There is one thing, above all other factors, that determines whether someone will make a successful later life move and that is attitude. It doesn’t matter if you’re 30 or 50 or 70 or 90 — if you think change will be bad and difficult, this is probably what it will be for you. But if you think and act with a positive attitude, you will most likely have a positive experience and outcome with any change or transition you make.
How does attitude apply to making a later life move? Let me show you several ways.
Be proactive about moving on
The first area where attitude has a significant impact is whether you are being proactive or reactive in making a later life move. Those who decide to be proactive will receive the gift of remaining in control of the experience. You get to choose a housing option that better meets your current needs, and make plans for your future needs as well. You have the option to remove yourself from the responsibilities that you no longer enjoy or want in your life like house and yard maintenance. You get to decide when and where you move. And you get to determine what happens to your belongings as you “lighten the load” for the next part of your life journey.
Let go of belongings
Letting go of belongings in later life should be as easy as leaves releasing from the trees and falling to the ground. If you can take this attitude and realize that letting go of material possessions is a natural part of this phase of the life cycle, it can make a huge shift in how you approach the experience and how you feel about the results.
I’ve worked with many clients who were ready to release the stuff that no longer fit in their lives, and I can’t tell you how much of a difference this made for them and those around them. This doesn’t mean that they gave up everything as they downsized and moved on. These were people who understood that a simpler, less cluttered life has many advantages and benefits. And these were people who made a very successful and favorable transitions to their new homes.
Count your gains, not your losses
Any major life transitions brings with it both gains and losses. The same holds true for a later life, right-sizing move. Unfortunately, it’s often easier to focus on what we are giving up, than on what we are gaining with this change. This might even be exaggerated for some older adults because of other losses that can come with this time of life. Still, it’s so important to remember that we always retain control over our attitude and how we view each experience. So, why not make the choice right now to count your gains and not your losses?
Maybe you’re looking forward to having dinner companions once again, since eating alone has become a very lonely experience. You might be excited about participating in the community’s evening social outings to the symphony and theater after having to give these up several years ago when you stopped driving at night. Or maybe you’re looking forward to your fresh, new, simpler apartment living and letting go of the big house and yard that have become a heavy burden.
Making this kind of move also typically opens up some free space and you can use to bring new activities and experiences into your life. Possibly you’ve wanted to start an exercise and strength training program but you don’t have the equipment or motivation to do this in your home. Now you’ll be able to use the community’s fitness center and have others to work out with for company and added motivation.
Perhaps you’re finally ready to learn how to use a computer and the internet but haven’t had the time. Or maybe you’ve had a long-time dream to paint, sculpt, play the piano, or devote time to writing and can finally look forward to doing this. Bringing new activities or interests into your life definitely needs to be counted as a gain. The key is to choose an attitude of looking for all the good that will come with this change. This one thing alone can make all the difference in how you view this upcoming move and how you experience this transition.
Think about giving, not just receiving
This is one area I hadn’t given much thought to until I worked with a client who taught me the value of this aspect of a later life move. This was a woman who had a positive attitude from the beginning. She was ready to make a proactive move to a senior community and to let go of much of the accumulated stuff of her lifetime. She also took very seriously my suggestion to plan some type of ritual both to release and celebrate the home where she had lived for many years, and to celebrate and welcome her new life.
In most cases, I see older adults approach moving to a senior community with the attitude of what they will get from this change. They focus on having meals provided in the dining room, having help available when they need it, having the option to give up driving and use the community’s transportation, and so on. These are all good things but it’s not often that I see older adults consider what they want to give to the community when they make this move. This is exactly what this client did and she incorporated this into her ritual of celebrating her move.
In answer to my question of what she wanted to contribute to her new community, she wrote, “I want to be an inspiration to others of the joy of life and a positive attitude of grace and gratefulness for the rich daily blessings. To be happy and helpful to others in any way with a smile, a kind uplifting word, etc. I also want to listen to others.” Even her response to the question of what she wanted to receive while living in her new home had an uplifting and inspiring ring to it. She wrote, “I want to get to know people on a personal basis — their past experiences, travel, work, etc. I want to continue to learn new things!” This woman is a prime example of someone who has the attitude of wanting to fully experience life and who continues to see the value and opportunities of every stage and every age.
How about you? Does your attitude need an adjustment? Are you approaching this later phase of life with a positive attitude, anticipating with excitement the new opportunities and experiences still available to you, and the friendships yet to be made? Attitude is everything, so please do pick a good one. It really will make all the difference.
Sue Ronnenkamp is a retirement living and transition expert. This article was first published in 2011.