it serves a real purpose in our stress filled, frenetic modern world. If we stay present, instead of mind-spinning about the past, which is non-changeable or the future, which has yet to unfold itself, we can eliminate much of the stress we, ourselves, create in our lives.

I first heard of mindfulness a year ago when I was taking the Dynamic Aging Program at Furman University. We touched on the subject as it relates to aging. While most people start out believing retirement will be stress free as they leave the workplace behind, they soon find there is stress in retirement. We just encounter different stressors from what stressed us while working. Instead of deadlines, office politics and not enough time for family or ourselves retirement stressors may include health concerns, finances, 24/7 with our spouse or significant other or too many requests to volunteer for organizations. Once I understood the concept and practice of mindfulness, I also realized I had flirted with the idea for years. During my most hectic years of working, being a wife and mother, volunteering in the community, I knew I either had to stop dancing as fast as I could or go down in flames. I chose to slow dance, become more focused on what was important to me and stop trying to be super woman. In a nutshell, I chose to become more choosy. As a result I stopped being a leaf in the wind, buffeted by other people and self-imposed commitments. I stopped living unconsciously. I started living fully awake and aware of what I was doing and why. I became more mindful.

Last Friday I took a mindfulness seminar at Furman. Our coach, Brenda Verdone (, is an energetic and engaging woman who takes mindfulness beyond meditation and into our everyday lives. The two-hour session was interactive as we explored how to use mindfulness in our daily activities to ward off stress, restore health and well-being, and create a balanced life style. While I am already practicing much of what Brenda taught us, I also learned a few things. We started out learning how to breath. That’s right – breath. How to inhale a breathe so the air reached all the way down to our diaphragm. With hands on our bellies, we then exhaled fully and slowly, counting the seconds, and paused, which is natural, before taking the next breathe. We do this involuntarily right? Perhaps when we are calm but what about when we are stressed? The old flight or fright goblin causes quick, shallow breaths taken in and let out of the lungs in such a hurry we don’t get enough oxygen to our other organs. Sometimes we may be so stressed we do this unconsciously, unaware that we are robbing our bodies of much needed oxygen. Quite some time ago my doctor told me that most of the people in hospitals are there because of stress, which causes inflammation to the body and leads to various diseases. We are so stressed out in our fast-paced world that we are killing ourselves!

Besides how to breath with awareness of our bodies, Brenda went on to talk about relationships, recreation, communication and even mindful eating, drinking water and posture. You may remember I took up mindful eating with the assistance of the My Fitness Pal APP in order to lose 18 pounds. It took me about 30 days to form my new eating habit, which made a huge change in my health, most notably avoiding diabetes. The APP helped me to eat mindfully, to be aware of what I put in my mouth as well as when, where and why I was eating. Being mindful in all aspects of your life can provide immeasurable benefits as we age. Brenda laid out six areas of life along with some questions to ask yourself about each area. I’m sharing this with you here. Exploring each area and answering the questions will help create a balanced, harmonious lifestyle. Honesty with yourself, of course, is necessary. Ditto for taking action.


Spiritual – Peace of Mind
Physical Health
Relationships with Family and Friends
Life Purpose
Financial Stability


Do I feel satisfied in this area of my life?
Is this area in balance with all others, or is it too much or not enough?
Is this an area I’m equipped to handle myself or do I need someone to guide me? (i.e. clergy, teacher, holistic wellness consultant, interpersonal relations counselor, financial advisor, trainer/instructor)
Where would I like to be in this area one year from now?
What do I need to get or do in order to move forward in this area?
When am I going to do it?

While this may strike some of you as more New Age nonsense, which has come and gone over the last several decades, it is one tool for getting your retirement life on track. Mindfulness is by no means a cure-all for everything which may ail you. But, it is my personal experience that balancing out all aspects of your life can create a feeling of harmony thus removing a good deal of stress. Being mindful of what you are doing, why you are doing it and where the benefit is to you, will help you crystallize your retirement purpose. This can lead you to a happier, more fulfilling retirement lifestyle. If you have not given mindfulness a try, now is the time. Let me know if it helps! Or, even if it doesn’t.


