Discovering Your Purpose during Retirement


So you've made the arrangements and given your notice. You have your farewell party and head home, ready to relax. Then you wake up and realize you have no focus or motivation. Essentially, you have lost your purpose. The lack of alarm clocks and meetings has left you feeling a little empty and aimless. It can happen a day after you retire or two years later – the revelation is all up to you. But realizing you've lost your purpose is just the first step to finding a new one.Some retirees are fully prepared to launch into extensive volunteer work. Others travel and spend time with families. Others lunch with the ladies and play bridge. Still others begin painting or journey into photography. Overall, whatever the new goal is, they have one. But you may not. There are countless books out there about finding your calling. Unfortunately, most of those books are about finding a career you can be passionate about.

The beautiful part is that you aren't limited to jobs now – you have the option to explore everything in the world! Well, not exactly since most people don't have unlimited funds, but often there are many more possibilities than there ever have been in your life. There are adventures galore waiting for you, if that's what you're looking for. The quaint, peaceful life is perfect for some people and can make a very happy retirement. The important thing is to find what works for you. What works for your spouse may certainly also play a role, especially if your new hopes and goals are different from each other.

So if you haven't yet decided what your new purpose will be, perhaps the first question is whether or not you need one. For many retirees, living with freedom, trying new things, and enjoying life's endless possibilities is enough – they are content without any "higher" or overarching purpose. If you are one of these individuals, congratulations! It is much easier to find new hobbies than it is to define a new purpose for yourself. You can, in fact, skip this section as it doesn't really apply to you.

But for many of us, finding a new purpose is a major undertaking. It takes many of us quite a long time to find our work-related purpose and even more of us aren't able to pursue it. Retirement is all about pursuing the things you couldn't while you were worrying about paying the bills and taking care of your family. Because so many are burdened with heavy responsibilities, you may have simply not even had the freedom to ever consider what your purpose is. The danger of working 8-hour days Monday through Friday is losing whatever creativity and desires you may have had to begin with. Now that you have shed that lifestyle, it's time to get creative and reclaim your independence!

Here are a few questions to help open your mind to the new possibilities:

  • What social or ethical issues are most important to me?
  • What made me happy in my childhood that I'd like to try again?
  • When do I feel the most creative?
  • How have I made the world a better place?
  • How can I make the world a better place going forward?
  • What special talents do I have that I haven't been able to explore?
  • What have I thought about trying someday?
  • What or who touches my heart?
  • What characteristics do I have that have intrinsic value?
  • Do I like new challenges or would I prefer to work at something I'm used to?
  • What skills can I use to benefit other people?
  • Am I more motivated by issues, family, or something else?
  • Am I where I want to be spiritually and what can I do if I'm not?
  • What would I regret not doing when I die?

Work on these questions over a time period. Spend some time each day writing on whichever ones strike you at that moment. As you journal your thoughts and determine what you value, you can begin to shape what your new purpose will be. Most people will have more than one, so don't eliminate anything you consider to be vitally important.

After you have identified what you care about the most, it's time to brainstorm how to get involved with or develop those issues. Think about the many ways you can get involved with, help, or provide guidance on. Money, time, effort, and words can all change lives and change societies if used effectively. What about yourself and your actions are going to give you a purpose in your later years? That purpose will dissipate if you leave it in a purely mental place; action is required to truly fulfill your purpose, regardless of what your purpose is. Whether you intend to read every book you can get your hands on or head up the Board of Directors of a local charity, believing in your purpose isn't enough. Living your purpose is a much more legitimate and fruitful exercise.

Lastly, consider what parts of your new purpose are meant to benefit others and which are meant to help you grow? What balance do you want between those things? It's wonderful to help others and give your time and efforts, but it's also incredibly important that you keep a firm grasp on getting to be the person you've always wanted to be as well.

