The longest obituary I've ever read was for Capt. Henry Adams, who died recently at age 90. It was the story of a life well -lived that, like a good book, I just couldn't put down. The better part of the story was the list of all he accomplished after retiring.
Starting life as a teenager tending his own orange grove with horse-drawn cultivating equipment, he then found himself as one of eight survivors of his torpedoed ship. In 1949, he headed for Alaska on a motorized bicycle (think moped) and made it to British Columbia, where the bike broke down. Unfazed, he bought a ranch. Called back into the Navy in 1953, he commanded what sounds like an early version of the Navy SEALs, and retired after 20 years.
To keep busy, he started teaching in Millbrae and was voted "Teacher of the Year" in 1974. He wrote a weekly column for a Canadian newspaper and served on the board of the California Industrial Arts Association. Beyond that were countless further examples of various volunteer efforts that are exhausting just to read about.
What's the point? Retired seniors often struggle to fill a void. The sudden lack of a connection they once enjoyed with colleagues, not to mention the experience of accomplishment, can come as an unpleasant shock to some, but there's a book they would do well to read.
In "The Happiness Advantage" Shawn Achor outlines "The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work." The author teaches the most popular undergraduate course at Harvard known as "the happiness class." But professor Achor's street credibility extends beyond the ivory tower to the thousands of executives coached at more than 450 companies in 43 countries. He must know something about teaching people how to feel good about themselves -- which, in a nutshell, is what defines what we call "happiness."
While the book spells out seven basic principles contributing to a higher happiness quotient, the one applying most to retired seniors is No. 7: Social Investment -- Why Social Support is Your Greatest Single Asset. This is not to downplay the other key principles such as No. 6, which I would summarize as "How to get out of a rut." But, the challenge for retirees is to avoid lapsing into seclusion and a growing sense of isolation.
With nature abhorring a vacuum, a growing so-called "Village" phenomenon is cropping up around the country. Starting 10 years ago in Boston with the Beacon Hill Village, these are ad-hoc communities of seniors helping other seniors. The idea is based upon members doing what they can to help fellow members remain in their own homes as long as possible. Driving, meal preparation, social events, etc. -- whatever it takes to create the social support and satisfaction on the part of both those volunteering and those receiving help.
The Bay Area's oldest example of the five or so here locally, is Avenidas in Palo Alto. The newest will be Contra Costa County's version, which will open its doors on April 6. Lamorinda Village has been three years in the planning stages and will deserve a full column in these pages the week they open. In the meantime, those curious can click on the Beacon Hill or Palo Alto versions for a sneak preview of what's to come on this side of the bay.