How do we find purpose in our lives, even when we’re considered “medium-old”?

Recently an item appeared in my email from a national retirees association, definitively labelling my age group as “medium-old”. I ask you?! According to this retirees’ newsletter, the senior years are broken down into “young-old” age (65-74) and “medium-old” age (75-84).  The author left out what comes next; perhaps he or she figured that the next group, presumably “old-old” age (85+), no longer reads newsletters!  I have to admit to not liking these labels very much; I prefer the softer – and remarkably accurate – go-go, go-slow, and no-go categories. And without specific age limits attached. But however you label it, there’s no doubt that this phase of life starts out for most of us as exploring new or renewed interests with few if any limitations, then slowly but surely those limitations start creeping in.  And, of course, that’s why it’s so important to follow any retirement dreams you have well before the limitations part kicks in.

Once the newsletter clarified our old-age categories, it passed along some wise observations from John Helliwell. John Helliwell is professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and editor of the UN’s World Happiness Report, which each year assesses the “happiness” of every country according to a comprehensive list of metrics, and then produces a full report along with the annual World Happiness Index. I love reading this report, which always makes for interesting reading. The World Happiness Index draws its inspiration from the Gross National Happiness measure developed in the small Himalayan country of Bhutan, whose former king determined that quality of life and social progress is just as important as economic progress. How can you not embrace that concept? ❤

20 happiest countries in recent World Happiness Report WHIndex

In the retirees’ newsletter, some of Helliwell’s key elements of well-being and happiness are listed: social engagement or membership in a community, a sense of common purpose, social support, trust in the benevolence of others, and involvement in pro-social activities. We are told that these are all elements that can make an enormous difference to how well we oldsters (young-old, medium-old, and old-old) traverse our post-working lives.  And it strikes me that these elements are also keys to success in living lives of purpose and well-being at any age.

Around the same time that I found this retirees’ newsletter in my inbox, I also found a blog post from fellow blogger Andrew at A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life. Among other things, Andrew reminded his readers of the age-old philosophical questions central to human existence:

– How can I live a good life?

– What is the purpose of my life?

– How can be we build prosperous, moral and ethical societies?

Interesting to be reminded of these fundamental questions that have been posed through the millennia.  These are questions we ask ourselves as individuals from time to time, when we realize there is something missing in our lives or when some things becomes unpleasant or even hostile in the world around us.  These philosophical questions about leading a good life and finding purpose in our lives are, sadly, at loggerheads with society’s current ideological focuses on consumerism and individualism. And you can see how happy those ideologies have been making people and society recently. Not!

It turns out that our national retirees association newsletter was providing answers to those very same fundamental philosophical questions.  It’s all very good advice, and, as I mentioned above, it’s advice that’s equally important for every single age group, not just retirees. [Perhaps those groups include young-young, old-adolescent, and medium middle age!]  Everyone’s happiness, well-being, and sense of purpose is enhanced by:

  • Feeling part of a community or social group (social engagement)
  • Having a shared sense of purpose with others
  • Having social support, both providing it to others and making sure that you have social support you can call on
  • Trusting in the goodness and generosity of others, just as you demonstrate those qualities to others by example
  • Being involved in helping others, in other words being part of the solution of building community.

Yes, when we are retired we have to be more pro-active in making sure we reach out and stay engaged, since work or school is no longer available to provide a ready-made community. And, yes, when we are retired we have far more time to become involved in activities and their accompanying communities of interest. But someone can feel isolated long before they reach retirement age. Belonging to a group and feeling part of a community comes far easier to some people than others, at any age. So if you know of anyone – of any age – who you think might be struggling with loneliness or self-worth, it’s good for your health and well-being as well as theirs to reach out to them. Introduce them to a community of interest. Follow up from time to time. There’s no better purpose in life than helping others. Give it a shot!

Helping

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32 Responses to How do we find purpose in our lives, even when we’re considered “medium-old”?

  1. I love this, Jane! Thank you for reminding us, “There’s no better purpose in life than helping others.”
    I chuckled at the senior categories, and I agree with you — go-go, slow-go, no-go are better categories, and can apply at any age. 💛

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Victoria says:

    Thank you, Jane, especially for this: …”someone can feel isolated long before they reach retirement age. Belonging to a group and feeling part of a community comes far easier to some people than others, at any age.” So true, I think. And your closing comment about no greater purpose than helping others…oh my. Yes. Such a lovely post…including your revision of those pesky age categories. I like yours better — especially the “go-go and go-slow”. xo! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Well thought out approach to living well especially in retirement.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I live in a condo complex where most of the residents are seniors. A few are in their early 90s (and full of energy) and many are in their 80s. Given I’m 68, many label me a youngster. I tell them I consider myself a ‘junior senior’, whereas those more experienced (over 80 is my criteria) are ‘senior seniors’. Most seem to appreciate that I am just respecting their more extensive life experience. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Jane for your sage advice and age friendly monikers. I fully agree the highest form of life is helping others and that is best done through community involvement.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, yes, and yes! Because of arthritis, my mobility is limited, but life is still good. It is filled with family, friends, food, writing, books, television, and movies. And a snug home on the edge of the woods.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Margaret says:

