In Midlife, Boomers are Happy—And Suicidal

Patricia Cohen’s June 13th, New York Times article, “In Midlife, Boomers are Happy—And Suicidal” highlighted a conundrum. A major study found that those 50 and over are experiencing greater happiness than they did earlier, and another major study found that the suicide rate is increasing for that group. Let me offer one possible explanation. Those in that age group had high expectations for their careers, their relationships, their lives. For some, their dreams were blindsided. We cannot underestimate the power of unmet dreams—what I label non-events. They can lead to despair and in some cases even suicide. Of course it is never one thing alone that pushes one over the edge but experiencing a non-event or non-events can add to the mix.

Live Solid Interview Questions And Answers

Nancy K. Schlossberg, who has spent most of her career as a professor of counseling psychology, is now taking her learnings to the social space. The author has more than 35 years of academia under her belt, having taught at Howard University and Wayne State in addition to spending 26 years at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Schlossberg has written nine books, including the popular “Retire Smart, Retire Happy” and “Revitalizing Retirement.”

Schlossberg answers Live Solid readers’ questions about life transitions:

Q: After seeing the adjustment some of my family members made when they retired, I’m definitely planning ahead now!

Schlossberg: You are wise to realize that planning ahead for retirement is important. My advice for anyone making a change–either retiring, changing jobs, moving to a new city, or any major transition–is to take account of two things: First, look at your Financial Portfolio with a financial planner or a bank and second, take account of your Psychological Portfolio. What do I mean by that?

Your Psychological Portfolio has three major components: your Identity, your Relationships and your Purpose. With every transition, your identity is challenged. You begin to ask yourself, “Who am I, how do I define myself now that I have, for example, left the work force and returned to school or retired?” Then ask yourself, “How is this transition going to change my relationships? Who will substitute for the relationships I had?” And finally, “How is this change going to influence my purpose?” Possibly, moving to a new city will open up new opportunities for new relationships; a new job might give you a renewed sense of purpose.

The bottom line: Planning ahead for any major transition includes considering both financial and the psychological consequences. If you start using these tools now–thinking of potential changes in your identity, relationships and purpose–when you retire you will be an expert at change.

Q: I would love some advice on how to help my aunt transition. She is very quiet and not very out-going and now that she has retired, she doesn’t get out much. Any thoughts on how I could get her involved in community activities would be great!

Schlossberg: Thanks for raising such an important question. I interviewed a number of young people about how they engaged their retired family members. Some examples: one nephew took his uncle to a senior baseball league game because he remembered his uncle loved baseball as a young man; one woman hired her mother as a part-time assistant in her PR firm. These are merely examples, and each situation is unique.

I suggest you plan a series of Activity Adventures. You need to figure out what your aunt used to like, and what activities she never had the time to pursue. That can be your clue to find the hook that will engage her in life. Some examples, you might find a great senior center–go there; you might find an inviting knitting shop, take her for lessons; she might enjoy dance lessons. In other words, try different activities and make it a day together. Hopefully, she will be attracted to one and then she will be able to pursue that herself.

Nancy Schlossberg featured on Live Solid

Nancy Schlossberg was interviewed recently by Live Solid, an online source for living a solid life.  Check out her inteview HERE.  Live solid can be found at

Surviving in Troubled Times

Two stories about surviving in troubled times. With car dealerships closing at breakneck speed, Sue, a top salesperson making over six figures, realized that her financial survival depended on facing reality and making plans.  She wrote: “I am going to work for Publix Super Market. I have many years of management experience and plan on working to get back up to management level—even though I will start at the checkout counter.”

Larry, a roofer who owned his own company, also saw the handwriting on the wall.  His clients were not paying their bills and he recognized that his work was drying up.  He therefore searched and located a larger company that would survive in these economically troubled times—a company that repaired roofs at places like the Smithsonian and the White House.

These optimistic stories do not make up for the millions of unemployed who are on the brink of financial disaster.  I continue to hear, “We cannot pay our mortgage and it looks like foreclosure is ahead of us;”  “It’s like an out of body experience.  I cannot believe it is happening to me;” “I just cancelled my surgery, since it was elective.”

Whether you are a millionaire (probably losing at least 30 to 40 percent of your assets), or a construction worker unable to find work, you are facing the same common enemy. You cannot fix the economic crisis but you can survive. The following tips for those at both ends of the financial spectrum can help your psychological survival.

Tip 1: Take “For Now Jobs” Today; Dream About Tomorrow’s Career. This is the time to think about short-term goals like eating and survival and long-term goals like positioning yourself for a productive future. Jan Alston, Career Advisor at the Women’s Resource Center of Sarasota County, advises clients to take “For Now Jobs” in order to survive these bad times at the same time planning for a future dream job. This might be the time to return to school and get training for the future.  Tanya  does temp work when she can get it, and is taking courses at the community college to prepare her to become a medical technician.  She is using this time to scrape together whatever funds she can AND using this time to prepare for a secure job in the future.

