Understanding happiness can be the difference between enjoying life and simply drifting. If you feel that life is something that just happens to you, it’s time to reassess how you’re spending your time. Financial security, stability, and creature comforts are all important. But feeling that your life has purpose will become more and more critical to your emotional and physical well-being as you age – especially when you finally retire.
The ancient Greeks defined happiness as “the joy that we feel when we’re striving after our potential.” And that’s really the point. For the majority of people happiness isn’t about a quick hit of hedonism, a nice meal out, a break in the sun or a shopping trip. These things bring pleasure to many and may act as a welcome mental break from life’s challenges. But it is by changing life itself that true happiness is most likely to come. Long term happiness is achieved proactively by living your life purposefully in a fulfilling and engaging way. Short term happiness is often reactive but rarely provides reason to get out of bed in the morning.
A life with purpose?
Why, day in and day out, do you do the things that you do? Because you have to? Because you want to? Because you’ve had the same routine for years and you’re used to it?
Research into the area of human well-being draws a distinction between happiness (experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain) and the feelings of meaning and self-worth that we derive from our lives – just like the ancient Greeks had viewed it.
Researchers have also found that people who feel like their lives have purpose live longer and show decreased risk of cardiovascular problems and cognitive issues like dementia. As you age and prepare for retirement, factors like this can become more relevant to you.
Routine v. purpose
Most of us see “purpose” as the things that we spend the majority of our time doing, which often consists of managing work and family life. But it is important to draw a distinction between routine and purpose.
A doctor who has to deal with ill people and mortality might not consider their job “happy” all the time, but the sense of purpose and achievement derived from it can be considerable. And someone with a relatively mundane job but an interesting and varied life with numerous projects on the go, is also likely to have sense of purpose and the consequential happiness it brings.
If you feel like your life is lacking purpose, start by looking for misalignment in these two areas. Is your job “just a job” that pays the bills? Could you perhaps become self-employed or change career and use your unique gifts and skills to create purpose? Are you working so hard that you’re missing key family events, which are also critical to your sense of purpose? Think about the ways to improve your work-life balance.
It’s never too late
Of course, not everybody can have that “perfect” job. But even in those situations, think of it not so much about the work you do, but “who you bring” to the work you do. Find ways to bring purpose to even the most mundane jobs and how that work is helping others.
And it’s never too late to find that purpose. Retirees discover new passions that will give their golden years purpose if they approach retirement with an active, enthusiastic mindset. I’ve written in previous blogs about “finding your why” and about famous people who really achieved the most after the age of 60.
Why do I get out of bed?
If you’re having trouble getting started, try asking yourself, “Why do I get out of bed in the morning?”
Is it to take care of your family? Or to go to work to keep afloat? Try to be better at work and family life and ask what more you could bring to the table. Then look at “designing your life”. What about regular exercise? Can you build that into your routine? Do you like to express yourself? Then perhaps start a blog or a digital photography website that you can work on in your free time.
Finding a new hobby or two can really add a sense of purpose and help you design your life to make it purposeful and fulfilling. You might want to read more, travel more, learn to cook, take a class, volunteer – or many other things. Remain open-minded and design your life to have a sense of purpose. A purpose could span a few areas of your life from health and fitness to working, relationships and a balanced, interesting routine.
And if you think your purpose is simply to make more money? Well, then maybe you need to start asking yourself better questions. Remember, money is a means, not an end.
I encourage you to come in and talk to us so that we can start a new dialogue about how your financial plan can help you get the best, most purposeful life possible with the money you have now and will have in the future.
Until next time, thanks for reading.