The Key To Living Well After Retirement Is Having Purpose. Here Are 3 Science-Backed Ways To Find It

Fortune Well August 2, 2023


The Key To Living Well After Retirement Is Having Purpose. Here Are 3 Science-Backed Ways To Find It

Aging well and the societal narrative around aging are often at odds. There’s a lot of focus on the mental and physical problems that arise and the tough logistical decisions that follow. 

“We don’t really shift our focus to, how do we live well in this extra time,” M.T. Connolly, the author of the new book The Measure of Our Age, tells Fortune. “We miss out on a lot of the best stuff about it.”

While getting older comes with a host of challenges, including ageism and the pressure on women to “appear younger,” there are many reasons getting older can be exciting, says Connolly. 

“A lot of people get happier as they age because they start to focus more on the meaningful parts of existence and emotional meaning and positive experience as finitude gets more real,” she says.

But it can be difficult to find your footing after retirement when work no longer supplies a sense of identity and accomplishment. The shift can be startling, especially as companies don’t often transition workers to part-time or contract work on their way out. 

“We have this American norm where we work just crazy hours,” she says. “And then suddenly—boom—you’re retired. Here’s your pen. Enjoy your retirement.” 

Finding simple everyday outlets to feel purposeful can make a difference.  


Here are three ways to find post-retirement purpose 


1. Volunteer and be in a community  

In retirement, it can be hard to feel that sense of belonging in a core group again, Connolly says. Finding ways to stay connected is vital, especially as nearly 25% of those 65 and older are socially isolated. Connection helps bolster mental and physical health and gives people purpose. 

“What are we doing to make sure that we stay connected to the people we love and care about?” Connolly says. 

Consider joining a community board, garden, or volunteer group. 

Connolly notes in her book that research “suggests that older people who volunteered with at-risk kids also had lower levels of inflammation and better health long term.”

Volunteering further “puts us into the mix of humanity,” Connolly says.  


2. Engage in storytelling 

Sharing stories regularly with people we care about strengthens our social ties and helps combat feelings of isolation as we age. 

“It’s a way to process and make sense of who we are and [is] a way to connect with other people,” Connolly says. 

Storytelling also helps people pass along family memories and histories, especially if you’re connecting with a younger grandchild or relative. It helps to feel like your stories will live on in future generations. 

“It makes for tears of laughter and grief, a sense of connectedness, and the path for knowledge transfer to take into the future,” Cío Hernández, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist, previously told Fortune


3. Maintain intergenerational relationships 

Making space for intergenerational relationships is good for the soul—not to mention another way to stay connected and combat the health consequences of loneliness. It allows both parties to learn from each other and gain a broader perspective. It also helps older adults impart their wisdom in a way that gives them purpose. 

For Antoinette-Marie Williams, then 76, joining a program fostering intergenerational friendships added meaning to her life in ways she didn’t expect. 

“We talk about anything and everything,” she previously told Fortune, referencing her friendship with a 17-year-old who she met playing chess in the DOROT program, which offers activities across generations. “We talk about what’s going on in his life, and that’s rewarding for me because young people don’t interact with elders as much—only their parents and their teachers, and it’s usually a yes or no answer.” 

Finding purpose post-retirement doesn’t need to be complicated. It can lie in the simple acts of showing up for others and being open to new connections. 

“It’s just such a joy to not lose track of the deep things that tether us to being human,” Connolly says. “If we can shift the frame on aging to both look at it in a clear-eyed way, in terms of what the potential challenges are and the potential wonders, we can really improve our odds of having a better old age.” 

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