Retirement Happiness — Don’t let others get under your skin

Is it easy for others to get under your skin?  Do you react when someone makes comments that conflict with your beliefs?  Do you respond?  Do you ignore the comments?

What about infringement on your personal space in a crowd?  Do you move aside?

What about the traffic challenges when someone forces their car into your lane taking up the space your allowed for safe stopping? Or lineups at self-serve gas stations when the price of gas drops and cars juggle for a spot near to the pumps?

Some days it’s hard not to react to other people’s behaviour.

Cashier -- photo courtesy of Kazuyuki Yamamota

Cashier — photo courtesy of Kazuyuki Yamamota

While standing in a checkout line in a hardware store at noon today,  I was shocked when a woman pushed past me to grab a spot directly in front of where I stood in the lineup. I said nothing but felt myself fuming inwardly.

I then watched her move to get in front of another woman who reacted with a string of expletives. A loud argument ensued as other customers got involved.

I looked for another lineup but there was only one open cash register.

I put down the things I was about to purchase and left the store.

This interaction stayed with me through the day. I felt violated. I felt unsettled.

I wondered why someone else’s behaviour could unnerve me.  When the woman pushed past me in the line up, I was affronted by her behaviour and shocked by her bad manners. When the arguing began, I was disgusted by the hostility between the women as well as the gutter language. Their anger had a contagious effect on everyone in the store.

The event made me think about strategies for dealing with other people’s negative behaviours. How could I have kept this from getting under my skin?

Remember that you are in charge of you.  You can control your thoughts, feelings and reactions.

I was proud that I did not get outraged when the woman pushed past me.  Although her negative behaviour affected me and left me unsettled, I controlled my response instead of getting involved.

Own your power.  When you react emotionally, the other person wins. You feel miserable. There will always be someone jumping a queue while waiting for a cashier, cutting you off in traffic, or making a nasty comment.

If you react, you give away your power. You lose track of your higher self. You also reduce yourself to their level.

Keep your happiness instead of allowing others to change you for the worse. Negativity affects your emotions and drains your energy.

There was nothing that I could do to change the event involving the cashier’s line up.

By leaving the store, I kept myself from getting involved or watching the escalation of inappropriate behaviour as the women yelled at each other. The argument wasn’t about me; it was about them.

Choose a positive approach even when faced with someone who is disrespectful, angry or aggressive. It’s easy to get riled up and react emotionally to bad behaviour.

Rather than get involved in the argument, I avoided escalation by walking away.


Another strategy to keep control is to take a few breaths before responding with words that could cause regret. I did not use breath control to keep my cool but avoided the situation by walking away.

Look for the humour in the situation.  As I write this post, I think back to how silly these women looked arguing over a spot in a cashier’s line-up. How they behaved is their business but how they looked to others is material for reality television.

Although I was mostly successful in not letting this retail incident get under my skin, it did affect me. The behaviour was offensive.

Initially I felt like a victim as I had lost my spot in the line-up.  I was repulsed by the subsequent arguing and the language of both women.

I was also disappointed as I had come home without my purchases. Everyone lost something today — business, respect, time, energy.



Retirement Happiness — Show up for your family

Do you show up when your family needs you? Do you help them when they ask for your help? Do you spend time together enjoying each others’ company?

One of my friends has looked after her sick husband for several weeks.  She leaves the house only to drive him to medical appointments and to do essential errands. She hasn’t been at the gym; she hasn’t been at church; she hasn’t had time for her usual hobbies. When I stopped by to visit her, she told me that looking after her husband is not a burden.  In her words, “I bought this ticket long ago, and now I’m glad to honour it.  He needs me.”

Her comment made me stop to consider how each of us shows up for family.

Positive relationships with family members are a source of retirement happiness. Good family relationships give you strength.

Good relationships also carry us through times when we must set aside our own needs and attend to others. It takes strength to show up when you must give to others over a long period of time and when your support fills their needs and not your needs.

The Whole is Greater than Each Part

The phrase, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is credited to Aristotle.

