Many of the seniors interviewed on Senior Agenda have reported a fading sense of purpose. They often share feelings of frustration and disconnectedness. Some have said they feel forgotten while others report feeling useless or invisible. They aren’t alone. An accumulating body of research examining purpose across the lifespan has discovered a pattern indicating that a sense of purpose tends to peak during late adolescence and early adulthood and begins to decline throughout adulthood and then drops sharply through late adulthood.
Why the decline in sense of purpose? Maybe it’s because we all know what we want to be when we grow up, but we don’t know what we want to be after we grow? We assume our “want to be” will be done once we grow up. But that just isn’t the way it plays out.
Living a purposeful life means continuing to participate, learn, experience and share. The truth is many of us find purpose in the doing and have no desire to rest on what we now know or what we have already accomplished. Words like growth, potential and opportunity still apply.
Volunteerism offers a pathway back to purpose for those feeling secluded or out of touch. It is a wonderful way to stay involved in the community, make new friends, choose meaningful work, share expertise, stay active and help others. In addition to all that, it feels good and it’s fun. It is well-documented that volunteering has mental and physical health benefits for the volunteer. According to the Corporation for National and Community Services, volunteers experience greater life satisfaction, an increased sense of accomplishment, more stress resilience and lower rates of depression. The National Institute on Aging has reported that volunteering lowers age-related health problems and promotes longevity. Being a volunteer helps keep the brain and the body active and it provides a sense of purpose along the way.
Wondering where to sign up? Contact a community agency doing work that matters to you from boys and girls clubs to animal shelters to religious organizations. Don’t forget about your local schools. They are often looking for volunteers to read to the children and more. You might also consider your local assisted living community, senior center, hospice, or nursing home. Seniors helping seniors is a beautiful thing!