Why people assume certain attitudes always intrigues me. That, of course, is one of the reasons I chronicle the impact mindset has on aging and, in particular, aging well. Following that thought, about a year ago I read an article from the Pew Research Center on “Older Adults and Technology Use” ( While the article cites a lot of statistical information about how older adults (categorized as 65 and older) use technology, the brief paragraph about attitude stands out for me. According to the article, aside from physical challenges like reading small print, and learning to use the technology, some older adults don’t believe there is a benefit to using it. Well, of course, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know I’m not so sure that’s the entire story.

Doing a little informal research of my own, I began paying close attention when I heard an older adult say, “Oh, I hate technology!” I did my usual eavesdropping on complete strangers. And, sometimes I inserted myself in the conversation, asking a few questions to satisfy my mental inquiry on the subject. I was probably a real pain to some of those people, especially when I asked them if they liked their car or their washer or their TV. I got a lot of blank stares. You see, people don’t think of those things as technology or even new technology. Because they have had lots of gadgets in their lives for so many decades, they expect to continue using them and expect to continue learning how to use the new versions when the old ones wear out. But, when it comes to computers, smart phones, social networking, email, texting, downloading music or books, or…enter the sci-fi of yesterday…Skyping, there is resistance from a certain segment of older adults. Like most people, when there’s something I really don’t want to do, even when I know I should do it, I become exceedingly proficient at finding excuses not to do whatever it is. My imagination can conjure up the best of them. That is just human nature. We can create obstacles where there really aren’t any hurdles at all. Hurdles like small print, when using a tablet like the iPad with zoom out technology will instantly make the print larger. Hurdles like learning how to use the new technology when classes, most of them free of charge, are offered by the vendors and manufacturers of the new technology, not to mention senior centers and local colleges and technology clubs.



Then, there’s the catchall of ‘no benefit’ to using new technology. That’s the attitude, the mindset shunning the entire package of new gadgets, no further questions or comments necessary, thank you. That’s also the part, which does not compute with me. How can something, which has so transformed our very way of life on this entire planet, have no-o-o-o benefit for a segment of our aging population? And, if they have shunned it, never immersed themselves in its use, how can they determine it has no benefit? It reminds me of the authoritarian Dad who, when confronted with a child wanting to try something new, spouts, “No!” to the poor kid before the request fully leaves their lips. If the child dares to query, “Why?”, Dad then blurts out, “Cause I said so, that’s why!”. Based on my non-scientific research, it seems like those who think all this new tech stuff has no benefit, probably never gave it a proper chance. For example, when I hear grandparents say they have no use for Facebook or Skype or text messaging, I wonder if they realize they are depriving themselves of a closer relationship with their grandchildren, especially if said grandchildren are miles away. No grandchildren? Well, then, children, siblings, aging parents, cousins, nieces, nephews or old friends. Even if no other benefit existed for immersing myself in new technology, the benefit of being able to engage with my grandkids nearly 800 miles north is benefit enough for me to put forth the effort necessary to figure out the technology. My two daughters do a superb job of posting videos and pictures of their children so I don’t miss football, softball or volleyball games or track meets or birthday parties or holidays. And, I can share my daily happenings with them. We Skype or FaceTime for special occasions. Amazing! It sure beats just sending a card or gift or saying, “Happy birthday” over the phone. How can you not love that?!!! And, it’s great to text a grandchild with a sentiment or attaboy but it is even better to get an “I love you, too” in return.

Speaking of kids, young people today are no different, than we were at a young age. Why, when we were young, we embraced new ideas and things to do every single day of every single week. We learned to use the technology of the day with anticipation and excitement. We didn’t think twice about benefits. It was simply what our world was doing and we wanted to be part of our world. Remember learning to drive? Was it a stick shift or an automatic? Remember the first TV at your house? How about when more than a few TV stations joined the lineup and you got a remote with the TV? You were older then, but you figured it out. Yet, as we age, we decide to play ‘old dog can’t be taught new tricks’. Well, old dog, here’s why you absolutely must keep learning new technology. The biggest benefit to learning about and using new technology is it helps keep your mind younger, sharper, more supple so you’ll be around to see even more technological advances and learn to use them. Remember, a few posts back I said learning new things opens new neural pathways in the brain. New neural pathways are necessary for maintaining brain health. You cannot find a more significant benefit than maintaining your brain health. So, don’t go closing your mind to using new technology. Who knows? Maybe you’ll stay sharp enough to see your extended family extend even further into the future. And, that’s a real benefit.


