Finding Purpose is Essential to the Good Life in Retirement
5 minute read
The answer is 42
In Douglas Adams famous book, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1979), a giant computer called Deep Thought spent 7.5 million years pondering “life, the universe and everything” and then announces that the ultimate answer is…“forty-two.” A joke of course, but it taps into the fact that one of the deepest human needs is to both understand the meaning of life and our purpose. And what is purpose? For the first half of your life, it may be vague and externally dictated to you as “what do you want to be when your grow up,” something your family or society expects. As you grow older, you may find the definition Richard Leider and David Shapiro use helpful, “Purpose is our aim to live a life that is meaningful and makes a positive contribution to the world. It is grounded in the truth that our lives are fundamentally worth living and that each of us matters.”
A variety of groundbreaking research studies conducted in the past few years show that knowing your purpose can also play a positive role in your emotional and physical wellbeing and can help you live longer and happier. One recent study showed that among a group of nearly 7,000 adults over age 50, those who scored highest on a scale that measured “life purpose” were less likely to die during the four-year study period. They were also less likely to die during the same period from heart, circulatory, or blood conditions, compared with those who scored lower (2019 JAMA). Another project also found participants who identified their purpose added an average of 3.1 years to their life expectancies, lost an average of 2.6 pounds, and health care claims for city and school employees dropped by 32 percent (2009 Vitality City).
With the ever-growing number of Americans on the verge of retirement, these findings are more relevant and important today than ever before, especially given the extreme volatility and uncertainty in the world around us today.
WATCH Your Money Map: Finding your Purpose in Retirement
Who will you be vs what you will do?
Aging comes in two phases – your growth from childhood to adulthood and your growth from adulthood to elderhood. By 2030 in the U.S., there will be more people in their elderhood (65+) than children under age 18 and they will be living longer than any prior generation (2021 Retirement Income Institute). Finding new purpose in your elderhood can help make these extra years richer, more rewarding, and happier. Richard Leider talks about this phase as “repacking for the good life” and recommends getting clear on “four pillars” – living in the place you belong, with people you love, doing spiritual work, and on purpose. When you answer these questions, it may cause you to make some changes. Perhaps this explains why gray divorces keep increasing? The person you spent the last 30 years with may not be the person you choose to spend your next 30. But no matter who you chose to keep in your life, connection and belonging are critical. The fact is isolation is deadly. Social support increases survival by some 50 percent and turns out to be just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit. Research also shows that interpersonal social networks are more crucial to physical health than exercising or beating obesity (2010 PLoS Medicine).
1,440 purpose-driven moments in your day
Purpose can come in two sizes – your “big P” and your “small P.” Your big purpose may be your mission in life while your small purpose often shows up repeatedly during the day by living in alignment with your values. Both are important to keep in mind as you navigate what’s next.
Purpose is about saying “yes” to life. It might also equal a paycheck. Some experienced workers in their traditional retirement years are experimenting with various ways to stay engaged in the economy, including self-employment, entrepreneurship, and part-time jobs. For these people, the search isn’t for any kind of work, however, the goal is to find work that is more meaningful and offers purpose… a reason to get up in the morning. Some workers are not there yet and find that there are uncertainties in life that make work a necessity and not necessarily connected to a purpose. High inflation, stock market volatility, and recession worries have caused many recent retirees to reenter the workforce (2022 AARP). All of this while recognizing that the number one concern for retirees continues to be running out of money retirement. If you’re looking for answers to will I have enough money to follow my purpose and live the life I want in retirement, your Retirement Income Evaluation Score can help figure out if you’re on track for a retirement that’s protected.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda… it’s time for will, can, did
So, how do you go about discovering your purpose? These practical steps can help you begin:
- Values assessment- your internal compass and “operating manual” is revealed when you identify your core values. These become a way to determine if you are in alignment with your work and your personal relationships.
- Write down what you want- intention is key when you define your purpose. Share it with others. This can have an infectious quality and also build accountability.
- Reflect- see the present situation as a wake-up call and an opportunity. Slow the world down. Take inventory of where you are: your place, people, what you care about, your life’s work and purpose.
- Connect- realize you don’t have to go it alone. Enlist the people who will be your sounding board through the journey.
- Explore- Be curious and open to opportunities. Think through potential paths and delight in imagining what’s possible.
- Choose- be courageous with optimism and possibility. Weigh your options and decide on a new way forward.
- Repack- embrace the idea of letting things go and simplifying your life. Clarify what you need and what you don’t need for the journey ahead.
- Act- Understand that getting stuck (and unstuck) is part of the journey. Take the first step and adapt as you go.
Explore this site to learn more about planning for income in retirement and the importance of protected income to living life to the fullest.
Richard is the founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company, a firm created to guide individuals to live, work, and lead on purpose. He is ranked by Forbes as one of the “Top 5” most respected coaches and is a contributing author to many coaching books. He is one of a select few coaches who have been invited to work with over 100,000 leaders from over 100 organizations such as AARP, Ameriprise, Ericsson, Habitat for Humanity, Mayo Clinic, Jackson Financial, National Football League, UnitedHealth Group, Sharecare, and the U.S. Dept of State.