Living the Dream

A new series on the ABC has shown that in retirement, the benefits of community are universal, no matter where you are in the world.


If you could spend your golden years anywhere at all, where would you go? It’s a question explored by a new two-part BBC series recently shown on the ABC. Inspired by the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (about English expats who outsource their retirement to the thriving chaos of infinitely cheaper India), The Real Dream Hotel On Tour follows four well-known senior Brits as they road test the retirement lifestyle in two vastly different locations.

Irrepressible actress Miriam Margolyes is joined by celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager, flamboyant dancer Wayne Sleep and Cockney darts champion Bobby George on a heart-warming adventure that takes them from the quest for eternal youth in Florida’s pensioner paradise, to discovering the secrets of longevity in Japan. It’s a fascinating look at the different ways in which ageing is approached, and ultimately proves that having a sense of community is not only key to living a long and happy life, it transcends language, culture and place.

The first episode sees the motley crew travel to Florida, known as one of the best places in the world to retire. It’s a Mecca for seniors seeking a slice of the American dream, where year round warm weather and vast gated communities are a recipe for contentment. First, the group visit Oak Run, Orlando, where 7,000 residents live on an estate boasting 25 sprawling neighbourhoods. There are 15 house models to choose from and everything from daily exercise, hundreds of social clubs and weekly bingo to keep tenants active and engaged.

Later, they move on to The Polo Club, in Palm Beach, an ultra-exclusive village that charges US$85k per year to be a member and offers houses for as much as US$6 million. The wealth is astonishing – and the cosmetic surgery even more so. “How many facelifts have you had?” asks Shrager of one startlingly young-looking over-60. “Ten,” she quips. She may or may not be joking. But unnaturally taut faces aside, it’s clear that the sense of community is strong. Everyone appears happy – some deliriously so – and it’s a factor that sees the celebrities’ initial judgement of retirement villages evolve into understanding. Without their children nearby, residents rely on each other, and neighbours become like family.

In the second episode, they travel to Japan, a land of ancient culture, tradition and the longest lifespan in the world. Kyoto is the cultural heart of the country with a vibrant ageing population. A third of Kyoto’s residents are over sixty. And while retirement villages don’t appear to be the order of the day here, there’s a sense of elder-respect and of people coming together that not only promotes friendship and wellbeing, but longevity in spades.

Retirees, some in their 90s, rise early and congregate in Kyoto’s picturesque parks to work out to the daily keep fit radio broadcast – a 10-minute exercise routine that transmits each morning at 6.30am sharp. Beyond the healthy lifestyle, there’s a forward-thinking attitude to older workers here too, based on the idea that keeping active and having a sense of meaning contributes to living a long life. The Silver Human Resource Centre employs over 5000 of Kyoto’s elderly residents under their Silver Job Scheme, recruiting them for positions that include waiting tables or working as sales assistants.

The series offers a fascinating insight into two different cultures and approaches to ageing and retirement, with a reliance on community. And it’s not surprising that being surrounded by a strong support or friend network contributes to happiness – and longevity. It’s something that has been confirmed by the 2017 World Happiness Report, which ranks three Nordic countries in its top three. Norway is the happiest country on earth, followed by Denmark and Iceland (Australia ranked 9th). The study has found that it’s a sense of community – friendships, relationships, support, understanding of the common good – and not material wealth that counts. “It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationships between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, the lead author of the report and economist at the University of British Columbia.

In Australia, Lendlease retirement villages have a long history of happy residents, who credit the welcoming community vibe for the joy and sense of belonging they feel in their day-to-day. With everything from social clubs and engaging activities, to a universally warm atmosphere, it’s no wonder so many wish they moved in sooner (and that’s not to mention the upmarket, low-maintenance abodes). Friendships are quickly formed, neighbours become like family, and the perfect balance between support and independence means life is effortlessly enjoyable. It may not be Florida, with its over-the-top glitz, or Japan, steeped in ancient tradition, but there’s no denying the beauty of Aussie charm – or the universal power of people coming together. Want to see for yourself? Give Lendlease Retirement Living a call on 1800 550 550. Find out more, organise a visit and discover why community life is the way forward, inspiring you to live, laugh and love every moment.