Are you happy? There seems to be a lot of attention given to this question. There are blogs, books and podcasts on the subject. Writer Gretchen Rubin ( has made a multi-million dollar career out of how to get to your happy place. There are research projects on why some of us are happy and other people are not so happy. In keeping with the current pursuit of the question of happiness, the “Are you happy?” question was asked of us during the Dynamic Aging course I took recently. We were directed to the University of Pennsylvania’s website on Authentic Happiness ( to take some interesting, fun and mostly short tests to reveal our happiness quotient. The results also included where we rank with others who took the test and happen to live in our particular zip code.

I’ve never thought of myself as being happier than other people. But, my results revealed how I was happier than most, giving way to much thought on my part as to whether this was really true or not. One of the tests, which points to the reason for my specific level of happiness, is the test of optimism, where I rank exceptionally high when it comes to looking ahead to a positive outcome during a negative event. Since some of my most dismal life failures have been the catalyst for my most outstanding successes, hope springs eternal in my mind and spirit. Think Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone With The Wind… “After all, tomorrow is another day” or Little Orphan Annie belting out “tomorrow, tomorrow”. One of my favorite sayings is, “It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings” and for good reason. So, an apparent must-have for a happy life is optimism.

If you want to stay optimistic, try surrounding yourself with like minded people. Many years ago, I made the decision that just because someone knocks on my life’s door, it doesn’t mean I have to open it up and let them in. I steer clear of the toxic influences. And, periodically, I have to clean house. If I can’t completely eliminate the influence, then I at least make every effort to minimize time spent with that person. You know the type of person I’m talking about. The one who never smiles let alone laughs. Any sense of humor eludes them because they are too busy focusing on all the negatives in life, including events around the world, over which they have little or no control. While I want to be aware of what’s going on in the world, a steady diet of murder and mayhem can have an adverse effect on attitude and outlook. The spring of eternal hope may be put in jeopardy of drying up. On the other hand, reading an upbeat blog like self-described ‘happiness bully’ Gretchen Rubin’s may actually help you to arrive at your happy place.

All of us experience negative, sad or unpleasant moments in life such as the recent passing of my father-in-law. Losing a loved one can definitely be a depressing experience. However, if you are a generally happy person, going through an unpleasant or negative experience, doesn’t make you a generally unhappy person. It makes you a person who is feeling down about a particular event not your entire life. Although it was sad to see my father-in-law pass, I still have all the other wonderful people in my life, who make me smile and enjoy life. In this example, they provide comfort and solace as do certain activities like working in my garden or writing for this blog. During a tough moment in time, counting your blessings or keeping a gratitude journal can act as a reminder that your glass is really half full instead of half empty. Focusing on all the good things in your life is a great way to prevent yourself from becoming the old sourpuss described in the previous paragraph.

So, the three things I do to promote my happiness are:

Remain optimistic even during adversity;
Surround myself with positive people, information and activities; and
Count my blessings.

While you have to set up an account to access the testing on the University of Pennsylvania Authentic Happiness site and the results are retained for the University’s research, it is well worth it to obtain some insight about your happiness and a few other things like character strengths and optimism. I would love to hear from you, even if you don’t take the tests, about whether you think you are happy or not and/or what you think keeps you in your happy place. Let me know. Are you happy?


Ahhhhh…retirement. Free at last from the stress of the workplace. No more stressing over meeting deadlines, competing for promotions or absorbing yet another policy change. No more training sessions for a new job and you better get it right or the boss won’t be happy with you. No more demanding co-workers, supervisors or customers to face every work day. Life will, instead, be a perpetual weekend or better yet, a vacation.

During the last two years I’ve met several people who retired earlier than planned due to the stress of being in the workplace. Stress happens when people can’t take one more thing. As the pressures pile up, they feel a lack of control. Overwhelmed. Many, many years ago I read how the administrative assistant of the company CEO is under more stress than the CEO because the assistant has less control over their day. The CEO is the person at the helm, calling all the shots, and, therefore, feeling more in control. After all, the CEO gets to tell their assistant and everyone else in the company what to do, when to do it, how to do it. And, the employees aren’t necessarily told why they are doing it…just get the job done! Their perception is a lack of control while the CEO enjoys the perception of control. The idea of leaving all of that pressure behind as you enter retirement is, indeed, enticing. It’s also just another perception as the pressures of work are replaced by new pressures in retirement.

