Imagine a world where everything feels and looks stalled. Humans, nature, and machines never change. There is no action and reaction because the world is purposeless.
Purposelessness can affect us at any age. Yet research suggests that retirees and older adults are at highest risk of feeling a void of purpose in their lives. The sense of belonging and how we identify ourselves are both uprooted by two key events that often happen within a close time span – retirement and emptying the nest.
First, most older adults have spent the majority of their lives at work, where they were intellectually challenged, built close relationships with colleagues, and felt productive as a part of a bigger whole. Second, many adults who choose to be parents define themselves as caregivers and derive much pleasure in nurturing the family unit, again feeling a significant part of a greater whole. When adult children leave the nest, the emotional and physical reliance they once had on their parents wanes, leaving a vacant spot.
If you or someone you know is experiencing feelings of purposelessness, good news. There are lots of ways to bring purpose back to life. Pick up a new hobby. Volunteer. Go to Meetups. Learn a language. These are common suggestions that you’ll find after a few Google searches.
What you won’t find is a research-backed technique that is easier and less expensive–and more likely to work–than any of those suggestions.
Record your legacy. Before I tell you how, let’s highlight why legacy recording can be so meaningful and purpose-building.
It Gives Meaning to Today: Documenting your past is a way to “connect the dots” of life, bringing tremendous clarity to why you made various life decisions, and how those decisions affected other areas of your life. In this process, you’ll realize the impact you’ve made on others and your community, invariably giving you an elevated sense of purpose.
It’s Not Just for You: You’re not the only one benefiting from digging into and documenting your past. A recorded collection of memories and stories is perhaps the greatest gift you can give to your kids, grandkids, and relatives. Your purpose becomes being the family storyteller.
Its Benefits Are Proven: A growing body of research finds that reminiscing on one’s past improves self-esteem and provides a sense of self-fulfillment for older adults. Researchers attribute the positive effects of reminiscing to validating identity and accomplishments.
Ok, so let’s say you want to document your legacy. Now what? Here are a few seeds of inspiration to get started.
Bring out the Tape Recorder. While it might feel a bit strange at first, there is also something powerfully invigorating about speaking (as opposed to thinking) a memory aloud. To prevent writer’s block, create a list of questions that you’d like to answer as you move from one topic to another. Your phone, computer, or tablet likely has a built-in microphone. Remember there are pause, rewind, and delete functions for easy editing. Use these tools and keep your audio recordings on a USB stick or cloud storage. Leaving your voice is a unique and vibrant way of sharing yourself with future generations. You might find it helpful to record around themes or in chronological order – the world is your oyster!
Life Journal. Memoir. Write. If you prefer putting pen to paper, write your stories, memories, philosophies. You need not be a memoirist to do this – after all, this is your life and your stories – let your authentic self shine through. Your writing style will reflect who you are – prose, poetry, bullets…
Take Advantage of Technology. If you prefer having built-in prompts to get you started and flexibility around when/how you record your stories, take a look at Kinecho, a legacy recording website that I’ve developed with a few colleagues. We’ve witnessed how legacy recording adds purpose and pleasure to the lives of older adults by looking back and leaving a voice and handprint to future generations.
I’d like to leave you with your first prompt:
Think about a time when you felt overwhelmingly happy. Where were you? What made you feel so happy?
Write down or record your response. Have fun!