For most of your life, making friends and building a network may have been relatively easy for you. As children and adolescents, we are surrounded by people our own age, and kindred spirits can be found in homerooms, on sports teams, or at local hangouts in your neighborhood. If you went to college, making friends was as easy as attending social events or joining a fraternity, sorority, or on-campus club.
While you were a part of the work force, you may have struck up friendships with your colleagues or business contacts. Joining your co-workers for a happy hour drink, taking part in team building trips and excursions, and attending professional conferences were all excellent ways to meet people who shared your interests (and your schedule!)
Now that you’re retired, you have more time than ever to nurture an active social life, but you may also have less access to these opportunities to make friends organically. It’s likely that, once you settle into your new schedule, you will begin to miss the daily interaction and camaraderie you enjoyed while you were working. If you are feeling isolated in this new stage of life, you’re not alone. Feelings of loneliness are incredibly common among older people, especially those who live alone or do not have children. You don’t want to ignore these feelings; loneliness doesn’t just impact your emotional health, but it can also have adverse effects on your physical and mental health as well. In a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, respondents who reported feelings of isolation were 59% more likely to experience physical or mental decline than those who had active social lives.
If you find yourself feeling alienated or lonely, or if you’re just craving a regular source of social interaction, there are plenty of resources available to nurture a healthy social life in retirement.
Here are just a few of our favorite ideas!
Take up a new hobby (or pick an old one back up!)
If a hectic work schedule or particularly demanding career prevented you from fully pursuing your passions in the past, now is the perfect time to recommit to them. Dig your art supplies out of storage and sign up for an art class at the local community college. Dust off your soccer cleats, and join a Saturday morning senior’s soccer group. If you want to try your hand at something totally new, check your local newspaper or a community bulletin board for ideas. Online forums, like Craigslist, Meetup, and NextDoor can help you find new and exciting opportunities to take advantage of in your city. You might discover that you’re a naturally-gifted spoken word poet, or that you enjoy taking part in intricately-choreographed (yet seemingly-spontaneous) flash mob. Whatever you decide to take on, you’re sure to meet some new and interesting people.
Take a fitness class
Signing up for a fitness class or walking group in your area is another great way to kill two birds with one stone. While you’re doing yoga in the park, cycling your heart out, or shaking your groove thing at a weekly Zumba class, you’ll be doing yourself a healthy favor while opening yourself up to make some new fitness-focused friends. Win-win!
If you know exactly what kind of class you want to take, look into the schedule of classes offered by gyms in your area or your local YMCA. If you’d prefer to mix it up and take on a new fitness challenge each week, a membership with ClassPass will give you access to a variety of studios and classes available in your area. If you are covered by a Medicare Advantage plan, you may even have access to Silver Sneakers, a free fitness program that provides seniors to access to a multitude of gyms and classes. Contact your insurance carrier to find out if Silver Sneakers is included in your plan.
Join a club in your community
Social media has made it easier than ever for people with special hobbies and niche interests to get together. Whether you want to discuss literature with a local book club, join a group of board game enthusiasts, or join a competitive trivia team, you’ll probably be able to find a group that piques your interest with just a little bit of digging. Meetup.com is a great resource for browsing the groups that meet regularly in your area, and if you don’t find something that speaks to your passions, you can always start your own group and begin planning events through the site. If you think your community needs an extreme knitting group or a 55+ roller derby team, why not be the one to make it happen?
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Take a trip with a senior travel group
If you were already planning on making travel a priority in retirement, you might consider joining a senior travel group. Visiting a new place can be twice as exciting if you have interesting travel companions to share the experience with, and if you hit it off with the other members of your group, they might become lifelong friends and travel companions. Many of these groups will offer guided tours, set single travelers up with a roommate, and create well-researched itineraries to help you make the most of the time you have at each of your destinations, so it is definitely an option worth considering.
If you’re dedicated to lifelong learning, Road Scholar, formerly known as ElderHostel, provides educational travel tours to a variety of domestic and international destinations. For those who are more athletically inclined, or are looking for a more rigorous adventure, Elder Treks, Row Adventures, and Walking the World offer tours that allow you to explore the great outdoors with other 55+ travelers.
Become a mentor
If you’re open to meeting new people outside of your own age group, you might consider becoming a mentor, especially if you miss putting your hard-earned professional skills to use. Helping a younger person navigate a career trajectory that you’re already familiar with can be a mutually beneficial experience that keeps your mind sharp and helps a budding professional gain valuable insight and self-confidence. Dedicating a couple hours to meeting for coffee or lunch each week would be a relatively low commitment of your time that could make a huge difference in your mentee’s life. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, mine your existing professional or alumni networks to find recent college graduates or newcomers to your previous field or industry. If you have any trouble finding a mentee through your own connections, posting about your willingness to serve as a mentor on LinkedIn can help you reach young professionals outside of your immediate network.
Get a part-time job
Taking on a part-time job in retirement can be beneficial in a variety of different ways. On top of the extra income you’ll pull in, you’ll also keep your mind sharp, your body moving, and your social skills active. You might find new friends in your co-workers, your managers, or even your regular customers. Check out the following article for some ideas for part-time work you could pursue.
Take advantage of community-sponsored events
Depending on where you live, you may have access to a wealth of free social opportunities hosted by your community center or Parks & Recreation department. Consider attending a free concert in the park, running in your town’s annual Thanksgiving 5k, or auditioning for a play put on by your community’s theater group. As you attend more events, you’ll probably start to recognize some familiar faces. If you’re willing to introduce yourself and start conversations, you’ll be able to turn those acquaintances into new friends in no time. Check out the article below for some more ideas for getting involved in your community.
Become a volunteer
Donating your time and energy to a great cause that you believe in doesn’t just feel good; it’s also an excellent way to meet people who share your passion for philanthropy. Whether you have a favorite cause that you dedicate your efforts to regularly, or you like to use your volunteer efforts as a vehicle to try new things, there is no shortage of communities who could use your help and would love to add you to their arsenal of do-gooders.