5 Tips For Finding Meaning & Purpose After Retirement

May 28, 2009 at 2:24 pm 1 comment

image In response to one of last week’s posts,  “Jane” had some touching words…

“I am an older person according to many social standards and long retired. And it is an extremely difficult transition to make when everyone around you makes you feel like you’re finished with your productive years. I’ve searched high and low for meaning and ways to get back into the game of life and after a long bout of depression and some health issues am figuring it out. But its different for everyone. My husband never figured it out and I lost him before I could help him.”

She went on to ask for further suggestions on how retired elders can find purpose and meaning for their lives – since joining the Sisters of Sacred Heart just isn’t practical for most of us.

It’s a common, frustrating and even heart breaking problem  –  loss of purpose may well be responsible for the premature declines of many seniors.   Careers end, families grow up and move away, spouses and friends pass on, and the purposes that have kept us alive and motivated for decades begin to crumble, and life itself follows soon after.  Without a sense of personal meaning to motivate us, all of the science, study, and information about brain fitness and healthy aging is pointless, because we have no will to apply the knowledge.

So what’s the solution?

Creativity coach Eric Maisel has an interesting take on the topic in his book “The Van Gogh Blues”.   Although the book  is aimed directly at creative professionals (who often share similar a life-purpose crisis ) rather than seniors, many of the core ideas translate well to the struggles of retirement.  Here’s a quick summary of some of the takeaway points from the bok:

  1. Meaning, Identity and Purpose Are Not Fixed. They naturally shift and change throughout life.  A lot of our suffering over lack of meaning is because we’re clinging to an old, outdated purpose and identity; it can be resolved by redefining ourselves in our current existence.  Just because an old purpose of job or family raising is no longer relevant does not mean that  life itself is no longer relevant.
  2. Take Responsibility. MAKE meaning. There’s a tendency  in American culture to approach purpose and meaning passively, to see it as something imposed by external forces, to allow ourselves to be defined by our jobs, families, God.  But we don’t have to be passive. We can be active, discover our own meanings, even create them, carving our own paths of purpose.
  3. Meaning Is Not Universal, But Individual. Culturally, some purposes  are viewed as more meaningful than others… but ultimately, what we find as meaningful is very personal. What we find meaningful is influenced by our personality, temperament, belief system, and values.   That’s part of why we have to take responsibility, ourselves… because only we know what is really important and meaningful to us.
  4. Meaning Can Be Large or Small. Big purposes are easy to spot… volunteering at a soup kitchen, starting a new charity organization, taking over day care for your grandkids.  But small purposes are just as important, if not so grand…. watering a pot of petunias, feeding wild birds, maintaining friendships, or just smiling at a stranger.
  5. We Can Have Multiple Meanings At The Same Time: Some people have one huge guiding  purpose that runs throughout their whole life… a belief in God, a sense of civic responsibility, building a personal fortune, devotion to family.   But we don’t *HAVE* to have a single guiding purpose, in order to be meaningful.  Our actions can multiple, small impacts on the world around us, and it doesn’t matter if they fall into some grand pattern or not.

It’s a tough question for anyone…

… this business of finding and making meaning in our lives.

And yes, it’s especially difficult for retirees, who may have found their previous purpose in careers they’ve retired from, or the families they’ve successfully raised and sent out into the world.

But by taking responsibility for making our life meaningful, we empower ourselves, and keep our life purposes from being at the mercy of an ever changing external world.    Finding and making meaning for oneself increases independence and quality of life, and encourages other steps towards maintaining a healthy, successful life.

And there is a cultural benefit, too – if  the Boomer generation adopts the idea of re-making their own life purpose and meaning as they age, the cultural view will shift to support the image of seniors as productive, contributing members of society again, paving the way for the more successful aging of future generations.

Pretty Cool, huh?

Entry filed under: Purpose. Connection & Spirit. Tags: , , , , .

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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