Last week we wondered if positive aging depended on having a sense of purpose. One elder said, “After decades of being extremely busy with children and then a career, retirement makes me ask ‘If you don’t have obligations, what is the point?'”
Maybe that’s why retirees are so busy: to feel as if life has a point.
Retirement and older age can be a rough time. I joined a discussion of old age malaise, and one of the saddest things I heard was this: “There is no one left in my life to share the ups and downs of normal everyday things. Dozens of friendly acquaintances can’t make up for that.”
What would you tell an old friend who said such a thing? Some answers began to emerge, and they seemed to center on having a purpose.
I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, who said we can get through just about anything if we can articulate a purpose (“If man has a why, he can put up with almost any how.”) If you wonder how to keep going in older age, when your body is breaking down, society discounts you, and your energy level is dropping, I recommend it. My review is here.
A discussion participant said, “Without a purpose to our lives…can seem like we are just taking up space and resources I believe we need to serve. Otherwise, we might as well be rocks.”
So the key is to be of service?
One person found happiness by focusing more on her values, making the world a better place, and caring for her loved ones. There’s something called the Grandmother Hypothesis, which suggests the presence of caring elders in a tribe can enhance the longevity of its members.
But what if you’re tired of working for the good of mankind, and just want to chill? Can one serve oneself, after a lifetime of serving others? Does that count? What if you just want to finally take the time to meditate, read, do yoga, watch movies, interact online, get into a hobby, and feed your creative brain?
I like the idea of bucking our Puritan productivity ethic.
One person said if we give to others, what we get back is a sense of purpose, a sense that there’s a point to our existence. Another finds meaning in serving as “a correspondent from an earlier generation.” Younger people might want to know what’s coming.
Wouldn’t it be smart to think about this when you’re younger, so you can be prepared?
Now that we have Internet and community forums, older peeps can tear the lid off aging and show the kids it ain’t so bad. They can be more prepared for it, so they’re happier when they get old. Developing a non-work hobby or interest might be the key. For me, it was writing.
As one woman said, “We spend our lives training for a job, and when that job ends, we may feel our lives have ended too. Maybe our roles are too limited. Earning a living seems to be what it’s all about. Isn’t there more to life? I’m past 90 now, and I’m happier as an old person than I was when young. Now I can do what I want, not what I’m assigned to do by others. It’s great!”
What about you? Do you have a purpose that fires you up?