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Meaning and Purpose in Retirement: A Surprising Sage!

By Renee Langmuir March 09, 2024 Mindset

Retirement Syndrome is a term used globally to describe the common feelings one might have upon retirement: disorientation, loss of purpose and identity, the fear of too much time on one’s hands, and possible feelings of isolation. It is estimated that 1 in 3 retirees suffer from these transition difficulties and struggle to adjust. Many of us a few years down the road in retirement might experience some of these feelings periodically, even with a new life plan in place.

Finding One’s Purpose in Retirement

Endless books and posts suggest the same menu for “finding meaning” in one’s later years: hobbies, volunteer work, travel, part-time jobs, exercise, engagements with friends and family, and giving in to leisure pursuits. The reason they are so universal is because they work!

However, there are many hours in the day when we are not actively engaging in such realms. That is when the mind begins to wander and question our purpose in later life. This is a very important issue, because “purpose” is directly connected to one’s health.

Viktor Frankl, an Unlikely Retirement Guru

Recently, I traveled to Eastern Europe to visit my maternal roots. I wrote about this life changing experience on Sixty and Me in my article, “Ancestry Travel: A Sobering Experience.” Besides reorganizing how I now feel about my place in the world, upon returning home I watched Schindler’s List with new eyes, and read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning for the first time – how could I have missed it?

Although many in my cultural community recommended it, I hadn’t read the book. I thought it would be a depressing rehash of the Holocaust from one man’s point of view.


Viktor Frankl was a Viennese psychologist of the same caliber as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. His book takes an objective look at the issue of survival from the point of view of a trained psychologist. Of course, unspeakable hardships are described, but the feel of the book is one of absolute positivity. Frankl describes his survival through the strategies of optimism, humor, psychological detachment, brief moments of solitude, steely resolve, and appreciation of nature and art.

How Do All People Make Meaning of Their Lives?

In Man’s Search for Meaning, I found strategies and validation for many issues relevant to retirees. I now feel much more comfortable in my “mature” skin. The crux of this book is to convey the three ways people of all ages make meaning: through love, work, and turning personal challenges into triumphs. Thankfully, we are not residents of Auschwitz, so our challenges are on a different plane, but they exist for everyone.

Frankl’s theory and therapeutic approach is called Logotherapy. He posits through his experience at Auschwitz and as an in-patient Viennese therapist for all age groups, including those addicted to drugs and alcohol, that finding meaning in life is the route to mental health. Without such a purpose, the results are dire. Without goals, there is a loss of faith in the future. According to Nietzsche, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Time to Take Some Bows

Frankl’s ideas which are particularly relevant to those of us in our later years include taking pride in what we have already accomplished. He sees older age as a “harvest of life: deeds done, loves loved, suffering overcome.” The young should envy the old because our “potentialities have been actualized, our meanings fulfilled, and our values have been realized.”

Other gems for those of us in need for a change in perspective include understanding that the meaning of one’s life varies from person to person, day to day and hour to hour. Our lives are like a “film composed of many scenes.” It is every individual’s responsibility to act upon impulses towards life’s varied meanings. “No power can take away” what we’ve experienced. This is a particular challenge because modern society values unending achievement and usefulness.

There Is Work to Be Done

In a similar vein, Richard Leider and David Shapiro, in their book Who Do You Want to Be When you Grow Old?explore the same terrain. They invite us to answer the question, “Why do you get up in the morning?” They propose that purpose, unfortunately, does not reveal itself. It unfolds over time and changes with age.

Purpose doesn’t have to be something monumental. There are thousands of opportunities each day to commit to something “other than oneself.” In Viktor Frankl’s words: “the meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.”

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What situations create feelings of confusion about your purpose in life? How have you been able to find purpose at this stage of life? Have you found guidance in any particular books?

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I am not a big traveler. I don’t have huge ambitions, I find my purpose in words like, I may not do great things, but i will be a great thing ….developing my character, being kind, being generous, letting go of all that I cannot change, forgiving myself and others as best i can….reading, writing, doing hobbies, taking a walk, praying the Light over our world….just living day to day with gratitude….and paying it forward as best i can…these are the things that give my life purpose and meaning.


Janie, Your life sounds similar to mine.


Purpose is so important! Jen Louden has a wonderful book called “Why Bother” that I recommend. The trick in retirement is to listen to what purpose wants to emerge in life. Purpose is primarily outer-prescribed by life phase (family) and society. Here is to finding what is true for each of us!

Brian Gaudreau

I retired for a third time in September of 2022 following my wife’s second cancer diagnosis. My why was all about my wife and her care. She died a bit over 6 months ago and I have struggled nightly with purpose. My focus has been self-care. Tasks that had to be put on hold; a physical, dental and eye appointments and an impending knee surgery to repair PCL and ACL tears that should have been tended to before now.
So I am on a personal search to redefine my why. Simon Sinek is playing an important role in this journey.
Can’t wait to see what happens…


Man’s Search For Meaning is one of those life-changing books for me. In some circles there is a lot of attention on finding your life’s purpose, some special thing you were born to do. I’ve seen people get stressed trying to find this elusive ‘purpose.’ Frankl’s observations on Making Your Own Meaning really resonated with me. I hope it works for others, too!


I love and live by anything by Eckhart Tolle. His books resonate with me on a very profound level. Living in the present moment, letting go of ego, mindfulness are of more importance now at age 66 than at any other time in my life…🕉️


Tolle is great. You can listen to his entire book “The Power of Now” on YouTube for free.

The Author

Renee Langmuir was an educator for 34 years in public schools and at the university level. After an unplanned retirement, Renee chronicled her transition in a series of personal essays on the website, Her writing has appeared on the websites Agebuzz, Next Avenue, Forbes and in The AARP Ethel Newsletter.

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