Anyone who has worked with a well-functioning team or played sports with like-minded performers knows that each person’s contribution to the team effort is important. In families, each person’s contribution matters.

Families that pull together achieve more than individuals can accomplish alone.  It’s about working together to get results.  Like a well-functioning team, everyone feels valued, appreciated, encouraged and rewarded.  Everyone gets support when it’s needed.

Our immediate family is small.  We live only 30 minutes away from our son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter so we can see each other regularly. Staying in contact means that we can look out for each other and care for each other when needs arise. During the past couple of weeks, looking after each other has meant sharing our washing machine while their recently purchased washer gets regular visits from a repairman.

As I look back on my career days, I realize that I was away at work too often when my family needed me. I missed family events because of work commitments or travel.

Thankfully, my husband had more control over his office hours.  He picked up most of the driving duties when our son was young.  He made dinners. He attended piano lessons and supervised practise time. During the adolescent years, he was the soccer dad.

Since retirement, I’ve changed. I’ve realized that spending time together is a way to strengthen family bonds. I try to set aside time for family.

As in most families, tensions arise from time to time, but a greater energy binds us. Love connects us. Each person contributes to the family unity.  We share feelings of belonging.  We understand each other uniquely. 

Our extended family is larger but disbursed throughout Canada and in other countries. Distance limits contact. We don’t spend enough time together to have the strong bonds that many families enjoy.

Holidays don’t involve crowds of cousins, aunts and uncles. We attempt to continue family traditions but these mainly involve weddings, special birthdays, and, unfortunately, funerals.

Families Strengthen Each Other

Families strengthen each other and provide security through shared activities, shared responsibilities, traditions and celebrations.  There is no substitute for time spent together.

Quality time is great but it doesn’t replace quantity time. Simply being together doing little or nothing, provides opportunity to give undivided attention to a child or to an elderly parent. Rituals such as shared family dinners provide a time and place for sharing the events of the day and reconnecting.

When children grow up within the family circle, they feel valued and loved.  The crucible of a family nurtures a child and builds confidence.

This is reinforced for me as I’ve watched our grand-daughter’s development.  Her attachment to her parents gives her confidence in taking risks and trying new things. I saw this last month as her mother coaxed and encouraged her into taking her first steps — then rewarded her with hugs and lots of praise.

Strong families communicate.  They articulate needs and thank each other when needs are met.

Show up in Rough Times

In Western culture, asking for help, even from another family member, is difficult. We strive for independence and self-sufficiency.  It wasn’t until a mountain of laundry had built up that we learned of the washing machine troubles at our son’s home.

Family connections can offer help in rough times — times when more than a broken washer is at stake — supporting each other through life’s inevitable changes.

All of us face stresses every day. Our busy lives mean that we don’t have time to reach out to a family member who might need help.

Small personal sacrifices, such as giving extra time to a child struggling with school work, or helping a parent with a computer issue, or making the effort to call someone who is ill, give clear messages of encouragement and support. It may mean helping to care for a partner or spouse, giving a prospective job contact for someone who is unemployed, helping a young parent by child-minding to a needed break, or a providing a listening ear when someone is grieving.

When a family member is going through a rough time, a few simple caring words will let them know that you understand. Sometimes concrete help – even financial assistance – is required.

Be there for them when they need you rather than when you need them.

Need trumps convenience.

The rewards of showing up for your family will reward you in countless ways!





Surviving a Long Winter

The Canadian winter has been exceptionally long this year — longer and colder than usual.

Winter began in our part of Ontario on November 23, 2013 with an early snow storm. Our family gathered at the cottage that weekend for the fall clean-up after the leaves fell from the oak trees.  Despite attempting to rake wet leaves during heavy snow, by mid-afternoon, we abandoned the job and the leaves remain buried under several feet of snow. We hunkered down in front of the fireplace while the wind howled outside. On Sunday morning we awoke to a winter wonderland.

Shovelling the cottage driveway

My husband — shovelling the cottage driveway

Nobody expected the November snow to stay.  Usually Ontario gets a couple of snow falls in the late fall before the ground freezes and winter sets in.  Not this year! Instead of a melt and a gradual winter début, snow kept falling and storms kept coming.