Tip 2.  Reframe, Reframe, Reframe

There have been a number of studies of heart patients.  Some recover physically from by-pass surgery with an optimistic attitude—I can now do whatever I want.  Others are afraid to run, to have sex, to engage in life.  Your style—optimism versus pessimism—will determine your recovery.  And that applies to your troubled times.  If you think you will never have another relationship when your current one ends, that you will never get another satisfying job, that you will never see your financial portfolio go up again, then you will be part of your own self-fulfilling prophecy.  However, if you realize that there are always possibilities around the corner, that the door is never closed your chances of finding new happiness will increase.  And remember, today is not forever!

Your Comments Please share the ways you are surviving these troubled times.  Your story might help someone else.

When the Unimaginable Happens: Unexpected Job Loss and Its Impact on Your Marriage

The following is an article posted by the University of Maryland newsdesk from September 9, 2009

By Nancy Schlossberg
Professor Emerita College of Education
University of Maryland

It was hard enough getting over the shock of losing his long-time advertising job. But he just couldn’t find another job. It had been so easy before – he was sure history would repeat itself and he’d be working again soon. Nine months later, he wasn’t so sure. Forced retirement was already taking a toll – there was the separation from his wife – and the depression. The only thing that kept him going was the love for his two children.

Tales of growing tension among couples after one retires – or is forced to retire due to layoffs – are legion these days. One man told me “Being together 24/7 feels like torture. It’s bad enough that I have lost my job but now I am subject to nagging all day long.” One woman told her husband, “I don’t want to see your eyeballs after breakfast until dinner. And another man complained, “We used to treasure being together on weekends. Now we are together 24/7 and my wife wants to get away as much as she can.”

Why Does Job Loss Pull People Apart Instead of Making Them Closer?

* Coping with the unexpected is daunting.

When the unexpected or dreaded happens to you, you feel out of control, helpless, passive, angry, and depressed – in waves and in no particular order. Unexpected job loss can jolt your relationship – catapulting you into a new way of being together. In a University of Maryland study of forced job loss at the Goddard NASA Space Flight Center in the early 80’s, Zandy Leibowitz and I discovered that the men did not immediately tell their wives. In fact, they dressed and pretended to go to work. When they finally confessed and began staying home 24/7, life changed dramatically.

* Any major change, expected or unexpected, alters life in unimaginable ways.

Losing your job and staying home with your spouse is BIG. You have lost your role as worker and co-provider. Your routines are totally changed. The structure of your day is broken – including when you get up, how you dress, when you eat and with whom. Your assumptions about your world have crashed – you no longer have a secure place and future; and your relationships with colleagues, friends, and especially your spouse are in flux. When your role, routine and assumptions are fractured, you know your relationships will change.

The Good News: You’re NOT Humpty Dumpty. You CAN Put Yourself Together Again.

Here are some things you can do on your own to reduce the tension:

* Redefine your job loss as a temporary transition and as a time to explore what you really want to do when the economy picks up.

* Identify your connectors. Let everyone know what happened and that you are well and available. A retired newspaper man called a woman he had read about at his local Department of Labor and specifically asked her for help. She connected him to a forest ranger and, though that was not his field, he went to work as a temporary assistant. He did such an outstanding job he was later hired by the agency to help others.

* Use your time wisely. In addition to job hunting, set aside at least two days a week either to volunteer or set up an internship for yourself in a place you would someday like to work. Allen identified a start up firm with his kind of values. He goes to that office daily, pitching clients. This is better than staying at home. Or go back to school and finish the degree you always wanted, or learn a new skill, or make a career change. This is the time. If not now, when?

* Keep your stress level under control. Take up walking, yoga, meditation, reading, swimming – whatever works for you but DO IT RELIGIOUSLY.

More Suggestions To Reduce Tension With Your Spouse:

* Initiate an “Expectation Exchange.” This is the time to discuss your relationship and how it is being affected by your job loss. In one case, the person without a job felt very guilty and despite what she read, she blamed herself for losing her job. Her spouse, whose income was not enough to carry the load of house payments, day care, etc. was disappointed in his wife. They needed to discuss what was going on. In another instance one wife said with anger, I come home after a day at work and have to pick up his ego and retype his resume. If you cannot discuss the situation openly, it might be helpful to meet with a counselor, therapist, psychologist or social worker – someone who can bring underlying feelings out into the open and help the couple resolve the tensions.

* Go to Plan B. Realize that your life has not followed the script you both had in mind. You are experiencing an event – job loss – and a non-event – not having the life you expected. This is the time to creatively brainstorm your plan B. This is the time to rethink your script and realize that today is not forever.