We all hunger to have meaning in our lives. This doesn’t change as we age. Research by Rush University Medical Centre found a link between life purpose and cognitive decline in people showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Those with a purpose in life showed a 30% lower rate of cognitive decline than those without a clear purpose or reason for living.
Their research suggests having a purpose makes us less susceptible to stress that can fuel inflammation in the body. It can also help to reduce heart attacks and strokes.
I am guessing Stephen Hawking lived to age 76 because he had a clear reason to live. Hawking was diagnosed with ALS at age 21 and told he had two years to live. He outlived that diagnosis by 53 years.
After falling into depression, Hawking said he needed “something to live for.” First, his family gave him purpose and meaning. As his disease progressed, he said, “even though I can’t move, in my mind I am free.” He devoted the rest of his life to his work.
Lack of purpose and meaning make us vulnerable to boredom, anxiety and depression. We really need a reason to get up and greet each day.
A purpose helps us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. It helps us focus on something other than our own worries.
As we age, it’s important to find time to explore who we are and what we value. In place of a traditional retirement, it’s increasingly common to search for how to make a meaningful contribution to our family, community or the world.
Former President Jimmy Carter decided to volunteer building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Some retirees volunteer for a charitable organization like the Make a Wish Foundation or join a church group that helps people in need.
Join a local community theatre group. You could act, paint scenery, find props, organize the actors or work behind the scenes. Sing in a choir that makes home visits to people who can’t attend live events.
You can spend a few hours a week as a greeter at a museum or at your local Visitor Information Centre. Perhaps you can adopt a pet from a shelter or just take dogs for a walk. You can be a mentor or help a teacher with her students as she leads them in a pottery-making class.
You can teach a friend to knit and make scarves for the homeless or bake a cake or cookies with a child. Why not create a family tree that traces your family history, or read to someone whose eyesight is failing? Perhaps you can just call a friend, or write a letter to someone you’ve lost touch with.
You can plant a garden and watch it grow. Tend a seed and watch its transformation. You could also invite a friend to watch a sunrise or sunset with you. Perhaps you can use a telescope to study the stars and find the Milky Way.
Nature is an inspiration. You can watch a spider weave a web and catch a meal, or stand beneath a tall tree and imagine who else has stood under it. Delight your senses by putting on headphones and really listening to your favorite music.
Is there a cause you care about that you could dedicate your time to? Anything that sparks your interest is a clue you can follow to see where it leads. If you have had a challenge in your life that you’ve overcome, you may be able to help others do the same.
Before he died, Hawking posed a question for us that he had no answer for: “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?” Trying to answer this question might be a good place to start.
You may want to use travel as a way to have the opportunity to learn about other cultures and different perspectives. This could help build bridges between nations.
If you can’t physically travel, you can connect with others online. It’s an updated version of the Pen Pals you might have had in other countries as a child.
Your life matters.
What gives your life purpose and meaning? Have you considered filling your free time with fun activities that will benefit others? Please share any ideas you have pursued and found meaningful.
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