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The Purpose of Life is to Have a Purpose

May 7, 2020

It is said so often that it has become something of a cliche: You need to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. That is doubly true for seniors, most of whom have retired from the workforce and already sent their children out into the world.

They now have time on their hands. Maybe too much. So what’s next for them, now that they have reached their so-called Golden Years? What gets their motor running and engages them fully? 

Those unable to find the right answers often face dire consequences. Various studies over the years have concluded that seniors without purpose are more apt to develop such afflictions as Alzheimer’s disease or suffer a heart attack or stroke. In other words, they are unlikely to live as long as those who are more purposeful.

Researchers believe that is likely because purposeful people are generally more active or less susceptible to stress. The latter results in the sort of inflammation that causes health issues.

But while it is imperative to have a purpose, it is also difficult to define exactly what that might mean. Leigh Pearce, lead author of a 2019 study on the topic told Reuters, “I think it’s about what people think is most valuable to them. Community, achievement, reputation, relationships, spirituality, kindness — these can all feed into any one person’s life purpose. So there is not a specific definition for any one person.”

Here are some possible avenues.

Go back to work: According to a 2019 United Income study, 20 percent of seniors are rejoining the workforce following retirement, compared to 10 percent in 1985. There are often financial reasons for that too. But Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, told AARP that there is also “a desire to be engaged in the world.”

Volunteer: Rick Morycz is an associate professor of psychiatry and social work at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a member of the board of directors at UPMC’s Aging Institute. He told Reuters that he often encourages struggling seniors to be altruistic. “It doesn’t have to be structured,” he said. “But it has to be regular, like perhaps every Wednesday volunteering for Meals on Wheels.”

Get in touch with your spiritual side: Whether one holds traditional or nontraditional views of spirituality and religion, the benefits are clear. Seniors who are religious or spiritual tend to feel more connected, more hopeful and better able to deal with life’s stresses. In fact, The Mayo Clinic notes that 350 studies of physical health and 850 studies of mental health associate better outcomes with those who hold some sort of spiritual beliefs.

Move your bones: Exercise has obvious physical benefits but it also helps the mind. Seniors who engage in regular physical activity are less likely to suffer from depression and more likely to remain independent. At this stage in life, the intensity is not nearly as important as the consistency. 

Make a connection: Whether through classes, meals, meetings or even technology (email, Skype, text messages, etc.), the science is clear about the importance of maintaining ties with others. Having a tight social network helps us cope and helps us live longer.

Final Thoughts

Most of us dream about the day when we can retire and bask in the beauty of doing nothing. After all, we earned it. However, we need to have a plan when that time comes or else we risk an unnecessary decline in health. We need to find ways to make ourselves feel as purposeful as we felt when we worked a 40-hour week. Our quality of life may depend on it.

Categories: General