Back in the city, we replaced our old snowblower — just in time for the next big storm that happened in early December.

Then came the ice storm on December 22 that paralyzed Toronto and area.  The storm took down several limbs of a big Silver Maple that provides beautiful summer shade off our back patio.  The driveway and walkway were skating rinks.  Along with the ice came frigid temperatures that meant the ice did not melt away. All stores, including the big box outlets, quickly sold out of ice-melting salt as below zero weather kept the ice from melting naturally.

Our back garden in shambles after the ice storm

Our back garden in shambles after the ice storm

Since January, southern Ontario has enjoyed only two or three days when the temperature rose above freezing.  Last week another storm left drifts 12 to 15 inches deep on the driveway — enough for my car to get stuck as I tried to get it into the garage. No weather for sissies!

Despite all the snow, the cold temperatures and the unrelenting winds, I’ve loved this winter.  Yes, I’ve shovelled snow, had my fingers turn blue with cold, and experienced more than a few snow showers from operating the snow blower.  Non of these have put me into a winter rage or created a sense of overwhelming seasonal depression.

My hip replacement prevents me from risking winter sports like skiing or skating but I’ve found many diversions. As I write this blog, the temperature is -8 Celsius, the sky is a brilliant blue, and there is fresh white snow everywhere.  Beautiful!

Here are some of the diversions that helped me get through the winter of 2013/2014.

1.  I went outdoors everyday — sometimes to clear snow; sometimes to take pictures; sometimes to walk; sometimes just to get from my car to the gym for a yoga class or a swim!

2.  I celebrated every holiday and a couple of birthdays.  Celebrations included entertaining for Christmas; going to the cottage for New Year’s Eve, a special dinner on St. Valentine’s Day; a swim fest and lunch with our grand-daughter on Family Day; and several lunches at favourite  restaurants.

3.  I played lots of bridge — sometimes as often as three times a week!  I also attended bridge lessons to improve my game.

4.  I devoted myself to knitting projects including finishing my first pair of knitted socks and starting the second pair, knitting a Christmas sweater and hat for our grand-daughter, and knitting a toque for my husband.

5. I stayed glued to the television during the Winter Olympics enjoying the feats of Canadian athletes — especially the female athletes.  The Canadian team performance in women’s hockey final was a nail-biter!

6. I’ve read several interesting novels for my two book clubs. I’m now working my way through the five finalist books of CBC’s Canada Reads 2014.

7. I experimented with new recipes in my slow cooker and cooked  sustaining soups and stews which were perfect nourishment on the coldest days.  I baked bread regularly and kept a stash of home-baked bread in the freezer.

8.  I indulged in the luxury of chocolate, various types of tea, red wine, and single malt — all in front of the fireplace!

9. I slept under the warmth of an electric blanket and a warm duvet.

10. I wore more clothing to stay warm. I enjoyed wearing woollen sweaters that had languished in drawers during previous winters. I bought sturdy boots that serve as snow tires for my feet. Of course, I also enjoyed wearing my hand-knitted woollen socks!

During this late winter season, there are signs of a slow transition to spring:  the intensity of light has changed; days are longer, and the sun feels warmer. These are indications that spring will show up eventually.  Meanwhile, I’ll survive this long winter with my books, my knitting needles and lots of time for reflections about the many blessings in my life.


Welcoming my husband home

Later this week it will be time to welcome my husband home.

He’s been on his annual junket to Trinidad to visit family and friends during Carnival — something he’s been doing for many years.

No matter how often this happens nor whether the trip lasts three, four or five weeks, welcoming him back always means happy anticipation, some preparation, and lots of excitement.

I’m trying to stay as calm as possible as I wait for the next day to pass. There’s a smile on my face that won’t go away. Even as I write this post, I can feel my enthusiasm for his return building. From our phone conversations, I know this feeling is reciprocal. We are both ready to share our lives together again.

