We need each other.
I believe that we physically and emotionally need to gather with others. Not doing it creates the wretched want of loneliness (and other hollow feelings) that brings us down physically. Gathering is primal and filling, like eating.
Gathering can also help us get things done. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes that to make change together is powerful. It's the “same process that makes AA so effective,” he writes, “— the power of a group to teach individuals how to believe — happens whenever people come together to help one another change. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.”
It's easier to believe together. Like church. The experience is one of focused camaraderie; purposeful fellowship.
I'm thinking that as we age, as we face the big structural shifts of identity and purpose that go along with that, focused camaraderie and purposeful fellowship might be just the ticket.
I'm enjoying several small groups that meet regularly. (I'd like to be part of more.) We talk about retirement, books, and, importantly, ourselves and our challenges. We commiserate, josh, and without saying so or intending to, we support each other through companionship. Being there. Showing up. Seeing each other with regularity.
The book club I would describe as limping along when it comes to the books themselves — which are often not to everyone's liking and thus a burden to get through in a world full of tempting reading. But the club is pretty high on the fellowship scale. That's good enough.
Then there are more casual gatherings, which provide their own kind of nourishment.
I recently attended a casually arranged get-together of a dozen friends and “loose ties” — people I see every so often and experience what you might call “unattached affinity.” Such gatherings are not often as pleasurable as one might hope. This one was, for me anyway. We are all within 10 years of each other in age. The conversation was better than the surface variety. What I appreciated most was the witnessing. I felt like we warmly witnessed each other and felt kinship in our loose ties, our shared geography, the many years of sporadic exposure to each other, and the ripening, of mind, body, and, likely, soul that's happening to all of us. It seemed that ego and competition and social anxiety were absent, which is precious when it occurs. We ate and drank potluck style, some of us swam in a pool, we all luxuriated in the summer heat, and took shelter briefly from a couple of passing downpours that refreshed everything then quickly dispersed. At gatherings like this, we all get to start again, to reset to who we are now, to reacquaint. It can go well or not. This one, for me, went well.
A friend who suffers from social anxiety recently told me that when she forces herself to attend functions against her predisposed inner resistance, she almost always has a good time. There's a lesson there: we have to show up, for ourselves.
We need to decide.
The reliably wise Seth Godin wrote this recently:
Discipline, rigor, patience, self-control, dignity, respect, knowledge, curiosity, wisdom, ethics, honor, empathy, resilience, honesty, long-term, possibility, bravery, kindness and awareness.
All of these are real skills, soft skills, learnable skills.
But if they’re skills, that means that they are decisions. A choice we get to make. Even if it’s not easy or satisfying in the short term.
That satisfying list of learnable skills are all skills of retirement, because they are skills of the emotionally mature person. Some of us only get to true maturity after the whirlwind of a career dies down and we make it a mission to mature emotionally. (Why not? What better project when at loose ends?)
How many of those skills can you count on in yourself? How many are left to attain in your pursuit of a life in full? When do you decide to decide the right way whenever you reach a fork in the road? (I'm asking those questions of myself at this very moment.)
Here they are again, just as a reminder: discipline, rigor, patience, self-control, dignity, respect, knowledge, curiosity, wisdom, ethics, honor, empathy, resilience, honesty, long-term, possibility, bravery, kindness, and awareness.
We need beauty.
In the time we have left in life, almost all of us will be happier the more we are exposed to beauty. That's the conclusion of an inspiring article I read this week in The Atlantic — “The Beauty-Happiness Connection” — that made me vow, once again, to make the pursuit of beauty one of my never-ending retirement projects. The short takeaway:
1. We often think that beauty resides in special places like parks and museums. “But finding beauty in normal activities can bring deep happiness to life...”
2. Surrounding ourselves with lovely architecture, public spaces, green spaces, etc. evokes steadfast happiness. “The cumulative positive effects of daily beauty [work] subtly but strongly.”
3. Next to having sex and doing exercise, we are happiest (on average) when exposed to beauty where things are created or on display, such as theaters, cinemas, or at concerts; at museums or an art exhibits; and while creating something ourselves.
4. Beautiful places help us relax and reflect. They “conjure the feelings we tend to associate with happiness: calmness, a connection to history or the divine, wealth, time for reflection and appreciation...”
5.... and hope. Princeton philosopher Alexander Nehamas wrote: “So long as we find anything beautiful, we feel that we have not yet exhausted what [life] has to offer. That forward-looking element is … inseparable from the judgment of beauty.” The 18th-century French writer with a one-word name, Stendhal, wrote: “Beauty is the promise of happiness.”
Conclusion: To amplify happiness, seek beauty, steadily.
How? Put it in your path. Places. People. Things. Art. Nature. (Why not?)