Research has shown that a person’s sense of purpose tends to peak around young adulthood and then decline in mid-age before it hits a sharp drop in old age. Psychologists and sociologists have tried to decipher why this happens, taking into account that retiring from a job and seeing kids off from the nest both play a big role. What they have found might surprise you.
The penultimate moments that define a meaningful and fruitful life often include finishing higher education, getting married, having kids, and achieving a great career. By old age, these socially constructed pillars of success have largely passed. Your place in society also gradually starts to shift as you pass 50 and then 60 and researchers have found that there simply aren’t significant social roles for older adults, especially in Western culture.
While retirement is a large achievement, it is based less in the ideals of finding purpose and meaning and often more in the self-serving notion of relaxing and fulfilling dreams that were impossible when you were working. Science has shown, however, that regardless of retirement status, having a sense of purpose has been linked to longer lifespans.
Feeling lost when it comes to finding your sense of purpose? Try these 5 steps.
Re-discover activities that give you meaning.
Is there something you loved doing when you were younger that you simply hadn’t gotten around to in decades? Perhaps it was volunteering with environmental groups or working with kids from resource-poor communities. No matter what it is, a quick Google search can reveal opportunities near you where you can start getting involved. Even better, find out if there is an upcoming volunteer expo in your city or use free search tools at CreatetheGood.org and VolunteerMatch.org.
If your ideal activities don’t necessarily involve volunteering, that’s ok too. Purpose isn’t only found in helping others. By simply participating in things you enjoy, you open yourself up to a world of opportunities and people. Building healthy relationships with old and new family and friends can both give your life purpose as well as make you feel relied on, helpful, and loved.
Learn something new.
While accumulating knowledge by way of books, the news, or social media may feel like you are learning something new, this piece of advice is geared more towards developing a new skill. Learning a new language, a musical instrument, a craft, a dance, a trade skill . . . the list goes on.
Contact a university in your region to see if they offer free or discounted classes for seniors. Attend free workshops in town. And find groups on MeetUp.com that get together and take part in an activity you are interested in learning.
When you think of self-reflection and aging your brain may automatically veer towards the vision of wrinkles, gray hairs, age spots or physical changes you notice each day in the mirror. True self-reflection, however, dynamically opposes long-held beliefs about what defines your value, worth, and success.
Your own awareness of your inherent perfection that requires no changes, fixes, or improvements is hard to come by, especially as you get older. Physical ailments, emotional toll, past baggage . . . they all cloud the mirror of self-reflection, however, it is key to recognizing your potential at any age and finding self-love and purpose.
Tools that can aid self-reflection and help you discover a deeper understanding of yourself include journaling, meditating, practicing mindfulness-based activities like yoga and Tai Chi, and attending support groups or retreats.
Address your pain.
It is so difficult to envision the larger picture and feel confident and empowered to find your purpose when chronic pain has you constantly feeling like the world is beating you up. And the truth is, you’re not alone. Upwards of half of all adults over 65 report experiencing long-term pain and chronic pain is often the catalyst for avoiding activity, developing anxiety and depression, and experiencing functional limitation.
If chronic pain is diminishing your sense of purpose, don’t ignore it. In addition to talking to your doctor or specialist about treatment options, try alternative avenues that have shown to aid pain management like meditation, acupuncture, yoga practice, massage therapy, wearing supportive braces that promote exercise, music therapy, biofeedback, and even talk therapy.
Give of the skills you have.
Do have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that you gained over your career? While a full-time job may no longer be attractive to you, sharing your experience may bring light into your life. Whether you offer business consulting to local nonprofits, mentor young professionals, or help cause-based organizations out with your skills and savvy, finding purpose by reinventing your idea of “work” is possible. For the millions of older adults without adequate retirement funds, this can also be a way to generate extra part-time income.