What gets you out of bed in the morning? Do you do it because you “have” to, as in, it’s what one does, or is it because you can’t wait to return to something you absolutely love to do?
How you answer this question has a surprising impact on your longevity. In recent research conducted over a period of 14 years, people who had a sense of purpose in their lives experienced a 15 percent less risk of dying as compared to those who felt relatively aimless in their lives.
What’s most exciting about this research is that it didn’t matter when people found that purpose – that whatever-it-was that gave their life meaning.
A person who discovered a passion for painting in their 70s benefited from additional longevity in the same way as the person who’d been painting up a storm since their 20s.
Now that’s worth thinking about. We often attribute the meaningfulness of our lives to our work/career, or to our family. But what happens when you retire from the work world, your family ends up on the other side of the country or planet, or you didn’t have grandchildren despite your fondest hopes?
You have a choice. You can take it upon yourself to discover a passion, something that gives renewed vigor and meaning to your life, or you can resign yourself to boredom and stagnation with its inevitable decline into poor health and early demise.
Often, the easiest route to find your passion is to think back to what you enjoyed doing in your youth but had to set aside for reasons of work and family commitments.
A dear friend of mine, who had a stellar career as a trial lawyer, formed a rock band with like-minded retirees, all in their 70s. Sure, they play for their own enjoyment.
Any performances are generally for free at senior centers, “concerts in the park,” and other public venues. They don’t mind. Playing their instruments and playing together is what fuels their joy.
The seniors I’ve researched through the years have found a variety of passions – painting, volunteering at places from museums to hospitals, swimming, running, dancing, quilting, writing, and on and on.
Elisa Costantini, for example, was aimless after the death of her beloved husband and slipping into a deep depression. Knowing how much she had enjoyed cooking throughout her life, her son Frank nudged Elisa in the direction of collecting some of her wonderful recipes.
With his encouragement, Elisa not only gathered her recipes but wrote a cookbook at age 78. She’d never written anything before. This project gave her life such a renewed purpose that Elisa went on at 80 to write and publish a second cookbook, “Italian Moms: Something Old, Something New.”
If there’s nothing in your younger days that appeals to you, look around at what other people are doing, regardless of their age. Just about any activity can be adjusted to suit your physical capabilities, be that scuba diving, playing tennis, or mountain climbing – although, be sure to check with your physician first.
Learning is geared to all ages. Learning a language, a craft, a skill can be adapted to your means and resources. Once you start deliberately exploring and noticing what other people love to do, you will find something – or many things – that pique your interest.
Of course, you actually have to get up, get out, and do it. You may need to stick with something for a while before you realize its true joy.
Many times, starting with one activity leads you to another that you find even more rewarding. Group classes are a great way to discover whether you like something enough to pursue it.
Look upon uncovering your new purpose, your passion, as an adventure. That sense of adventure alone will draw you towards finding new meaning, and with that, a longer lease on a happy life.
What fun activity did you restart after 60 that you had put aside because of family or work commitments? Are you passionate about something now that you would have never considered 10 years ago? What did you do to find your passion?