The Health Risks of Retirement

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One necessary element to having a happy retirement is having a healthy one. Some people retire in great physical and mental health; if this includes you then congratulations! If it doesn't include you, then you are in good company, albeit unhealthy company. While some individuals such as physical trainers or nutritionists have jobs and careers that predispose them to a healthy lifestyle, this is not the case for most of us. In fact, even doctors, nurses, and coaches can suffer from poorer physical and mental health as well despite their increased knowledge of these issues.

Stressors and responsibilities in our normal, everyday life tend to make diet and exercise a burden. Whether you are a single mom working a retail job or the CEO of a multibillion dollar company, we often consider ourselves to be too busy to make our health a priority. When you add in job related stress, our mental health can easily become just as nonexistent as our physical health. Typical jobs that involve tremendous amounts of stress can include business executives, police officers, military personnel, social workers, doctors and nurses, and more. Even individuals who don't work a particularly high stress job may find themselves suffering mental health issues due to poor working environments, coworker and boss issues, or personal family life stressors.

So what does all the stress mean? Cortisol. Known as the stress hormone, cortisol can help increase weight and make weight more difficult to lose. Stress also can totally change our sleep life. More and more, studies are demonstrating that quality sleep is an absolute necessity. Not receiving enough sleep or receiving poor quality sleep can cause individuals to gain weight, struggle with memory and focus, battle depression, and result in a less effective immune system. So all of those years where you slept poorly due to stress have truly taken a toll on your health, even when you may not realize it.

Obviously, obesity is also a very dangerous situation. Those who are overweight or obese are at a much greater risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. If you are suffering from these conditions, your retirement years could be of a far less quality than they should be.

The danger of retirement is that for those individuals who have not made their health a priority in the past, retirement may not feel like a good time to start. If you were planning on spending your retirement lying on your couch watching TV and snacking, your retirement is likely to be a lot shorter than you intended. Some people gain weight during retirement because they are less active than they were prior to retiring; some people also began to eat more when they're retired because they become bored or have the vacation mentality. Because many individuals spend much more time alone after retiring, mental health can sometimes also suffer from loneliness and depression. All in all, retirement can cause a lot of risk to your health and well-being.

On the positive end of the spectrum, you now have unlimited time and opportunity to change your habits. Retirement is a great time to become a healthier you. When it comes to food, people are creatures of habit. As it turns out, that affects our predilection to exercise as well. Habits are difficult to abandon, but not impossible. And after all, retirement is when we start living a new life.

When it comes to food, if you are unhealthy it is most likely due to one or both possibilities of the following: incorrect portions or unhealthy food choices. Some people eat healthy foods but struggle with overeating. Others use great portion control but only like fried, fatty, or high calorie foods. Some individuals, unfortunately, eat unhealthy foods and eat too much of them. So what can you do if you struggle with a healthy diet? Take a class or meet with a nutritionist to get information about healthy food choices and portions. Then, start experimenting. Try new recipes. Try foods you've never had before. Try different ways to prepare healthy foods that you've never been a big fan of. Try making easy substitutions while you cook. There are lots of different ways to change up your eating habits to become a healthier you.

In terms of exercise, retirement is a wonderful time to get busy. As much as you may feel that you're too old or too tired to give the exercise a try, you absolutely need to do so. You will feel better, look better, and enjoy your retirement more if you get into shape and maintained that healthy lifestyle. And the best part is that during your retirement you have virtually unlimited exercise options. While you worked, you may have been restricted to using a particular gym or having a treadmill at home and maybe you didn't like those options. Now that you have retired, the options are endless. Try getting back into sports if you loved to play ball - there are senior leagues starting up all the time. If you'd prefer swimming to walking, find a place to swim or take water aerobics classes. If you want to go rock climbing, you have the option to do so. It doesn't matter if you golf or garden, hike or ride a bicycle, or surf or ski -these can all help you get healthy. If you have found the exercise to be boring in the past try to find a new exercise that you enjoy. If you like swimming laps but find it tedious, get a waterproof mp3 player. There are lots of ways to make getting healthy more enjoyable so find something you love to do since it will help you keep doing it and lead healthier lifestyle.