What would we have to stress over in retirement? Well, to the surprise of even those of us who believe we have enough money, the number one stressor is money. That constant feeling of insecurity lurking just below the surface of everything we do, as we check our portfolio, watch the ups and downs of the stock market and ponder our choice of financial advisor, is stress. A close second to money is our health. Some of us retired due to health issues, some of which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor has said most illnesses are the result of inflammation in the body brought on by stress. Or you may have retired in excellent health only to be diagnosed with an unexpected condition such as diabetes, heart disease or even cancer. Then, there are other people. Other people, it seems, is the number one stressor for the population overall and yes, other people are still a stressor in retirement. Heck, you may even find yourself stressed out by your spouse. After spending a lifetime apart during most days, to suddenly be together 24/7 may be overwhelming at first. But, remember, you are ‘other people’ to someone, which means you are someone else’s stressor. And, then, there’s the big question of, “What am I going to do that has meaning and purpose for the rest of my life?”

There is no such thing as a stress-free retirement just the same as there is no such thing as a stress-free workplace or a stress-free life. Toward the end of one Dynamic Aging class, our instructor brought in a stress coach, Donna Donnelly, to talk to us about stress as we aged. An enthusiastic and fun presenter, Donna not only provided lots of insight into the stress conundrum but infused the class with laughter. Laughter, it turns out, along with sex, is a major de-stressor as the extra oxygen produced goes to the brain. Extra oxygen is part of the relaxation response of deep breath from the abdomen, smile, relax. With the invention of the MRI, we now know these activities light up both sides of the brain. They increase T-cells, which boost our immune system, helping us to fight off disease as we age. Smiling cuts down on stress. The brain knows when you smile because the corners of your mouth turn up and your lips part a bit. Your brain likes that warm fuzzy feeling smiling evokes and releases neuropeptides, which fight stress. If you’re not used to smiling, guess what? According to Donna, if you aren’t a smiler by nature, stick a pencil in your mouth, cross wise, of course, and your brain will register that as a smile! Sound silly? If you imagine seeing people walking around with pencils in their mouths as they go about their day, it probably is, but, then again, just the thought of that image can put a smile on your face…sans pencil.

Besides smiling, here are a few other things you can do to reduce stress, many of which you probably know but now is the time to practice them, if you’re not already:

1. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, taking time at the end of each day to name the things you are grateful for in that day. It could be as simple as seeing a rose bloom in your garden or taking a walk around the block with a friend.

2. Accept change. If you are someone like myself, who needs the perception of control, use the Serenity Prayer to let go of the things in life you can’t control, which, by the way includes most things.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. Practice mindfulness. Staying in the moment, actively engaging with your environment of the moment and letting your thoughts and emotions arise and dissolve away, will help you let go of the past and keep you from worrying about the future.

4. Put together your support system. We all need other people, especially as we age. Family, very close friends and community groups all provide support. And, don’t forget pets. They also form part of our support system. My cats always know when something is off. They gather around and hang out to cheer me up.

5. Engage in stress relieving activities. Yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, a walk around the block or a hike through a nearby park can all relieve stress. Find your stress reliever and use it as your go to when you feel stressed out by life.

6. Get plenty of sleep. As we age, that seems to be a tough one for some of us. However, it is even more important than ever as it keeps our brains functioning at top capacity. So, aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Cat naps are ok, too.

Even though retirement will never be stress-free, it can be a less stress time of life if we focus on the positive and adopt the above practices. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one most adaptable to change.” Be a person who adapts. And, don’t forget to smile!


