Happiness For Dummies
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The journey of life has many twists and turns. This should not impede your ability to be happy. One minute you think you know what your purpose in life is, and then everything changes. You get comfortable with one type of structure — having a career, being a parent — and suddenly you’re out of a job.

Then what do you do? Basically, you have two choices: You can sit and mourn for the rest of your life, or you can restructure your life into something different yet meaningful. The choice is yours.

Move on after graduation

Years ago, moving on after graduation from high school was easier than it is today — your choices were limited. Parents didn’t invite their kids to hang around for a year or two while they were trying to find themselves. Nowadays, that’s all changed. Psychologists suggest that there’s even a new stage of development now called emerging adulthood, which is basically somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

Assuming that you might be one of those many young people who, after graduating college, finds herself back home with your parents, here are some suggestions for restructuring your life:

  • Be clear what it is that you expect of yourself now that you are back at home

  • Talk with your parents about what you (and they) see as obstacles to you moving on with your life.

  • Imagine that you’re living on your own and set up a daily routine that you would follow were that the case.

  • Assume as much responsibility as possible.

  • Set a specific time limit for how long you plan to remain at home.

  • Set some specific goals for yourself that will move you forward.

  • Let your parents know that it’s important that you move on to the next stage of your life so that they can do the same.

Fill the empty nest

Another major life change occurs when children grow up and leave home for good. Parents who have devoted the lion’s share of their time and energy to their kids suddenly find themselves with a big empty space in their lives. Some handle that change well — others do not.

Kay is lost without her daughter, who is 35 years old and lives in another state. If her daughter doesn’t call her everyday by 5 p.m., she gets anxious and begins calling her daughter’s friends to see where she is. Rather than be embarrassed, her daughter has learned to check in with mom — hardly what she expected life to be like when she left home three years ago.

Kay is suffering from empty nest syndrome. For more than two decades, her daughter was her life — and now that life is gone forever, and Kay has done nothing to replace it.

Missy, too, has a daughter in her 30s living out of state. She doesn’t see her as much as she’d like, but Missy is happy that she’s enjoying the fact that her daughter is independent. When Missy doesn’t hear from her daughter, she assumes she’s busy and Missy understands. And what’s Missy doing in between phone calls from her daughter? She’s busy with her own interests.

In fact, Missy’s daughter sometimes has trouble getting in touch with her, and Missy tells her daughter, “Honey, your father and I have our own life now — get used to it!”

If you’re a parent like Kay, who needs to restructure your life, here are a few tips on how to proceed:

  • Remind yourself that the real purpose of being a parent is to do everything you can to ensure that your child will grow into an independent adult and them recognize that you’ve actually accomplished that.

  • Reconnect with friends your own age that you may have lost contact with all those years you were busy parenting.

  • If you weren’t working while you raised your children, find yourself a job doesn’t have to be full-time; part-time will do.

  • If you’re married, get reacquainted with your spouse. Start dating again, in effect.

  • Develop some new interests that you can share with your kids when you see them.

  • Find someone else to (unofficially) parent.

Ensure a happy retirement

A healthy retirement should be a time of structured freedom — a time when you can live life on your own terms, but where you have somewhere to go and something to do each day. If you are spending the day in your pajamas watching TV, you’ll not likely be happy.

If you’re thinking about retiring, have you considered how you’ll spend your free time? Do you have any hobbies or special interests outside of work? Do you have enough projects to keep you busy? Are there things that you and your spouse like to do together — shared interests? How are you fixed for friends?

Having free time is one thing; loneliness is quite another. These are the kinds of questions you need to be asking yourself before you retire.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, a distinguished Fellow in the American Psychological Association, and the Founding Editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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