Why, day in and day out, do you do the things that you do?
Because you have to? Because you want to? Because you’ve had the same routine for years and you’re used to it?
If you feel like your life is something that just happens to you, it’s time to reassess how you’re spending your time. Financial security, stability, and creature comforts are all important. But feeling that your life has purpose will become more and more critical to your emotional and physical well-being as you age — especially when you finally retire.
A healthy sense of purpose.
Research into the area of human well-being draws a distinction between happiness (experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain) and the feelings of meaning and self-worth that we derive from our lives (1).
Too often, we focus on the former and neglect the latter. This is why the sheen wears off so quickly from a big-ticket purchase. Buying a new car or big-screen TV gives us a quick hit of pleasure. But sooner rather than later, new things become just more things that we’ve accumulated. Once that initial happiness evaporates, we find there’s no additional layer – no purpose – to improve our well-being.
Researchers have also found that people who feel like their lives have purpose live longer and show decreased risk of cardiovascular problems (2). And as you age and prepare for retirement, living with purpose helps to limit your risk of cognitive problems, such as Alzheimer’s (3).
The purpose of work and family.
Most of us tie purpose to the things that we spend the majority of our time doing: working and raising our families. Again, it’s important to draw a distinction between simple happiness and purpose.
A doctor who has to deal with ill people and mortality might not consider her job “happy” all the time. But helping people gives her that critical sense of purpose that rounds out her feelings of well-being.
Taking care of children will, at times, make even the most patient parents want to pull their own hair out. But feelings of love, connection, and responsibility make both happy family vacations and frustrating afternoons in timeout purposeful.
If you feel like your life is lacking purpose, start by looking for misalignment in these two areas. Is your job “just a job” that pays the bills? How could you pivot to a career that uses your unique gifts and skills to create purpose? Or are you working so hard that you’re missing key family events, which are also critical to your sense of purpose? Are there ways to improve your work-life balance?
It’s never too late.
Many people believe that living and giving generously with their time, talents, and/or finances is a luxury they can’t afford, especially once children, mortgage payments, and college tuition enter the picture. However, research indicates that senior citizens frequently cite “dying with their music still in them” as one of the biggest areas of regret when they look back on their lives, meaning, chances they didn’t take, ideas they never pursued, or opportunities they watched pass by. It’s not money they’re regretting, it’s the sense of purpose they missed out on that would have improved their Return on Life.
Of course, not everybody can have that “perfect” job. But even in those situations, think of it not so much about the work you do, but “who you bring” to the work you do. Find ways to bring purpose to even the most mundane jobs and how that work is helping others.
And it’s never to late to find that purpose. Even seniors can discover new passions that will give their golden years purpose if they approach retirement with an active, enthusiastic mindset.
If you’re having trouble getting started, try asking yourself, “Why do I get out of bed in the morning?”
Is it to take care of your family? If so, then consider planning a family vacation for the summer. Coaching your child’s youth sports team. Turning dinner time into a group cooking activity. Or setting a regular monthly date night with your spouse.
If you find purpose in helping those in need, consider finding a volunteer position for a few hours a week.
Do you like to express yourself? Then perhaps start a blog or a digital photography website that you can work on in your free time. Turn that spare bedroom into a craft room.
And if you think your purpose is simply to make more money? Well, then maybe you need to start asking yourself better questions. Remember, money is a means, not an end.
We encourage you to come in and talk to us so that we can start a new dialogue about how your financial plan can help you get the best, most purposeful life possible with the money you have.