If your physical health is good, that will help your mental health as well. If you are struggling mentally or emotionally, seek help. There is absolutely no shame in meeting with a counselor or psychiatrist if you are having trouble. Retirement is a huge change to process, so it can cause mental health problems all by itself. When you combine that with the other challenges that come as we grow older, it can be very daunting to feel excited about your remaining years. Talk with your doctor about any issues you are having and follow that discussion up with contacting a therapist or psychologist.
Retirement and Your Marriage
When it comes to romantic relationships, retirement can change everything. Whether you're single or married/partnered, retirement has the potential to reshape and even destroy your relationships if you let it; it can also bring you to a whole new love life as well. Your available time, money, and flexibility don't have to change your relationships, but it certainly tends to do so for most people.

If you're married when you retire, you have the highest risk – after all, we're assuming you want to remain married. But without a strategy in place, you may find that your desire to stay with your spouse may fade quickly when the reality of retired life sets in. It's a fairly normal situation – the two of you have most likely spent a sizable amount of time apart before and now, overnight, you're together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Resentment, irritation, and frustration can grow at alarming paces, either within yourself, your spouse, or both. Regardless of whether it's one or both of you, these issues must be addressed early and monitored often. Even the most romantic and loving couples may want to throttle each other within a week of retirement.

So how do you keep the love alive? Through patience, understanding, and a lot of boundaries.

Some couples can be together constantly and it isn't a problem; if you belong to one of these couples, excellent! But if you don't or if you aren't sure that your spouse feels this way even if you do, it's a good idea to start establishing some boundaries. Healthy relationships – of any kind – include boundaries. Such boundaries can be activities, time, space, words, or other aspects of life that otherwise create friction within the relationship. The biggest aspect of retired life that creates a threat to marriage is the amount of time you spend together. Because your ability to spend time together has changed dramatically, it can alter the existing dynamic of your marriage. That change can strengthen your marriage or endanger it, so plan how and when you want to spend time together and how and when you want to spend time apart. If you've spent 10 hours apart daily, then suddenly being together non-stop can be too much. Schedule time where you and your spouse pursue separate interests and activities. Plan to socialize or leave the house separately, allowing each time to be alone at home as well as alone outside the house as well.

Another concern is the quality of the time you spend together. It's very easy for people who are constantly around each other to not have special time together. Whether it's going out on "dates" or simply dressing up for dinner at home, it's very important that you designate some time and activities as being romantic or intimate. Those times are for reinforcing that you are in a romantic relationship; you are not simply best friends or companions, but spouses.


If you are single, then retirement can be a great time for you, too! In fact, because you have more time and more ability to explore new things, you have the opportunity to start meeting more and more people. Whether these individuals will simply be friends or can become potential romantic partners is entirely up to you. Many retirees enjoy the freedom of the single life and fill their social circle with cherished friends and family and happily live out their years without a spouse.

For those who retire single and discover that they would like a life partner, being retired expands – rather than limits – the possibilities. If you spent your pre-retirement time looking for potential mates primarily at work, you will have an adjustment to make. The upside is that obviously, if that's the case and you're retiring single, you're not really sacrificing anything because that strategy didn't work. Plus, you now have the time to try new things or dedicate yourself to your passion, making it more likely for you to meet someone with whom you share something in common other than your career.

So where could you look for potential mates now that you have so much more freedom? Try the following:

  • Churches or places of worship
  • Social clubs
  • Volunteering for charities or non-profit organizations
  • Gyms or workout classes
  • Taking an academic or life skill class
  • Libraries or book stores
  • Sports organizations
  • A dating service or website
The single most important thing you can do is become and stay active and social and open yourself up to new possibilities. Even making new friends, when there's no potential for romance, can help you meet potential mates as your social circles begin to widen and overlap. So try something different. Put yourself out there. Take risks. After all, you are no longer tied down to any particular thing, so breaking out of your shell should be easier than ever.