5 Paths to Finding Your Purpose & Meaning in Retirement

senior man eating and talking to a younger woman at a barbecue

In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race and forget what’s truly important.

 

We work hard all our lives to achieve a certain level of success, only to find ourselves unfulfilled and wondering what it’s all for.

 

That’s if you’re like most older adults, anyway – who fall into the common trap that life happens in three clean stages.

 

it's a myth that life happens in three clear linear stages, it happens in cyclical stages
Life doesn’t happen in a linear fashion with three clean phases

 

The reality is that modern retirement is not all about living a life of solely leisure. There’s so much more potential that’s being untapped for specifically older adults.

 

If you’re nearing retirement age or are already retired, finding your purpose is more important than ever. A purposeful life after retirement can be rewarding and enriching

 

Of course, finding meaning during retirement can be a challenge.

 

Especially if you’re like most people who derive their sense of purpose from their jobs. After years of hard work and accomplishments, you may feel lost without your career identity. In fact, many do — 31% of retirees report struggling with a lack of purpose.

 

We get it — it’s difficult to let go of your past identity, even if it no longer serves you. 

 

Which is why in this blog post, we’ll discuss why finding your purpose is so important in retirement, plus some tips on how you can find meaning in your golden years.

 

Let’s first quickly cover when most people find purpose.

 

When Do You Find Your Purpose in Life?

If you’re still searching for your purpose as an older adult, we have some good news. 

 

According to interviews with over a thousand people aged 21 to over 100 years old, individuals feel that their lives have more meaning after 60

 

The not-so-good news is it usually peaks in your 60s. A meta-analysis of over 70 studies discovered that purpose in life starts declining in old age

 

But this research doesn’t mean these trends are the hard rule. It’s simply a reflection of what’s been happening in our culture’s past and present. And as you know, we’re super fans of shifting our culture to honor and highlight older adults and their unique gifts. 

 

The most promising news is that the right tools, structure, and support are available to help you not only find your post-career purpose, but also live it. 

 

Age-related decline can be counteracted through plenty of areas in your life, like social interactions, proactive exercise and healthy nutrition, giving back, creativity, and yes — your purpose during retirement. 

 

Just think of it this way — in retirement, you have the time and space to explore your passions and discover your purpose. And with the right structure in place, you can start living with more purpose.

 

And you should, here’s why. 

 

Why You Need a Purpose in Retirement

A growing body of research is proving that purpose is a significant asset in life.

 

Researchers examined how purpose in the lives of older adults impacts health. They found that those with higher scores had:

 

  • 24% lower likelihood of becoming physically inactive 
  • 33% lower chance of developing sleep problems
  • 22% lower likelihood of developing unhealthy body mass index

 

But the benefits don’t stop there. Leading a purposeful life leads to:

 

 

Hopefully, those are enough benefits to convince you that your post-career purpose is definitely worth finding. 

 

the beneficial impact of purpose on health - it lowers loneliness, promotes healthy behavior, aids disease recovery (stroke and diabetes), strengthens you physically, protects cognition, and boosts longevity

 

And if so, now that we’ve covered the why, let’s go over the how of finding your purpose in retirement.

 

5 Paths to Finding Your Purpose in Retirement

#1 Connect with Your Authentic Self

Spend time getting to know yourself, your values, and what’s important to you. 

 

And don’t get me wrong, as an older adult with over a handful of decades under your belt, you probably already know yourself quite well. 

 

What’s key for pre-retirees and retirees, though, is opening up to the reinvented you – someone who is willing to connect with themselves on a deeper, more authentic level in this new life phase.

 

We, humans, are designed to grow, change, and develop at any life stage — retirement is no different. And in fact, it’s more critical during retirement because of the stats we mentioned above and because you no longer have the pressure of a career and family life structure. 

 

So in this current life phase, consider these self-reflection questions as a way to get to know your best self during retirement:

 

  • What are the things that make you who you are?  
  • What are the things that are most important to you? 
  • How would these change if you weren’t a mother, father, employee, neighbor?
  • What do you want your life to stand for? 

 

These are just some of the questions you have to ask yourself. We also recommend downloading this workbook on finding clarity and once you have a list of values, you can start thinking about how they can guide your decisions toward your best retirement life. 

 

a list of core values to choose from to find clarity
Here’s a list of core values to choose from — just download the workbook on finding clarity.

 

For example, if one of your core values during retirement is generosity, you could explore volunteer opportunities, starting a non-profit, or donating money to charities you care about. If one of your core values is family, you could brainstorm ways to improve your connections with your loved ones.

 

There are nuances to your core values – as in, the activities, people, and places that you’re naturally drawn to will be different for two people who share a similar core value. This means it will take some deeper soul searching and introspection to find clarity. But once you do the inner work, it will be easier to connect with your authentic self and show up in a way that’s true to yourself.

 

As actor Ben Stein once put it:

 

“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.”

 

#2 Recognize & Share Your Unique Gifts

Everyone has talents and strengths that make them special and unique. When it comes to your purpose in retirement, it’s less about finding some monumental new thing to do with your life and more about recognizing and sharing with others the unique gifts you’ve been blessed with.

 

And this goes well beyond the skills and experience that you’ve acquired throughout your career and family life. 

 

Take, for instance, successful Rewire My Retirement student Chris Palmer. While he certainly polished his creativity throughout his career as a filmmaker, professor, and author, during retirement he discovered new creative passions that fueled his new purpose. 

