We humans are social creatures. It’s in our DNA – we function best when we are part of a community. It worked for us when we were camping together in caves and helping each other dodge sabre toothed tigers and hunt mammoths, and it’s still working for us.
While the context has changed somewhat over the intervening millennia, our wiring hasn’t. In community, we thrive.
Our social circles change and evolve through time, and as the day-to-day bustle of family-raising and career duties becomes less part of our lives, maintaining a vibrant and satisfying social life can begin to present more challenges. Other factors such as losing or moving on from a partner, family moving away, health concerns or any number of life changes can impact our confidence and our ability to stay socially engaged.
Increasing numbers of studies are confirming what we have suspected all along – that social interaction positively impacts our physical, mental and emotional well-being, at all stages of life’s journey. Our mood, cognition levels, powers of recall, sense of being valued and even our lifespan go up, whilst our negative thoughts and stress levels go down. This is why taking a proactive approach to maintaining and fostering relationships and friendships is so important.
Choosing to ‘right-size’ and relocate to a retirement village is a lifestyle decision. And ranking high amongst the top five reasons people choose this style of living is the potential for social interaction. Retirement village living can offer unprecedented opportunities to meet and connect with new people, to develop new friendships and to try new things while you’re at it.
Find your tribe
There are those of us who derive energy from being with large groups of people or being the instigator of adventures. Some others are happy to go with the flow. Some are never happier than when in a one-on-one conversation or just quietly sharing an activity. We all sit somewhere on this spectrum. The important thing is that we are interacting, and while we interact we are stretching those “social muscles” that keep isolation at bay.
When you, or you and your partner, move into a retirement community, you immediately have a raft of benefits literally at your doorstep. First and foremost, you have a ready-made neighbourhood of people close by who may be at a very similar life stage. So if you feel like dropping by for a chat, a morning cuppa or a glass of wine at the end of the day, this is very easy to do.
Every village is different, but the best boast a wide range of programs, facilities and communal spaces specifically designed to encourage residents to be engaged and actively involved in community life.
Fitness and opportunities to be active usually feature strongly. As we all know, the links between physical activity and mental and emotional wellness are indisputable, so why not spend some time getting active and focusing on your wellbeing? Your village may offer walking paths, a pool, tennis court, bowling green or gym facilities. Perhaps yoga, tai chi, Zumba, aerobics or training sessions are run within the village by visiting instructors. Never done any of these before? This could be your chance to try something you’ve always wanted to try.
Other activities can include hobbies, crafts, book clubs, games, cooking, music, art or personal development. Sometimes these are organised by the Village Manager, and sometimes they are resident-led initiatives. Chances are that whatever you are into, you won’t be alone. Connecting over shared interests is one of the best ways to strike up a conversation and build friendships.
Communal and shared spaces such as gardens, pools, pathways, barbecue areas and multi-purpose rooms are great ways to bump into people, and most are more than happy to stop and chat.
If you’re in the mood for venturing out, your village may well organise trips to events, galleries, restaurants or places of interest. And if there’s somewhere you want to visit and you’d like some company, you are very likely to find a partner in crime or two. This can even extend to the intrepid travellers amongst you who are packing their bags and heading off on overseas adventures.
Helping others is a great way to release the happy hormones we all crave. Many people find richness and satisfaction in volunteering or getting involved in their local community. Even simply being a listening ear for a friend or neighbour provides a valuable service that feeds the listener in return.
The majority of retirement village residents say they appreciate having the extra time that is freed up by moving into a lower-maintenance home. This means there is more time to devote to the things they want to be doing, and for many, this means time to connect with others and to experience new things. This is your time, to reframe as you wish.
The Oak Tree approach
When you choose Oak Tree, you know you are walking into a village that is committed to its residents and to community values. The smaller number of homes, the care that has gone into every aspect of the design, and management that genuinely cares about its people all set Oak Tree apart.
You know you are welcome and your family, grandchildren, friends and pets are welcome too. Chances are have chosen your particular Oak Tree village largely based on its location, and this may well be its proximity to family, friends or the things that are important to you. There is certainly no need to say goodbye to familiar faces or routines; rather, you are expanding your social circle by adding a whole new group of friends. And as they say, (and as science is increasingly supporting), you really can’t have too many friends.