Life Purpose: Seizing the Days
One problem many confront when they retire is the loss of purpose. The workplace is no longer demanding one’s attention and the nest is empty. Most of the challenges of earlier life – schooling, finding work, finding a partner, and the like – are no longer present. Nor does it seem very nourishing to live out the remaining years just resting and relaxing. So then what? This is no small question, as our lives are held together largely in webs of meaning. Together people generate ideas about what is important or valuable to do – both from day to day and across time. It is important to “win a game” for example, because we have come to agree that it is. Take away the agreement, and who cares? So, moving through and beyond retirement, we may find ourselves heading toward the cliff of “who cares?”
In our last Newsletter we reported on research that is worth revisiting. The research reported that having a purpose in life is literally life giving. In a study of more than 6,000 people, researchers found those with greater purpose were 15 percent less likely to die (over a 14 year period) than those without aims. Those with purpose also slept better, had fewer strokes and heart attacks, lower risk of dementia, and less risk of disability.
There are many reasons for these life advantages. People who have purpose are more likely to be active, thus contributing to fitness. Having a purpose is also associated with being optimistic, and as we have reported in previous issues of the Newsletter, optimism is also a life-giver. Research also shows that those with a strong sense of purpose are also more likely to embrace preventive health services, such as mammograms, colonoscopies and flu shots.
On the positive side, many people find that aging opens a wonderful door to new possibilities. There are all those hobbies, skills, and curiosities – wood working, fishing, painting, gardening, designing, and so on- that had to be put on hold during the demand period of the middle years, now waiting to be rekindled. And there are long-held dreams that can now be made into realities – learning to play an instrument, earning a degree, writing a book, building a house, and so on. We have written much in previous issues about the great benefits that come from voluntary work – in schools, churches, hospitals, and the like. We recently learned of a program run by Experience Corps, an organization that trains older adults to tutor children in urban public schools. Research showed marked improvements in mental and physical health among the volunteers. They also experienced higher self-esteem, and acquired better mobility and stamina. (The children also benefitted.) We are particularly strong advocates of activities in which others participate. As we believe, these webs of meaning making are precious and powerful.
Ken and Mary Gergen
From: Finding purpose for a good life, also a healthy one by Dhruv Khullar, NYTimes, Jan. 1, 2018, online.