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Who Will I Have Lunch With?

By Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD

Maintaining a Strong Social Network Is Critical to an Enjoyable Retirement

Lunch is more than just a meal—it’s an opportunity to get out and be sociable. No matter what stage of life that meal takes place—from the elementary school cafeteria to the senior center lunchroom—the people your clients grab a mid-day bite with are a solid indicator of the wellbeing of their social network.

As it turns out, the more robust that group of folks clients have lunch with is, the greater the chances they'll maintain a high level of physical and mental health as they travel through life. Traditionally, families provided the social core and the emotional support necessary for people to age well. However, smaller and more dispersed families are making that traditional support system less and less common for many.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36% of women and 20% of men over age 65 live alone.1 Studies have found that this change can have a long-term impact—living alone or living without a robust network could actually negatively impact healthy aging.2 Maintaining and/or re-building this crucial social network should be a key priority for clients as they age. 

Let’s take a look at what clients can do to preserve the community of friends that they have, while finding ways to help ensure they have a strong and meaningful network in the future.

Researchers found the effect of social connection on mortality risk is comparable, and in many cases, exceeds that of other well-accepted risk factors, including smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day, obesity, and air pollution.3


Maintain Close Relationships

With the proliferation of new communication technologies in clients' daily lives, working to maintain their current relationships can be both easier and a whole lot harder all at the same time. How can that contradiction exist? Despite the increased ways to reach out to loved ones, the number of potential distractions keeping them from each other has increased, too. There’s also been a rise in impersonal connections. Just because someone "likes" a picture they post online that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be there for lunch—or something even more important.

Clients should consider who they'll want to stay in touch with as the years go by. It's an important first step in nurturing those precious relationships into the future.

To identify those relationships, clients can ask themselves these questions:

  • Who would you consider to be your most dear family members?
  • Who are your best friends, favorite co-workers, and most important mentors?
  • Who else adds special value or has a specific role in your life?

These are the people they'll continue to depend on for advice or enjoying shared experiences.


Plan for Enjoyable Activities 

Once they've determined who that group is, they can start to think about some of the regular activities they like doing together. A great way for them to keep in touch with these special people is to plan a regularly occurring activity. Anything from crafting quilts and playing cards to practicing yoga and hiking trails can be that special event they can look forward to on a reoccurring basis.

To plan for activities, clients should list their most important connections, what social activities they'd would like to continue participating with them, and the best method of keeping in touch with them.


Ways to Discover New Connections

Sometimes—whether by fate or by choice—client's aren't going to be able to stay connected with everybody in their life. The best thing they can do is to go out and add new connections. Creating fresh connections can help assure the well-being of their network. These people and organizations can also reinforce a healthy and productive lifestyle.


Facts about Friendships:

The benefits of friendships:

  • Increases clients' sense of belonging and purpose
  • Boosts their happiness and reduce your stress
  • Improves their self-confidence and self-worth 
  • Helps them cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
  • Encourages them to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
  • Reduces risk of depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index

Source: Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health, Mayo Clinic, 9/28/16, Most recent data available. 


Ways to Discover New Connections

Sometimes—whether by fate or by choice—clients aren't going to be able to stay connected with everybody in their life. The best thing they can do is to go out and add new connections. Creating fresh connections can help assure the well-being of their social network. These people and organizations can also reinforce a healthy and productive lifestyle.

  • Do volunteer work
    The surprise many volunteers find is that for all the good they do donating their time, they ultimately walk away feeling as rewarded as those they helped. Clients can make new connections with fellow volunteers while doing good, too. They can visit VolunteerMatch.org for additional information to pair up with a cause that’s meaningful to them.

  • Enroll in a college course
    Just because it’s been a few decades since clients were last on campus doesn’t mean their days of hitting the textbooks should be over. Lifelong learning can help keep them stay engaged and challenged as they age. Clients can check with their local college and university to see available courses. There may even be classes that are designed just for seniors, too.

  • Frequent a neighborhood coffee shop
    Looking for a place to hear local music or listen to poetry? Want to discover a regular spot to meet and converse with others? With the proliferation of coffee shops in the U.S. today, there’s most likely one right around the corner from where clients live.There’s a chance they'll end up meeting people while getting their next cup of Joe that share the same common interests as they do.

  • Use online social networking to meet others
    Meeting new friends online doesn’t carry the stigma that it once did. Today, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) has become a main method that people meet and communicate with others who share the same interests. According to a report by Pew Research Center, 37% of all adults aged 65 and older said they’re on social media.4

  • Join a travel club
    Whether clients are traveling with their significant other, family members, friend, or even themselves, getting out and seeing the world can be a terrific way to branch out to find new connections. Travel clubs present a way to share affordable travel experiences with others. There are even clubs that cater exclusively to seniors.

  • Enroll in an exercise class
    Being physically active is not only great for clients' health as they age, it also could be a terrific boost for their social life, too. If they join the right fitness gym, they'll mostly likely find a multitude of age-appropriate classes they can take.

  • Ask family and friends for introductions to others
    The most time-tested form of matchmaking—the good old fashioned personal introduction. Meeting people the traditional way still works. Clients shouldn't be bashful asking for an introduction from others. Other people are working to build new connections themselves.

  • Attend a senior center
    In 2015, 11,400 senior centers served more than 1 million older adults (their average age was 75) every day.4 Of those, approximately 70% of senior center participants were women; half of them lived alone.4 These locations offer a wide variety of program and services for seniors. Compared with their peers, senior center participants have higher levels of health, social interaction, and life satisfaction.


Planning for Future Lunches

Help clients consider how they can plan to stay engaged in the things—both big and small—that’ll help make them happy in the years to come. Integrate these issues into a comprehensive planning discussion to make an ambiguous retirement future—that may even be decades away—more tangible to them now.

Next steps:

  1. Download or order the client white paper below 
  2. On page 3 of the client white paper, help clients complete the “assignments” table
  3. Introduce clients seeking new friends with other clients with similar interests

Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD
Director, MIT AgeLab


The MIT AgeLab is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds.

1Source: Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, US Census Bureau, 2015. Most recent available data used.

2 Source: University of Chicago, 2/14; Most recent data available

3Source: The United States Senate—Special Committe on Aging, 4/27/17

4Source: “Social Media Use in 2018,” Pew Research Center, 3/1/18.

5Source: Senior Centers, The National Council on Aging, 2015. Most recent available data used.