While I’ve not been lonely during his absence, there have been times when I’ve been acutely aware of being alone.

I’ve enjoyed my solitude but now I’m tired of my own thoughts and ready to have some soul nourishment from someone I love.  There’s something about his company that makes me feel complete.

Living as one person is different from living with someone who is my life partner and also my friend. It’s time to have my batteries re-charged.

Stats from postworksavvy readers indicate a continued interest in reunions after a parter/spouse is away from home — whether for pleasure or business. Because a reunion may happen after just a few days, weeks, or, in the case of military deployments, months, some thought and preparation is usual.

What to expect?

Part of the excitement comes from anticipating how each person will react to the reunion. I look forward to a bear hug at the airport, to seeing the happiness in his eyes when he spots me in the arrivals corridor and to the overall joy of being together again.

There’s always lots of ‘catching up’ conversation as we get re-acquainted — often with both of us talking at the same time.  I have to remind myself to breathe and to remember not to talk about the tax bill or household problems or issues with the cottage renovations.

Talking with each other helps when thinking through problems as we build on each others’ ideas but the time for those conversations will come later. Instead, I’ll focus on hearing about his new experiences while I tell him about some of the interesting things I’ve done.

As well as seeing me, I know that looking at the latest pictures of our grand-daughter will delight him — as well as hearing that she took her first steps this week!

Couple reunions also involve intimacy and each reader needs to consider what is most appreciated. All couples have customs, rituals and traditions for showing love and affection that should stay within the boundary and privacy of the relationship — not in a blog post!

What preparations will I do?

I’ve started tidying and cleaning the house. Without the help I enjoyed while working, this means vacuuming, dusting furniture, cleaning bathrooms and generally straightening up the messiness that I’ve chosen to live with while alone. It also means doing some of the ugly jobs that he usually does — like changing the cat litter boxes and getting all the recycling and garbage containers to the curb!

I’ve already filled his car with gas and taken it through the car wash.  I’ve paid the bills that arrived during his vacation so he won’t have to look after banking business as soon as he returns. I’ve also organized invoice copies but I’ll leave the filing on his desk as I don’t want to mess up his systems.

Grocery shopping is part of my preparation as my husband is diabetic and needs to eat regularly. He eats lots of vegetables and fruits so I’ll have a variety of fresh produce in the fridge.  I will likely put a meal into the slow cooker so that there is fresh food and a glass of wine ready when we get home from the airport.

Why the excitement?

Just the prospect of seeing him  and sharing all the little things that make life together sweet is exciting. I’ll certainly appreciate eating meals with him as eating alone is difficult for me.

Having a life partner is a blessing not to take for granted.  After 47 years together, we’ve stood by each other through the good, the bad, the spectacular and the mundane.

Each person in a marriage has strengths. However, each person in a good marriage is stronger because of the attention, companionship, love, laughter and play that gets shared as a couple. Spending a long chunk of time alone is a great reminder to savour every day together and not wasting time on petty issues.

If you liked this post, you might also want to read the post I wrote a year ago on the same topic 

Do women ‘age’ more easily than men?

Do women ‘age’ more easily than men?

Anna Quindlen, speaking in a recent CBC interview, observed that women have an easier way of aging than men.  She attributed this to women’s capacity to re-invent themselves.  Typically, they are girls, then young women, then wives and then mothers. In each of these roles they learn how to present themselves to the world and how to engage  based on cultural expectations.

In the past few decades women have achieved success in almost every profession.  They have ventured into space, have led governments, and have made their mark in business. For the most part, their career accomplishments occurred while they continued to keep the home fires  burning.  These diverse expectations demanded concurrent balancing of multiple roles.

Women accepting aging -- this woman writes contentedly.  Photo courtesy of Konstantin Sutyagin

Women accepting aging — this woman writes contentedly. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Sutyagin

Since it’s commonly recognized that women live longer than men, managing the process of aging is important. The factors that might lead to an easier aging process for women include the following:

Women’s choices throughout life affect aging.  Education, general health, labour force participation, marital status and having children will affect a woman’s socioeconomic status and financial independence, both of which affect how well and how easily a woman will age.

