Louis Primavera, a psychologist and dean of the School of...

Louis Primavera, a psychologist and dean of the School of Health Sciences at Touro College in Bay Shore, says it is vital that retirees not use their past working lives to define themselves. Credit: Handout

To enjoy a successful retirement, getting your finances in order is important. But it's not all-important. There are also basic social and psychological needs that money can't buy.

"Some retirees walk into this world not being aware of what they are facing," says Louis Primavera, a psychologist and dean of the School of Health Sciences at Touro College in Bay Shore. "You lose your identity, you lose the structure in your lives and you have no way of defining yourself."

Primavera, who lives in Seaford, is also a co-author of "The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire" (Rowman & Littlefield, $36), with Rob Pascale of Garden City. Because both are social scientists, the book concentrates on emotional issues that can leave even the most prepared retirees blindsided.

Among the book's findings is that for many, there are four stages of retirement. First comes the honeymoon, a time of relief at leaving the workplace behind. This lasts about six months. Then comes disenchantment, caused by an emotional letdown that retirement is not as wonderful as hoped. "Some people think they want to retire, but what they really want is a long vacation," Pascale says. Stage three is reorientation, when the retiree begins to find new outlets and enjoyments. Finally, about six years later, as new roles and patterns solidify, the final phase sets in, which the authors call "stability."

For Pascale, who retired in 2005 at age 51 from the market research company he founded, the honeymoon stage ended quickly. "I loved to paint, but the day I retired I stopped painting," he says. "That's when I realized painting was just a diversion from working."

Primavera says it is vital that retirees not use their past working lives to define themselves. For example, it's a danger sign if someone asks, "What do you do?" and your answers can only begin with "I used to . . ." or "I was . . . ."

One key to a successful retirement is adding daily structure. A simple example: Get up at the same time every day. And travel is a great tonic. It doesn't have to be an expensive vacation, either. Taking day trips or experimenting with new restaurants is just as effective, as Pascale and his wife can attest. "There are 643 Italian restaurants on Long Island," he says with a laugh. "It doesn't matter to us that we drive an hour and a half to dinner."