You’ve just spent your whole life being purpose-driven at work. Do you really need to have a purpose in retirement, too? Research by Dr. Celeste Pearce, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, has shown that having a strong sense of purpose can significantly enhance your overall quality of life and help you live longer.
For those without a conscious purpose, the prospect of spending potentially 30 years in retirement with nothing meaningful to do can feel overwhelming. And Pearce’s study also shows that boredom can be dangerous for your health.
As a retirement coach with a desire to help retirees create meaningful lives, I see these as pretty good reasons to explore purpose in retirement, if not before!
For the newly retired, it might seem a bit like work to try to articulate a new life purpose. In the early stages of retirement, people tend to be most focused on leisure activities, travel, and working through their bucket lists. However, the emotional high of engaging in nothing but “fun” might eventually begin to wear thin. When this life of leisure starts to feel less than fulfilling, it is not uncommon for people to express a sense of disillusionment with their retirements. The desire to engage in something more meaningful comes to the fore, and the search for a new purpose in life becomes the new focus.
Does Your Purpose Need To Be Something Epic?
The search for purpose does not need to be a daunting task. Many of my clients anxiously assume that their purpose must be something grand or lofty. It turns out that purpose can be large or small, and it can evolve over time. It merely needs to be something that fills you with satisfaction or a sense of accomplishment. It can range from caring for your grandchild to tackling world peace. Dr. Celeste Pearce’s study defined purpose as “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals, promotes healthy behaviours, and gives meaning to life.”
6 Questions To Help You Live Purposefully In Retirement
1. What Activities Do You Engage In That Make Time Disappear?
Think about the times that you’ve been so engrossed in an activity that suddenly you realize hours have passed, and you haven’t even taken time to eat. Maybe it was when you were painting, or perhaps it was when you were writing. Regardless of what you were doing, those activities that keep you up at night — in a good way — can provide clues to your purpose.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian American psychologist, described the psychological concept of “flow.” People are in a state of “flow” when they are completely absorbed in a task and they experience a state of genuine satisfaction. According to Csikszentmihalyi, when the experience of doing the activity is intrinsically rewarding, you are expressing yourself in a purposeful manner.
2. What Do You Know You’re Passionate About?
Passion is like fuel. It’s what lights your fire, gets you out of bed in the morning, and provides you with the energy required to do the things you love. Some people are clear about their passions from a very early age. Others find their passions less easy to articulate. In my retirement coaching practice, I suggest that clients look at their current lives for clues to their passions. I ask them to take a closer look at how they spend their time and money. I ask them to notice what they are reading, music they listen to, TV shows that they watch.
Are there any themes? What subjects do they find themselves gravitating toward? What kind of movies do they prefer? They can check out their credit card invoice to see what they are spending money on. All of these are clues to their passions. Passion for what you do is what will provide the drive and the energy required for building and living a purposeful life in retirement.
3. Which Of Your Character Strengths Do You Want To Use Regularly?
Your character strengths are the strong qualities that you love to express, and that other people consistently notice and appreciate about you. They are the positive parts of your personality that can affect how you think, feel, and behave. When you use your character strengths, you are showing the very best version of yourself. Some examples of these strengths include creativity, honesty, fairness, kindness, and leadership. According to the Via Institute on Character, there are 24 of them, and you can see the whole list here.
As a retirement coach, I encourage my clients to identify their top character strengths and try to incorporate them into their lives at least once a day. A client who has kindness as a strength might visit a friend who is lonely or deliver a treat to a person who is unwell. Research done by the Via Institute on Character clearly indicates that using your character strengths in your everyday live will steer you toward a life of fulfillment, which will help you feel more aligned with your sense of purpose.
4. What Brought You Joy In Childhood?
Have you ever considered reigniting that inner childhood fire that once lived within you? People who are struggling in retirement can shift from feeling aimless to feeling hopeful by harkening back to a childhood dream that was once exciting to them. Perhaps it was the experience of discovering something new, learning to play a new instrument, or helping others. Exploring your childhood dreams does not necessarily mean that you will express those same dreams in retirement. Instead, these dreams might hold some clues that point to what you might enjoy doing now. For example, if you wanted to be a firefighter as a kid, this could be symbolic of wanting a life that involves looking after others.
As a coach, I ask my clients to look back over their whole life and look for common threads. I ask them to notice what has given them the most happiness. What fascinated you as a child? Did you have any secret fantasies or aspirations that were never fulfilled? These childhood dreams could provide some valuable insights into what you are naturally driven toward and how you might express them in a purposeful way in retirement.
5. What Social Issues Are Important To You?
Many retirees want to spend their time doing meaningful things and making a difference in the lives of others. Many of my retired clients report that helping others brings them a sense of purpose, prevents isolation, and keeps them physically and mentally active. Retirement is an opportunity to evaluate the causes and volunteer opportunities that you care about so that you can decide where you want to focus your energy. In retirement, the opportunity exists for you to combine your leisure time with being of service to others.
If you are an avid gardener, you could combine your love of gardening with volunteer work at a community garden that could benefit from your expertise. There are plenty of opportunities and lots of need in the world. Sharing what you have learned over the years for the benefit of others is a wonderful way to express your purpose in retirement. This could take the form of preparing taxes for low-income families if you have accounting skills. Serving on boards, canvassing for a cause, or building homes in a foreign country are all purposeful ways to give back. What will you bring to the world?
6. What Will You Regret Not Doing Before You Die?
Retirement is a time to be a fully active and engaged participant in your one precious life. This is an opportunity to do what needs to be done to avoid having any regrets at the end of your life. Palliative care physician, Dr. Ira Byock, author of The Four Things that Matter Most, reports the four things that dying people wished they had said to important people in their lives. They are:
- Please forgive me.
- I forgive you.
- Thank you.
- I love you.
Often, we don’t say important things to important people in our lives. This can lead to life regrets. These simple but powerful statements have the power to repair relationships and bring us closer to our loved ones. Living intentionally, with purpose and integrity, will ensure that you will approach the end of your life without regrets.
The Benefits Of Living Your Life Purpose
You know you are living purposefully when you feel alive, vital, and content. A growing body of research shows that having a purpose in retirement promotes happiness, healthier lives, and a lower incidence of illness and depression. Having a purpose is about acknowledging your own gifts and using them either for your own happiness or to contribute to the world.
Clients of mine who have explored their purposes report satisfaction in knowing who they are and why they are here. They can prioritize what is important to them, they experience deeper relationships, and they engage in activities that are meaningful to them. They feel hopeful for the future. Having a strong sense of purpose is the key to living your best life in retirement. Knowing that purpose has the potential to enhance your life in almost all respects, take the time to discover your purpose. You won’t regret it!