Women know how to adjust as their lives evolve. The adjustments that come with aging happen naturally.  Constant re-creation of their lives is a norm for women as they make the courageous decisions involved with various life stages.

Contrary to popular belief, women know the basics of managing finances.   They know how to manage a household budget even if the terminology of the financial world is unfamiliar. This is an important skill especially if retirement income is less than expected to keep up a desired lifestyle.

After a certain age, conspicuous consumption becomes unimportant.  Social status as determined by income or accumulated wealth means less as successful aging depends more on health than wealth. Older women find ways to live well on less money.

Women have learned how to develop and maintain relationships.    Older people — both men and women — experience many losses. Spouses/partners die, children move long distances away, and friendships change — especially after retirement.

Because women have more meaningful and more extensive social relationships, they fall  less often into deep wells of loneliness. They use well-developed social skills to make new connections when relationships are fractured through loss. Their social networks help insulate them from loneliness, isolation or lack of companionship.

Women have learned to accept changes in their bodies.  Female body experiences involve menstruation, pregnancy, child-birth and menopause.  Such experiences may account for the societal differences in health seeking behaviour of men and women.

Since women are more sensitive and attentive to their bodies and their health throughout life, the body changes that are part of the natural process of aging are less threatening and more easily accepted.

As I write this post I am acutely aware that these conclusions reflect the thoughts of a middle class woman living in a safe society.

I am also aware that male roles have changed during the past few decades.  Younger men take more responsibility in the home and are more involved with child-rearing.  Expressing emotion and valuing family time is more common in younger men.  Hopefully these changes will help them as they move through their lives.

Regardless of gender, aging is difficult — emotionally, mentally, and physically.  While comparisons are easy, they aren’t always correct. Please don’t read this post as the beginning of a battle of the sexes. Because aging is a life long process, protecting health and practising healthy living pays off regardless of gender.


Husband Away — Time for solitude

My husband’s away and it’s time for solitude.

Postworksavvy readers know that my husband does an annual junket to Trinidad and Tobago to celebrate Carnival and to visit family and friends.

I’ve been there, done that.

In over 45 years of marriage, I’ve visited his country many times and don’t feel a need to keep returning. For him, it’s different.  It’s an annual reunion and home-coming.  He enjoys going alone because he’s not worrying about whether I’m having a good time.

I choose to stay home as I love having a few weeks of solitude. Separate vacations work for us as each person gets to indulge in solo activities.  Personal needs are met without compromise.

There is something special about spending time alone.

Solitude -- photo courtesy of jhoc

Solitude — photo courtesy of jhoc

I have time to explore individual interests.  For example, I love going to galleries.  My husband ‘tolerates’ such visits if I invite him but he prefers to hear of them secondhand.  While he’s away this year I’m planning a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see some of the Masterpieces from the Guggenheim collection.  I’m also planning to check out some of the smaller local galleries to indulge my visual senses in beauty that transcends this late winter time of year.

There’s lots of time to do what I love.  I can play the piano for hours without disturbing anyone.  I can spend most of a day reading in bed without any guilt pangs. I can go through a week at my own pace — accomplishing many things or just slacking off. I’m not big on watching TV but some Netflicks offerings on the new flatscreen that’s hooked up to the stereo system have tempted me.

The time alone also allows me to put my brain on cruise control.  The effect is similar to a silent retreat or an extended period of meditation. I have time to unwind, time to think and time to relax.

Solitude stretched over several days gives a change of perspective. Spending time as a couple means that every choice and every decision is influenced, to some extent, by one another. Time alone reinforces my autonomy and allows me to think differently.

I’m enjoy the independence of living alone after spending most of my adult lifetime in a ‘couple’ relationship. Testing my self-reliance skills builds confidence and resiliency. Being alone frightens many people who worry that the problems of daily living may overwhelm them. I don’t want to fall into that category.  I know that I could cope on my own if I had to do so — especially after learning how to operate the snowblower!