Tomorrow I begin a course, Dynamic Aging, at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Furman University. The program, developed by Dudley Tower, PH.D, is the first of its kind. Additionally, this is the first time it is being taught by Dr. Tower so those of us taking the class are brave souls indeed. And, after reading some of the literature on Tower’s website (, I’m thinking that’s exactly what he is looking for in his students…people willing to take a risk, a chance, a bold step into a different type of future than the one most retirees ultimately end up with. During the past nearly two years, I’ve written numerous posts about the need to move out of your comfort zone in order to achieve a rewarding retirement (see “Comfort Zone”, “Ch-Ch-Changes”, “Living Bolder”) so when I came across this course offering, I was both intrigued and delighted. Finally, after reading way too many articles suggesting actions like involving your children in your finances and medical conditions in your sixties (as you would soon slip into a declining cognitive state rendering you incapable of understanding those items), here was someone, not only thinking along the same lines I was, but, willing to teach me how to actualize it!

In April 2013, I wrote, “bold living begins right after leaving the comfort zone”. Yet, most people enter retirement with the idea of continuing with their same hobbies maybe adding some travel or, for those wanting extended travel, an RV. Several much, much older people advised me to do everything I really ever wanted to do right after retiring because as I aged, it would be “too late” as I would decline physically and mentally to the point of not being capable of doing anything requiring any effort. Sounds like they read some of the same articles I read. The only difference is they believed what was being peddled in those articles. Scary as it is, that dreary bit of advice and those articles, in a nutshell, is our society’s current view of retirement. We will maintain as well as possible but inevitably slowly decline to a point where we can no longer function independently needing our children’s intervention or an assisted living community or (shud-d-d-der) a nursing home. I believe this view results in a self-fulfilling prophecy as our minds create a reality we believe to be true. Prior to retiring, I heard of one couple, retiring at 60, who bought a home in a “senior” community and, even though neither golfed, anted up for a golf cart to drive from one home to the other as well as the clubhouse where the residents could play cards, pool or party. Just shoot me, now!

The view of a leisurely retirement where we slowly decline into oblivion is nothing more than mindset. For example, when we retired, an item on Martin’s bucket list was to participate in the state time trials for bicycling (see my post “Second Fastest Old Man in the State”). Never having the time to put in the practice miles while working, retirement meant he finally had the time to invest. As he started biking 100 miles or more a week with thousands of feet of climbing, we began hearing comments like, “Don’t over-do it. You’re getting old. Your body can’t take that kind of a workout anymore.” Well, his body did take it. He received a silver medal for his efforts. And, he’s still cranking out 80 to a 100 miles a week with his times getting better and better. Last spring, during a routine physical, Martin’s much younger doctor told him he was intimidated by Martin’s fitness. While I’m not in as great a shape as my husband, I still hit our jungle of a woods on a regular basis chainsaw in hand and have had my share of naysayers telling me I should “slow down” or how that’s dangerous work for a woman my age. Ha! That’s dangerous work for anyone at any age but I find it exhilarating and will continue my bush whacking.

According to Tower, “dynamic aging is a unique, systemic, more fully engaged, and proactive approach to one’s own aging process.” There’s a lot to this idea but I believe the one component necessary to a fully engaged, proactive approach is an open mind. Our mindset will determine the unique outcome for each and every one of us as we age. Instead of withdrawing from a rapidly changing world and buying into the notion of decline, turning your mind in such a way as to stay engaged and even welcoming what may come, will provide ongoing mental and physical stimulation. During the last several years, I’ve met many, many people who have not engaged in the technological revolution. Yes, we live in a world where there is an inherent risk in being online or using a debit card at the store. But, there has always been a risk of being robbed on the street. And, frankly, I’d rather have my debit card compromised at a store than have a mugger take my purse at gunpoint. Yet, I’ve met many who will not bank online or use a debit card at a store, carrying cash instead from place to place to pay bills and make purchases. They refuse to make purchases online or engage in social media for fear of someone stealing their identity apparently unaware most identity theft today occurs at the mailbox or trash can at their door step. I believe it is this very mindset, which prevents most people from leaving the comfort zone of our society’s current view of aging and staying fully engaged in life.

The world will continue to change at light speed due to the very technology some choose to avoid. Wishing for the good old days and following the already forged path into a slow decline is a dismal way to spend a couple of decades or more. We are at an age where fear of failure, fear of what others will think of us, fear of making a mistake, fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of any kind should not even be on our radar. During the next year, as I take the Dynamic Aging Program at OLLI Furman, I plan on posting my thoughts on the program so that, you, my readers, may benefit from what I’m learning. My hope is we will both learn some things, which will make our retirement a more meaningful, more exciting, more rewarding time in our lives than we could have imagined.


