Activities that give meaning to your daily life

Getting Started with Purposeful Activity

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Not everyone is the same. When some people retire, the last thing they want to think about is doing anything serious, while other people get antsy if they don’t have some productive or important activity to pursue. Some have been eagerly waiting for retirement so they can work toward goals they have always had in mind, while others are at a loss what to do with their time. Some see purposeful activity as intrinsic to self-actualization, as a spur to worthwhile achievement, and as a way to earn respect from others. Other people see it as just a lot of work, which they’d rather not deal with. What matters to you?

Before deciding anything specific about work, volunteer, or civic activities you might engage in – or before deciding that you don’t want to do any of those things – it’s a good idea to step back and think about what your vision is for your retirement, and for the rest of your life. It’s also good to be realistic about the kind of person you are: are you someone who needs to be busy, productive, helpful? Are you the sort of person who likes to organize and plan, and who expects things to go well – or do you prefer to just let things happen, or are you more of a pessimist (or “realist,” if you prefer looking at it that way), who’d rather not set yourself up for disappointment?

And if you are married or have some other kind of partner in your life, does that person share your same outlook about retirement, and about life? Or are you in conflict on certain points – or, if you are like many couples, have you never even discussed this in any detail? If you are spending more time with him or her in retirement, is that actually workable, and if so, how?

Finally, if you are unsure about how you want your life to be different in the second half of it, maybe you should consider working with a life coach or some other similar kind of adviser.

With luck, you have good years ahead of you, maybe a lot of them. It’s worth some time and effort, therefore, and maybe even a little cost, to set yourself up to make the most of them.

Getting Started with Purposeful Activity relates to other areas of Purpose:

Getting Started with Purposeful Activity relates to other areas besides Purpose:

Getting Started with Purposeful Activity Sub-Topics and Resources

Whether retirement is still some years away or whether you are there already (or perhaps you are married, and one of you is retired and one isn’t yet), you still have room to imagine what your ideal retirement should be, and then to take steps to turn it into that. We all have constraints, some of us more than others, but anyone capable of reading this also still has choices, and maybe these choices are more wide open than you are in the habit of supposing.

But capturing such a vision is a process, not an event, and your best insights might actually come from thinking about how other people have spent their retirement years – both those who have done it well, and those who have not. Or just talk with other people who have reached that stage in their lives, and ask them what they did right, and what would they do differently if they could. Take into account that you’re a different person from any of them, but still, you’re just a different person, not a different species. And we can all still learn from our elders.

There are also some very good books about retirement. Most retirement books talk a lot about money, and how to manage your investments. Financial topics are important, but the books we are recommending here mostly don’t deal with finances – they deal with the way you live your life: what you do, and the attitude with which you approach it. If you buy one or more of these, or find them in your local library, you are very likely to come away with a clearer sense of what kind of retirement would really work well for you.

  • Excellent books about retirement:
  • See also:
  • Polls suggest that only about half of married couples share a vision of what their retirement should be about, and about one in five explicitly conflict in their viewpoints. It is certainly better to understand and address such differences before retirement arrives, but it’s never too late to make this effort. And even if you were in perfect agreement at one time, changes in health, experience, and other circumstances – and even the mere passage of time – can result in viewpoints drifting apart. So checking in again from time to time is a valuable practice.

    Let’s acknowledge that we’re not all the same in this regard. Some people can stand only so much unstructured time. They need to have long-term goals, and they not only think but deeply feel that they need to “be productive,” to “make a contribution,” or to be “doing good for others.” Other people look at these people and think, “Why can’t they just relax?” Well, they can, but not for long stretches of time. For them, a life without some higher purpose, or at least something challenging and worthwhile to do, is a life that is not only unfulfilling, but highly frustrating. For them, the hardest part of aging can be the part where they lose their physical capacity, their mental acuity, or just their energy – and they feel they are useless and that their lives are meaningless. This might be you, and if it is, you have some issues to face.

    Or you might be just the opposite. A lot of other people love the idea of not having “tasks” to do, and by the time they reach retirement age, they feel that they have had way too many tasks already. Their best days are the ones where they have no obligations and no chores, but where they are free to play their favorite game or sport, read a newspaper or magazine or book just for fun or to while away the time, to stroll on a beach or in the woods or around their neighborhood, to go for an aimless drive, to schmooze with friends, to watch television or go to a movie or cruise the internet – essentially, to relax and enjoy just being alive. Other people look at these people and think, “How can they just waste all that time?” Well, for them it’s not a waste – though there are days when there is just nothing at all going on, and when relaxation morphs into tedium, and they have trouble fighting it off. For them, the hardest part of aging is that they may get to the point where they are stuck mostly by themselves, and can’t get out any more, and life no longer offers any real diversion. So if this is you, you also have some issues to face.

    Whatever you have to face, a lot of that is going to have to be by looking in the mirror, and deep inside of you. But there are some resources out there that can help you think some of this through. You do not necessarily need to change who you are – it may not even be possible – but if you understand who you are and what you need, you can frame your life appropriately.

    When we look at the more extreme cases, it is generally felt that the more laid-back “Type B” personality, as described in the section just above, is probably healthier and easier to live with than the “Type A” person, and perhaps happier as well. But people who like productive activity and are good at it often have an advantage over their opposite numbers in another way: they tend to be optimists. The belief that good things can (and probably will) happen, that if you set a goal and work at it, you probably will achieve it, actually is a common ingredient of successful purposeful activity. People who are pessimistic (or predominantly “cautious” or “realistic,” as they more commonly describe themselves) are more likely to shy away from serious effort, especially if there is no penalty for doing so, as is often the case in retirement. Yet they do miss out on the satisfactions of achieving certain things that can add meaning and even spice to life.

    Purposeful activity can include volunteering, civic activity, supporting charitable causes, and doing paid work that serves other people in a well-intentioned way. So before deciding what kind of purposeful activity should engage you in retirement, it is well to consider what your own charitable intent, if any, is. Although we do not mean to discourage benevolence, if you really don’t feel it, and prefer that other people take care of themselves, then nothing you read here is likely to change your mind. But if you do feel that some of your efforts in retirement should bend toward benefiting others, are you better off giving time, or money, or some of both? And how do you decide how much time or money to give, knowing that if you give too much of either, it just might mean that you yourself end up needing help where otherwise you could be self-sufficient?

    Ultimately, of course, only you can judge these matters. But here are a few resources that might help you think about them.

    “Life coach” is still a suspicious, perhaps even silly, phrase to some people. But it has caught on pretty widely, and the fact is that someone who is properly trained and well experienced can help any of us realize things about ourselves, about what we really want or don’t want in life, about how to re-organize our lives over time in ways that reflect our true desires, and about how to motivate us to do all that. Life coaches are not free, but many of them will have an exploratory meeting with you at no charge, so you can decide whether or not hiring one can help you.

    Here is where you can find more information about what life coaches do, and how to find one for yourself.