Time spent outside of a ‘couple’ relationship also provides an ‘appreciation’ wake-up call . There is truth to the old saying  ”absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  We miss each other when we’re away from each other. When we are together again our relationship is refreshed and it feels new again.

Although we have a happy marriage, spending personal time is a break for each of us. Each of us has new experiences that rejuvenate.

I’ll end my post with a quote from Kahlil Gibran that speaks about togetherness as well as the benefits of separation and time alone.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” 

― Kahlil GibranThe Prophet

Retirement Happiness — 7 Ways to Stay Hopeful

Perhaps there is no life quality that is more important than hope.

Since Nelson Mandela’s death the media has focused on the life of this extraordinary leader. Hope was integral for the vision given to his people.  Hope played an important role in the South African journey to achieve democracy — hope for a better life without apartheid.

Martin Luther King Jr, another inspirational leader, said this about hope “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving.  You lost that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream…..”

Hope also plays an important role in achieving retirement happiness. It provides the foundation to realize our deepest aspirations.  It carries us through times when life brings disappointment and loss.

Hope -- photocourtesy of polsifter

Hope — photo courtesy of pol sifter

It’s Easy to Lose Hope

As we grow older it’s sometimes difficult to stay hopeful.

We may feel that our life contribution happened during our work/career years.

We may feel that we’ve fulfilled the role as parent once children become adults and need us less.

We may feel that we’ve achieved all major life goals.

We may feel ignored and useless.

If sickness or disability or chronic pain strikes, hope becomes more illusive.

The profound loss faced by many who experience the death of a loved one  brings overwhelming sadness and heartbreak. Sometimes giving up and not facing the hurt and pain seems the easier course to take. Hope that life will ever again bring happiness feels impossible.

There are many circumstances in life when failure, grief, disappointment and hurt cause us to lose hope.

During such times it’s easy to make negative interpretations that lead to feelings of helplessness and despair.

How to stay hopeful

Everyone faces difficult times — times when all meaning and purpose in life feels elusive.

We encounter situations that have the potential to make us feel good or bad.  How we interpret and describe these situations to ourselves affects our feelings of hopefulness.

Postworksavvy readers may wish to reflect on these tips to keep hope alive and, thus, increase retirement happiness.

  1. Reflect on strengths and accomplishments. Writing a list of life accomplishments in a journal is a way to remind yourself of past achievements. This tactic will also serve as a reminder of actions you’ve taken in the past when faced with difficult times.
  2. Remain optimistic. Focus on the future you want even if it is weeks or months away.  Through positive thinking and pinpointing positive outcomes you can reduce stress levels.  Positive thinking will bring new ideas for ways to problem solve current difficulties.
  3. Be generous to yourself.  When you nurture your body by eating well, sleeping enough and exercising regularly — you take care of yourself.  Taking the extra steps to nurture your heart through spiritual practises or meditation often leads new perspectives about your life’s purpose.
  4. Forgive yourself and forgive others.  By setting aside past differences, those stubborn feelings and animosities that dampen relationships can be resolved.  This clears the way for positive affirming relationships and strong social networks.
  5. Avoid ‘all or nothing’ thinking. Using rigid dichotomous thinking leads to seeing the world in its extremes of good and bad, wonderful or awful.  Most situations contain elements of both extremes. Engaging in win-lose thinking leads to disappointment and not hope.
  6. Avoid comparisons with others. Although it’s part of human nature to make comparisons with others, such comparisons are self-sabotaging. There will always be people who are richer, happier, smarter or healthier than you are.
  7. Learn to deal with change. Both expected and unexpected events in life can knock us over.  When changes involve loss — of a partner, a relative or a close friend — allow time to grieve and heal.  Try to mentally  prepare for changes you can foresee such as health changes when diagnosed with certain illnesses or changes you will face if you must move away from your family home. The reality of change can’t be avoided but reactions, feelings and behaviour can be controlled.

Remaining hopeful requires courage.  Courage to use the wisdom acquired through life experiences and through facing adversity. But hopefulness is the life quality that has the greatest potential to bring happiness.