Growing older can be a wonderful and enriching experience, but can also be challenging emotionally for seniors who feel directionless or unsure of what is next in their lives.
The huge life shifts that come along with ageing and retirement can leave seniors feeling as though they have lost their sense of purpose, or the guiding roles and responsibilities that brought meaning to their every day lives. With families grown and out on their own, careers brought to an end, the passing of friends and family members, and a whole bunch of other changes, seniors might feel as though they have lost their sense of motivation and purpose. These feelings can significantly impact the ways in which seniors live, as well as the overall state of their health. Addressing seniors’ perceptions and feelings about their own value, meaning, and purpose by creating enjoyable opportunities for exploration, expression, socialization, and productivity can have a meaningful impact upon how they experience their new stage of life.
Why Purpose is Important
Research has shown that maintaining a sense of purpose and meaning is crucial for both mental and physical health, especially in older age. A sense of purpose and the feelings that accompany it are believed to:
- Release Beneficial Hormones
- Reduce Stress
- Prevent or Minimize Depression
- Protect Cognitive Reserve
Feelings of value and purpose have also been shown to better motivate seniors to maintain a sense of agency regarding their health and to seek out preventative health services, such as tests for various conditions and diseases that can identify and address problems early.
For many seniors, the fact that the roles and forms of involvement that once made up their sense of purpose have either changed or have been lost entirely makes them feel as though there is nothing left to hold onto that can offer them a sense of meaning. The truth is, however, that finding and building new feelings of identity and purpose is possible with a shift of perspective. First of all, it can be helpful for seniors to realize that it is okay for purpose and identity to evolve as they move through their lives, there is not just one set of roles that makes up a person’s value forever. While seniors may no longer be involved in their professional careers and may no longer occupy the same role in the family, this does not mean all their purpose is lost forever, they just need to seek out new roles and ways to find fulfilment. What brings us meaning is determined by who we are as people, and new meaning can be found by incorporating the new aspects of self that have become part of life in older years. Seniors should also remind themselves that purpose does not have to come from the things that occupy the most time. Meaning and purpose can be found in small tasks, moments, hobbies, and relationships, not just from careers and responsibilities.
Finding Meaning and Purpose
Finding a new sense of purpose starts with exploration. Engaging and participating in new activities and trying out new roles, tasks, and responsibilities can help seniors to find what adds meaning to their lives in older age. The following is a list of activities that can be good places for seniors to start their exploration of self and community:
- Write: Over the course of their lives, seniors have collected a great many stories, experiences, pieces of wisdom, and bits of knowledge that they may find value in revisiting. Writing a journal or other written works to collect and pass on can remind seniors of all they have accomplished and can allow them to experience those feelings again while also preparing to share them with others should they choose to.
- Create: Forms of art, crafting, and other creative hobbies can help to pass time but can also allow seniors the opportunity to build and hone skills that fulfil them. The products of these labours can also be shared with others in meaningful ways. Creativity can also come in the forms of song or dance, through which seniors can explore and express themselves.
- Meditate: While not necessarily appealing to everyone at first, meditation can offer time for reflection and deep thought that can help seniors to connect and find a sense of meaning within themselves while also improving their health by lowering blood pressure and improving mood.
- Work: While still in reasonably good health, seniors can explore the possibility of engaging in some form of part-time work even after retiring. Whether it be work in a field they already have experience in, or a new form of employment all together, seniors can still feel they have something meaningful to contribute.
- Volunteer: Volunteering can provide a deep sense of purpose for seniors by providing an opportunity for them to feel needed and valuable, and reminding them that they have a lot of good left to offer. Volunteering can take innumerable forms and can meet any interests or values that seniors may have or want to explore. Volunteering has also been proven to reduce depression.
- Socialize: Joining social groups, clubs, classes, and other organized opportunities for socialization can help seniors forge new connections or strengthen old ones in ways that help to cultivate a new sense of identity associated with seniors’ new stage of life.
- Share Experiences: Attending support groups can offer an opportunity to share experiences with other people with whom seniors share common experiences, and can also offer a place in which seniors can offer wisdom and thoughts of their own that may help others. Support groups exist for specific health conditions, life challenges, emotional losses, and many other areas that can be of value to seniors.
- Explore Belief: Pursuing interests and engaging in activities and organizations based on common beliefs and values can help seniors cultivate a sense of purpose outside of themselves. Getting involved in religious or other belief-focused communities can not only give seniors the ability to explore themselves and connect with others, but can also provide an environment in which to discuss matters such as purpose and meaning with others.
Keeping hold of a sense of purpose can sometimes feel a little more difficult as we grow older and the elements that once filled our lives start to undergo changes. On top of this, the unfortunate reality is that much of the language and ideas that exist regarding older age in the modern social context often fail to acknowledge the great value, worth, and contributions that seniors still continue to be able to make. The truth is, however, that seniors can still possess a strong sense of identity, value, meaning, and purpose in older age, it will likely just come from different sources and take different forms than it did before. Through exploring new things and cultivating an individual sense of meaning, seniors can empower themselves, better their physical and mental health, and improve the overall quality of life that they experience as they age. Caregivers and loved ones here in Sudbury can help by reminding seniors of their worth and helping to facilitate or support their process of exploring and learning what makes them feel fulfilled and gives them a sense of purpose in their new phase of life.