    I love that you’ve included young age groups in your post Jane. I feel fortunate in living in a small town ( called ‘the village’ ) which has increased its population to approximately 8,000 after recent housing developments. It has a great working community ethic, plenty to do and to join if so desired. During Covid it was difficult in different ways for everyone. As you might expect there were immediate concerns for our isolated and elderly but we soon began to realise our young people were really suffering – used to mixing with their peer groups socially and interest wise all stopped. Many found it really hard and became depressed and worse! Its so important isn’t it, as you say, to remember all stages of life sometimes need help, even if for different reasons?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I’m really glad you focused on challenges for young people in your comment, Margaret, especially during the isolation imposed by COVID. During that period when kids were attending school on a screen in their bedroom I kept remembering back all those decades and thinking of my school years. I couldn’t imagine having missed what it was really all about, the social interactions. That’s when and how we become ‘who we are’, by interacting with our peers and being involved in group activities. How do you do that in isolation? Very tough.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wynne Leon says:

    Love this “And it strikes me that these elements are also keys to success in living lives of purpose and well-being at any age.” and how you put together the info from the newsletter with similar questions from Andrew.

    Beautiful wisdom and inspiration, Jane! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. heimdalco says:

    AMEN! I so agree ( as a member of the medium olds … don’t much like that terminology either).

    While I enjoyed all of this post, the thing that came home to me immediately was COVID & how it isolated us from each other & from life as we’d known it … & how we suffered, both physically & emotionally from that loss. As president of a local non-profit, out organization met every month, planned our community involvement, donations & activities, but also enjoyed true friendships within our group. We interacted SOCIALLY & as friends continually. When we were isolated, our organization was isolated from our social interaction AND the helping service we provided our community. ALL of your bulleted points affected us & I grieved the loss. When we found ZOOM & decided to meet there monthly for community help planning AND especially as friends (we had a Halloween Party with costume contest, a Game Night & Christmas Party through the services of ZOOM) we were able to be inventive to continue our lives as close to normal as we remembered them. Praise Be to ZOOM! There is no describing that first ZOOM meeting … how elated I was to actually see & talk with our friends. It lifted the gloom & depression I believe we all were feeling at being so rudely separated from what & who we enjoyed. Those interactions, we found out are VITAL to happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Linda, you and your organization are a great example of the value of community and friendship on several levels, and the loss that ensues when those links are broken, in this case by the devastating COVID isolation. Zoom was a godsend in many such instances, but that really only worked for those situations where the friendships/community had already been established. Can you imagine the difficulties for people in a new workplace, just moved to a new location, or in a new school (or even grade) without knowing anyone. So, so hard.

      Liked by 1 person

      • heimdalco says:

        I can’t IMAGINE what it must have been like for those people … adults & children … & especially if they were socially challenged before the isolation. It was difficult for us &, as you pointed out, we were established as an organization & as friends. I don’t believe that kind of isolation can be planned for even if you know it’s coming. I pray that we aren’t exposed to it again, although that is unlikely

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Suddenly I’m feeling “super-young old.” Great reminders regardless of age!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      LOL. Now that’s my idea of a great category, Crystal. “Super-young old”! It’s perfect; you have all the advantages of the young (energy, physical flexibility and mobility, and lots of promise yet to be explored), along with the wisdom that comes with age (or so they say)! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post, Jane. A SFU professor compiled a study 3 or 4 years ago on aging. I can’t remember the specifics, but she used the term super-senior to identify anyone 85 and over who had not experienced one of the big five medical conditions: cancer, diabetes, lung disease, dementia, or stroke. This is what I aspire to be. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jane, for some daft reason I can’t reply to your comment on ‘3 Songs About Getting Old”. (I have to “approve” comments that contain link, which caused a delay. So (5 months later) thank you! I do like that very honest song you linked to.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Roy McCarthy says:

    A few chords struck there Jane. First, it’s mad to box people off by reference to their age. I am still quietly fuming as to how, as Covid struck, I was suddenly considered vulnerable, needed sheltering and was unsuitable to join the community volunteer groups which sprung up at that time. Second, maybe I’m fortunate but I find that – at 69 – I still have contact with people of all ages. I think there’s a large cohort, in government and generally, that believe we should all be shuffling off to coffee mornings, maybe to be entertained by visiting schoolchildren singing songs. Even if and when I get to the no-go stage I’ll still think the same. Here in Jersey we’ve just lost, at age 102, the war hero Bob Le Sueur. He didn’t stay lively and active to the end by surrounding himself exclusively with the elderly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Roy, you have the healthiest of healthy approaches to life. I 100% agree about having interactions and friendships with people of all ages, especially since as you move into the later years there are fewer people up there! But on the flip side from your approach (being physically and mentally active, being involved with others and helping others), there are many who don’t do any of those things and struggle with a post-retirement life. I think that’s the bigger concern. You can be a role model for those people! 😏😊

      Liked by 1 person

  14. debscarey says:

    My initial feeling was to be surprised that the UK made the list at all, except that I forgot to add in that the population is made up of more than our appallingly self-serving government and super rich.

    But yes, a purpose and community are so important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      As a devoted daily reader of the Guardian and online BBC, I know where you’re coming from. The list every year definitely serves as a wake-up call as to just how challenging life is for most people around the globe. 😥

      Liked by 1 person

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