Some of you sent messages telling me how retiring is harder than expected. I’ve recommended reading my posts on Stages of Retirement, which some of you had already read. I also positioned those posts on my site’s Header to make them easier to find and have heard from some of you how the posts were helpful. In the last eighteen months I’ve obviously spent a lot of time thinking about how difficult the transition is emotionally and psychologically for most of us. I’ve read a lot of articles and posts on other sites, which is how I came across Robert Atchley’s study on the stages, and have developed further thoughts about the transition. Having reached the fifth stage of a rewarding Retirement Routine, I also have the advantage of hindsight. So, today I’m going to share those thoughts in this post.

From the messages, and judging from my own experience, Stage 3 Disillusionment is the stage which presents the biggest issue. While Atchley calls it Disillusionment, I think a more appropriate description is the ‘Grief Stage’. I say this because we enter Stage 3 actually missing work, grieving for what we had, our purpose, our identity. Most of your messages mention feeling alone. I believe part of the aloneness comes from our society’s penchant for saying, “Buck up, get over it and move on.” Most of the articles I read on grief refer to the loss of a spouse or significant other. And, every author points to people telling them exactly what I just said. Get over it. It’s in the past. Move on. Most people who give this advice are probably thinking they are being helpful. But, for the person going through the grief process, it can feel belittling of their situation.

When I first retired, I talked to an already retired acquaintance about the trouble I was having transitioning. Thinking I would find a kind ear and perhaps some insight, much to my surprise, she wanted nothing to do with my questions, insisting she had no idea what on earth I was talking about. And, according to Atchley, she may not have had any adjustment issues. However, recognizing and supporting others who do experience problems is a needed change in our societal attitude. Until then, it’s important to give ourselves permission to grieve the loss of our work purpose and identity.

Grief, whether it is because of a death, a divorce, an empty nest or retirement or some other life event, plays a very important role in our very ability to re-purpose our lives. Each of us also has a different grief meter. As Atchley pointed out in his study, disillusionment may only last a few days for some; a few years for others. Or, like my acquaintance asserted, it may not occur at all. By grieving we also honor that part of our life. As I pointed out in my post ‘Glory Days’, we don’t want to live in the past, but reminiscing, enjoying memories and highlights of our successes is a way of honoring who we are. We would not be where we are today without our past. Ignoring or diminishing what we accomplished diminishes who we are today.

Atchley referred to Stage 4 as Reorientation. I like to call it Re-Purposing as we seek a new purpose in life to create a rewarding retirement. Stage 3 and 4 overlapped for me so I think it’s important to recognize the lines are blurred. We don’t live in a world where life situations are either black or white; most of the time, there is a lot of grey area. So, you may find new purpose while still grieving your old way of life. That’s O.K. While we may all be on the same journey, we will most often take different paths. Whatever your path, know that it is normal, the journey takes time and you are not alone.

Glory Days

What is it about the past that it takes on a rosy glow for many people as they age? Was our past really so much better than our present? In my sixth decade I notice more and more people of my generation and older looking back longingly at the good old days. As I listen to those wistfully reliving their youth, it was a simpler time where everyone respected everyone else, crime was nearly non-existent, jobs plentiful in a soaring economy and the good times just went on and on. Their remembrance of their past is often contrasted to a perceived gloomy future riding on the heels of a problem ridden today.

Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful. Today, I tend to agree with her but in a things are better today than they were in my youth sort of way. But, if people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation, is this a phenomenon which occurs with each generation as we age or is each decade really better than the previous or each 100 years really better than the previous 100? I doubt 1914 was better than 2014. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and its excellence. So, why do we look back in fondness and yearning for the good old days?

As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids aren’t a family. See, I can be cynical. I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3 and managed to escape relatively unscathed. I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life. I remember an economy which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades. So, why are some boomers putting on the rose-tinted glasses as they view this particular past?

I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate to with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties. I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we rode this huge euphoric wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames. However, my filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual.

As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. No more euphoric waves to ride. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be a bit jaded, cynical, worried about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or, we can choose to seek fresh, new horizons. It is up to us to fire the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today. While it is fun to reminisce and it is essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is, the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.