By age 50 or 60, most of us have learned R that life offers many hard knocks. The key to handling these jabs is resilience. Resilience serves as a reservoir of emotional strength that can be tapped for everyday challenges, such as interactions with others, as well as life-altering events, such as a loved one's death or a financial setback. I see resilience as the ability to respond to tough situations with inner strength. Steps toward developing that ability…

Letting Go

Substantial research shows that those who concentrate on what they have control over are more hopeful, more optimistic and more likely to enjoy life and withstand its hardships than those who focus on forces and issues beyond their control. Examples…

  • Sports. Friends of mine who love participating in sports obsess about their deteriorating skills. When aging or injury wrecks their performance, they quit.

Solution: Recognize that few of us are as athletically fit at age 60 as we were at 40. I'm still jogging in my 60s. So what if I'm slower than I used to be? I'm not entering the Olympics.

  • Relationships. If a relationship isn't working, avoid blaming others--you can't control them. Ask yourself, What can I do to fix this?

My private psychology practice includes marital therapy. Some couples complain that their long marriages are running dry because they don't feel the excitement or interest in each other that they used to. I always suggest that instead of waiting for their spouses to change, disgruntled partners should ask themselves, How can I explain why I'm unhappy about what's going on in our relationship in a way that demonstrates my love and concern, and avoids finger-pointing and Do I discuss our relationship only when I'm complaining about it, or do I make an effort to mention the good things, too?

Negativity, a relentless drain, improves nothing, whereas bringing a positive attitude to daily communication can create an optimistic environment that feels open to change and embraces it.

Exception: For a person who is truly miserable in a marriage, ending it is often best.

Examples: Several months after a family friend in her early 60s left her husband of many years, my wife said, "I've never seen her so happy." My older brother, married for nearly 48 years, left his wife when he was almost 70. For him, it was the right decision.

One form of personal resilience is to know when to stop enduring unacceptable situations.

Remain Connected

According to extensive research, the more connected people feel to something outside of themselves a group, a cause, a religious belief—the longer they live. Feeling part of something larger than oneself supports a resilient mind-set.

As we age, especially in retirement, establishing new forms of connectedness is essential. What counts is the quality, not the quantity, of your relationships. Do you make an effort to be part of a social group? If you love backgammon, horseshoes or checkers, do you find partners and play? If you're religious, do you regularly attend services or a discussion group?

Those relocating in retirement should put "Make new friends" near the tops of their to-do lists. This is hard if you aren't used to befriending strangers—but as you seek people with similar interests, friendships will form naturally. Friends provide social support, and this builds resilience.

Help Others

Older people who help others tend to live longer, studies show. Contributing your time and talents states, "Because I'm on Earth, Earth is a better place."

I believe strongly that retirees should volunteer for a personally meaningful cause.

Example: Furthering a political or arts-related cause that you're passionate about.

Bonus: Contributing to society adds purpose to life, and strengthens meaningful ties to others, another key to building resilience.

Stay Fit

Our mental and physical lives are intertwined. To stay resilient physiologically and psychologically, eat a healthy diet and exercise. Any level is fine. When my legs give out and I can't jog. I'll walk or swim.

An Australian doctor who works with retirees has written that many feel like victims. As a result, they become victims. They say, "I can't lose weight because being overweight runs in my family," or "I can't exercise because my joints hurt." Although genes play a role in our ability to stay fit, you may have more control over your fitness level than you think.

Nothing curtails an exercise regimen more swiftly than unrealistic goals.

Example: Mr. Whitaker had trapped himself into believing that unless he could institute a major change quickly, he was a failure. I helped him create an appropriate exercise-and-diet program with specific, achievable, short-term goals. He began with a one-mile walk-not the five miles he had envisioned—and met with a nutritionist whose sensible recommendations worked better than the starvation diets he had previously tried. You can start with a half-mile walk—or even less, and build up. You can start by cutting just 100 calories from your daily diet. The important thing is, start somewhere.

Be Grateful—In Writing

It's easy to lose sight of gratifying aspects of life. To retain perspective, every day or two write down things for which you feel grateful. Feel free to repeat yourself.

My own list includes: "Four lovely wonderful marriage...being able to follow my passion in my work."

The idea is not to deny or minimize the serious or sad things in life, but to remember the good parts. Once you've reminded yourself, reinforce what makes you happy. For me, that means visiting my grandchildren, being a good husband and working creatively to help others.

Follow Your Passions

Many new retirees find that for the first time they can follow their interests and passions.

Examples: My father-in-law took up golf after retiring from the police force.. a friend who had always wanted to play the piano began close friend Mickey started taking pictures of town events and quickly became a sought-after photographer.

Start something new or expend more effort on an activity you already perform. Loving what you do gives you a wealth of happiness, which, in turn, boosts your resilience.

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