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Life with purpose: The importance of contribution and engagement as we age

by Amanda Lambert | Contributor
April 30, 2020

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A purpose in life is important at any age. When we are younger, work and family drive our purpose and engagement in life. As we age, things shift slowly from work to retirement, and family to an empty nest. Take a proactive and focused effort at staying engaged in life throughout these transitions. The end result will be increased psychological, physical and financial well-being.

Why is purpose important?

Multiple surveys have shown that between 33% and 43% of older adults report they are lonely. There are many reasons for this. Some people simply can’t get out of the house or stay engaged because of physical or cognitive problems. Yet, in many cases, people are lonely because they don’t have the stimulation of work and family to keep them busy. Other reasons to stay engaged:

  • Staying healthy
    People who have a purpose when they age are healthier. In a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, a connection was found between purpose and physical health.Seniors in an aerobics class “Those with a higher purpose in life had a 13% decreased risk of developing a weak grip, and a 14% decreased risk of developing a slow walk.” This might seem minor at first glance, but slow walking and loss of strength is associated with overall decline. People who are out engaging with life have less stress and better health outcomes.
  • Improved cognition
    You have heard the phrase, “if you don’t use it you lose it!” The aging brain is fully capable of developing new neural pathways. Declining memory has many causes. Yet, studies have shown that people’s cognition improves when they learn new skills and challenges. Purpose and engagement foster better focus, awareness, flexibility and problem-solving skills.
  • Contributing makes you happier
    And it also makes you healthier. Engaging with your community, whether it’s volunteering or part-time work, brings joy and meaning to life. Unlike traditional work experiences, engagement after retirement can be more diverse and stimulating. It may also be intergenerational, which has its own benefits.
  • Social interaction
    We talked about the pervasive problem of loneliness and aging. Purpose and engagement are antidotes to loneliness because they promote social interaction. Being around people is uplifting and stimulating. New friendships are forged.
  • Improved self-esteem
    Our identity and self-worth are tied to our work or family life. When those are gone, it can leave a feeling of loss and lack of purpose. Staying engaged in life improves our self-esteem. Finding purpose and contributing to others helps us to feel good about ourselves. It also relieves stress and improves health.

How to start

The best time to start thinking about post-retirement planning is before you need to. Set realistic goals to keep you moving forward. Think and plan ahead with these six tips to stay engaged for the long haul.

  1. Review your financial situation.
    If you are stressed about money, it will be difficult to stay focused on other priorities. Make sure you have the funds available to pursue what you want when you want. That includes trips and vacations. If necessary, budget for classes, supplies or other expenses associated with your passion.
  2. Take inventory of your passions and interests.
    Have you always wanted to learn an instrument or foreign language? Taking stock of what you have wanted to do but didn’t have time to can be enlightening. It can also be overwhelming. Starting this process before you need to will help to focus in on what is important. It is human nature to defer interests when there isn’t time to pursue them anyway. Really take stock of what is important to you. Is it working with groups toward a common goal? Or do you lean more towards learning a new skill or hobby? Look for affordable classes at your local University, senior center or through community education.
  3. Make a plan.
    Without a plan it is too easy to fall into complacency. A good plan provides structure and direction. That doesn’t mean it is iron clad. Flexibility is important. Something you may think is right for you may not be. Be willing to give it up for something else. Have several other options in mind. Write your plan down or keep an online accounting of your ideas.
  4. Consider volunteer work or part-time employment.
    Volunteer work is just the ticket for many people because it offers structure, purpose and social engagement. Other people prefer to be paid for their work. This may be out of necessity or the feeling that paid work connotes value. Volunteer opportunities are boundless. Looking online is the best way to see what is available. If you are considering employment, reach out to your Area Agency on Aging. Your local aging services usually has a senior employment program to help older adults enter or re-enter the workplace after retirement.
  5. Don’t let fear guide you.
    It can be terrifying to think about learning something completely new. Acknowledge the feeling but don’t let it dissuade you. The best way to deal with fear is to realize you are not alone. Most everyone feels this way. Be brave and plow ahead. Nine times out of 10 you will be glad you did. Your life will be enhanced in ways that may surprise you.
  6. Go easy on yourself.
    Avoid the trap of feeling like you are never doing enough! Some people may need the rush of feeling like they are back at work again. For others, being overbooked is draining. Monitor how you are feeling and whether you have over committed yourself. Don’t be afraid to pare down your schedule. That also applies to family responsibilities like tending to the grandkids or caregiving. If the responsibility has become too much, say so.

Embrace and pursue the vital importance of purpose and engagement throughout the life span. Whether you are starting early or later, the effort will yield benefits that will enhance and improve your life.

Alliance America can help

Alliance America is an insurance and financial services company. Our financial planners and retirement income certified professionals can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and help you to achieve your future goals. We have access to an array of products and services, all focused on helping you enjoy the retirement lifestyle you want and deserve. You can request a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by calling (833) 219-6884 today.

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