 

Sharing his unique gifts with others showed up in a variety of new ways. Chris has:

 

  • Published books on new topics that aligned with his new life phase and wisdom, like his most recent work Finding Meaning & Success 
  • Learned how to play the piano to teach his grandchildren new skills at his home-hosted “grandparent camp”
  • Took dance lessons as a way to prioritize and deepen his marriage 

 

the cover of chris palmers book "finding meaning and success: living a fulfilled and productive life"
Chris Palmer’s book topics evolved as his purpose evolved during retirement.

 

To find your purpose in retirement, we urge you to be open-minded and go through a process of self-discovery that often reveals new ways of sharing and expressing your unique gifts with the world.

 

If you’re looking for a solid way to recognize some of your strengths and gifts, here’s the only science-backed free character strength test out there to help you along the way.

 

You can also shift and broaden your perspective by asking family and friends for input about your natural strengths and passions, beyond your career and job roles. They may see things in you that you don’t see yourself. And their answers could also inspire your next step.

 

No matter how you go about it, don’t be afraid to embrace your uniqueness and share it with the world. It could be the key to finding renewed purpose in life after retirement.

 

#3 Explore & Deepen Your Relationships

Examining your past, current, and potential relationships could be the missing puzzle piece of finding your purpose in retirement.

 

Some questions to ponder as you reflect on your connections, past and present:

 

  • Which people in your life energize or drain you, and why? 
  • Are they supportive and encouraging, or do they constantly judge and bring you down? 
  • Do you enjoy spending time with them, or do you feel obligated and then exhausted after being around them? 
  • Who’s lifestyle do you admire or want to emulate and why?

 

It’s important to surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you a better version of yourself. These are the people in your “Circle of Influence” who encourage your growth, hold you accountable for positive changes, and support you through tough challenges. 

 

be choosy with who you let in your circle of influence

 

When you find your “tribe”, a place where you can really be yourself and where you feel at home, you’ve found your “Circle of Influence” community. And they’ll naturally lead you to honing skills and developing interests inside a purposeful life.

 

Being social is good for your health — but only if you choose the right people.

 

There’s a caveat here, too: Give others the chance to change and grow, too. 

 

If someone from your “Circle of Concern” is draining your energy and it often feels like they’re holding you back, sometimes simply ditching that relationship isn’t an easy option.

 

For instance, it’s very common for marriages to go through a big transitional period as each partner enters retirement. Differences appear larger, new conflicts arise, and it may seem like just plain a lot of work. 

 

Of course, the best relationships in life take the most work, so it’s worth putting in the effort to rekindle relationships and bonds of people who were once in your Circle of Influence. 

 

Whether it’s partaking in new activities for retired couples or having honest heart-to-heart conversations with your friends and loved ones, it’s important to be clear and upfront about your goals and desires that support your purpose during retirement.   

 

#4 Dig Into Your Passions

Passions are a fundamental part of your purpose. But they’re not synonyms that can be used interchangeably. 

 

Our favorite distinction is: passions are for you and purpose is for others.

 

Passion is the world's gift to you. Purpose is your gift to the world.
Passion is the world’s gift to you. Purpose is your gift to the world.

 

And of course, the two go hand-in-hand; the more fulfillment you get from what you do, the more likely you are to feel like your life has meaning and purpose. 

 

Plus, following your passions in life doesn’t just make you happier and more fulfilled — it can also help you find your purpose. When you’re passionate about something, it’s easier to see how that passion can be woven into your life’s purpose. 

 

While discovering your passions is critical, it’s even more important that they’re compatible with your fundamental beliefs. According to research on striving towards personal goals, it’s less about what you like and more about what you find important.

 

When you know what makes your heart sing and know that it’s a reflection of your authentic self, everything else seems to fall into place. So start by exploring what naturally gives you the most energy and excitement, what makes you happiest. Chances are, those passions will point the way. 

 

(P.S. Read our article if you need help discovering your passions)

 

#5 Help Yourself By Helping Others

When we think about our lives, most of us want to feel like we’ve made a difference — that we’ve done something with our time on earth that mattered. And oftentimes, helping others is what gives our life meaning.

 

Researchers have found that we’re born with an innate desire to be helpful. Even hungry infants are willing to altruistically share their food with other babies. 

 

60% of infants share their food when they're fed and 40% of hungry infants share their food

Almost 40% of hungry infants are willing to share their food. And almost ⅔ share when they’re fed.

 

We’re simply wired for connection. When you help someone else, it makes you feel like you’re part of something larger than yourself — something that matters to all of humanity.

 

An article published in the Journal of Positive Psychology analyzed how altruism — the practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others — impacts well-being and happiness. Those who were more altruistic had a greater feeling of purpose and meaning in their lives.

 

Not to mention the other amazing benefits of volunteering and doing charity work. Why not volunteer your time and talents to causes you’re passionate about? Retirement is the perfect time to give back (and maybe even get more in return).

 

It’s also a great time to focus on the legacy you want to leave behind. How do you want to be remembered and what impact do you want to make on this earth? There’s no limit, big or small, to the difference you can make by helping others. 

 

Find Meaning in the Little Things in Life After 60

Our final tip is to focus on the little things that make the biggest differences. These little things will show up as moments throughout your day that energize and excite you the most. Their tiny clues lead you to the right decisions. 

 

Let’s be honest, the typical day-to-day routine isn’t always filled with new and exciting things. 

 

Except if you shift your perspective and let yourself be thrilled by the minute details that energize you in the present moment, the cumulative effect of this habit will absolutely make life beautiful.

 

We urge you to seize every moment and simply enjoy the journey. It’s the little moments that make life worth living.

 

You already have all the answers within you, they’re just yearning to get out. 

 

Here’s to allowing your purpose and passions to flow out, and making your retirement years your best years.