Having a Purpose is Vital in the Second Half of Life

Having a Purpose is Vital in the Second Half of Life

People have a desire to feel and know that their lives make a difference.


In the second half of life, this desire becomes even more pronounced. At the first of each year, there is often a focus on having resolutions for the New Year. The majority of New Year’s resolutions quickly go by the wayside, often because they are not connected to something that has a deeper meaning, and that really connect to their purpose in life.

Research has shown that having purpose helps you live longer, healthier, and happier, and even help brain functioning in the later years.

Some people are aware from a young age what it is that they uniquely offer this world, and are able to pursue it throughout their lifetime. For others, this may begin to evolve in their thirties or forties, and may even become a deep longing in their career choices. In the second half of life we want to know we are effectively supportive to others in our lives. We have a deep desire to make sense of our lives. If this is something you want to gain clarity about, there are ways to explore this.

The well-known developmental psychologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Erik Erikson described the eight stages of human development in his book Identity and the Life Cycle (1959). The last stages are ones that concern us in the second half of life.

According to Erikson, in adulthood, if a person has adequately matured through the earlier stages, the seventh stage of development is that of either being ‘generative’ in one’s life or ‘stagnating’.

Generative is the ability to be supportive of others. Often it can be of a younger family member and others of the younger generations. It can involve being interested in making a contribution to the world that one lives in. We often express this in the idea of leaving a legacy.

Stagnation is when one does not learn to contribute to others. This is often characterized by a lack of interest in others, a feeling of having contributed nothing in one’s life, and just living life – as in ‘going through the motions.’

Erikson’s eighth stage is that of either ‘ego integrity’ or ‘despair’. This can often start in the mid-sixties and continue on into late life.

Ego integrity, simply put, is making sense of one’s lifetime, and being at peace with it. It is the ability to see one’s entire life as being meaningful, and accepting both the positive and negative aspects of life as all having had a purpose. It means approaching the end of life with a feeling of having done the best one could with the given circumstances. Often this has been accomplished through doing introspective writing, such as legacy writing, journaling, or through joining a group that explores this together like ‘wisdom groups’ in your spiritual community.

Despair comes from a sense of rejecting one’s life, and realizing there is not enough time to do anything to change this. This can result in depression and fear of dying. This is a hard way to live the later years of your life!

Most of us have a sense that we were born with a purpose – a reason that we are here. Often we get sidetracked in our work lives, just being satisfied with ‘making a living’, or having a focus on external measures of success. We put off doing something that feels like it is part of our purpose until some undefined future time in our lives. Others have things they do outside of their work lives that bring great satisfaction in living with great purpose, such as in their families and friendships, in volunteer work, and in their creative hobbies.

Richard Leider has written about this in his books, such as The Power of Purpose – Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better. It is not just the clergy who have a calling in their lives. We all have a calling, and we have it ‘from cradle to grave’. I would like to invite you see some videos we have in Designing Brighter Tomorrow’s YouTube playlist on purpose.

One way to find your purpose is to look at the things you have done in various periods of your life that brought you great satisfaction and joy.

Perhaps, as a young child, you loved to pretend that you were teaching. Then you loved to help others when they didn’t understand something in school or something they read. In fact, you found your teachers often asked you if you could help another student with their challenges.

You heard that teachers don’t make very much money, and you were encouraged to use your other abilities. Then you found yourself going to school and studying something that would make you a living, like accounting. But during your accounting career, you found you always enjoyed teaching others about how to plan for minimizing taxes, or plan for retirement. And you loved to help your children with their school work.

There is a theme throughout this exploration that you always loved to help others learn. Now you are looking forward to your retirement years, and this can be core to what you could find satisfaction in pursuing as a volunteer activity or as an encore career. So often this can be found in enjoyment of grandchildren, helping the older generation in your life, or in the care of pets.

A sense of purpose can be found in so many ways. The bonus is that these can often lead to connecting with others, which is such an important thing for happiness and staying mentally sharp as we age.

Exploring and acting on your deeper purpose can lead to a more satisfying life!

Author: Linda Marsolek

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