March 17, 2021
Day to Day Meaning: 10 Paths to Building Life Purpose
When I learned that having a high purpose in life is scientifically proven to lengthen the time a person can remain independent, I recalled a memory of a role model addressing a crowd in a speech, who advised us to “find your purpose” in order to succeed in life. It sounded so daunting and singular. For the better part of a decade, I sometimes wondered whether I had found my purpose or if my purpose was profound enough.
Happily, I have come to realize that one’s “purpose” doesn’t have to be saving thousands of lives or leading an influential organization. Purpose can evolve and manifest from many different experiences and opportunities in all seasons of life. It’s the little things that bring fulfillment and inspiration that can keep us sharp and independent late in life. And life purpose is so personal, there are no one-size-fits all activities that inspire every individual.
To spark interest among older adults, listen for comments that hint at curiosity around a topic and suggest one or two actionable ideas. Make sure the first one or two steps to get started are easy and unintimidating.
Here are 10 possible paths to developing a higher sense of purpose:
- Revisit old hobbies; lean in to existing ones.
Talk about activities that are already enjoyable, and set new goals to work toward. Love reading? Pick a few friends and start a book club.
Build purpose by reviving old goals. Dust off those passions you had as a kid or young adult and explore them again. For the dancers, many professional dance companies offer free introductory classes for all ages. Tinker with that invention idea that was shelved decades ago—with more life experience you might just solve that problem.
- Adopt a furry (or feathery) companion
Pets come with daily routines and activities, companionship, and the high purpose of keeping another thing alive. Many veterinary professionals offer low-cost services and supplies just for seniors.
But think carefully about the right fit. Although dogs are perfect for some seniors, cats need less exercise and training. Birds generally have longer life spans but require less upkeep. Sea turtles and fish are contained to a smaller space, but keeping their environments clean is surprisingly high maintenance.
- Work longer, or return to work.
There’s a fast-growing group of the “unretired,” and services to help older adults re-enter the workforce. People might choose to return to work of out boredom or financial reasons. Whatever the motivation, even a part-time gig creates a positive feedback loop and feelings of pride, contributing to purpose.
- Express yourself
Turn up the volume on your personal identity! Experiment with fashion, hair styles or wigs, or hip accessories like artsy eye glasses or fancy canes.
Writing your memoirs can be therapeutic and might inspire the next generation to understand your world view. One way to get started is to try a memoir guide like Storyworth, the company sends prompts via e-mail and compiles a book for you.
Henry Ford once observed, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” By gaining new knowledge we ignite new passions and challenge ourselves.
Local colleges and universities often promote lectures and exhibitions that are free and open to the public. Your local library likely offers free classes on topics ranging from how to conduct ancestry research to virtual tours of Venice.
Ready to take on a full course? The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes offer university-level, non-credit courses designed for older adults, with a focus on building a sense of community and camaraderie among participants. Here is a map to find an Institute affiliated with a university near you.
- Grow your faith, or try spirituality on for size
If you already associate with a place of worship, consider signing up to volunteer on a standing committee. If you don’t, and you’re curious, consider accompanying a friend to a service.
Find inner serenity with a simple meditation practice. If that sounds too “out-there,” dip your toes in the meditation waters by reading “The Untethered Soul,” by Michael A. Singer or find a mindfulness class at the YMCA. If you’re harboring anger or emotional pain, this one can be especially freeing.
What are your special talents/skills? Share your advice and experiences to an up-and-coming generation. Reach out to local professors or teachers and offer yourself as a lecturer or interview subject. Engage with your local high school or college alumni network and sign up as a mentor to young alumni.
Keeping a journal can clarify what you find meaningful. Try writing just a few sentences about what fascinates you or things you’d like to know more about.
Another tried and true quick-start guide to journaling is choosing a few things you’re grateful for each day, and writing them down. Full sentences are not required to practice gratitude.
Your community could really use a hand. Some easy ways to help? Join a stem cell registry or donate your blood. If you can deal with more commitment, look into volunteering at a library, museum, or hospital.
If you’re not sure how to find a good fit, search www.volunteermatch.org for local volunteer activities based on your interests. You can also sign up for alerts for upcoming volunteer opportunities that match your criteria.
- Tap into the community and make plans
Here’s the thing: People need to feel needed, like they are an important part of something bigger than themselves. Most of the paths I’ve included here have a built-in community of like-minded people. Actively engaging—going to the bowling shindig, striking up a conversation before the committee meeting, sharing a cup of coffee after the mindfulness class—builds personal relationships and a higher sense of purpose. Sometimes all it takes is a leap of faith, or a little help to get started.
Sense of purpose is scientifically proven to impact independence among older adults. Service providers across the U.S. have adopted PFMIpro to track these and other risk factors, empowering professional caregivers to deliver appropriate support and data-driven updates to care teams and loved ones. With real time reporting capabilities, agency administrators can also track and report critical performance metrics to funding sources. Connect with the experts and request a demo at www.pfmipro.com.