6 Ways to Find Meaning and Purpose in Retirement

Happy senior couple walking on the beach grass
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

While we’re in the daily grind of working for a living, we often visualize life after retirement as happy, stress-free relaxation. Getting a little R&R is certainly important, but there is a limit to the amount of napping, puttering around the house and daytime television a person can take.

Without a plan for life after retirement, many retirees find themselves feeling vaguely unfulfilled and restless, craving something more but not knowing what that something might be.

Focusing on the financial aspects of retirement is important, but the personal side of your retirement plan is just as important, and could ultimately guide how you use your retirement assets.

What kind of meaning do you hope to find for your life after retirement?

While in the workforce, you may have measured success by your professional achievements. Awards, accolades, and recognition for a job well done got you out of bed in the morning. Maybe you found joy interacting with your colleagues on days filled with meetings, business lunches, and professional networking events.

Once you leave the workplace, you need to find meaning to fill that void.

What is meaning? Why is it important for life after retirement?

Happy couple in retirement on the beach
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

The famous psychologist Viktor Frankl knew a lot about looking for meaning in life. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl wrote, “Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.”

Frankl believed that the very pursuit of happiness is what thwarts happiness, but once you have a reason to be happy — i.e., a meaning — happiness comes automatically.

  • Happiness is about looking inward. It’s about satisfying your needs and wants. Happiness without meaning results in a shallow, self-absorbed life. When things go well, when your needs and desires are satisfied, you’re happy. When things get difficult, watch out.
  • Meaning is different. It’s focused outward, on others. It’s about taking care of others and contributing to your community or society as a whole. When we see our purpose as larger than ourselves, we no longer need to pursue happiness. It comes naturally, even in the face of temporary setbacks and discomforts.

The problem is that many people spend more time planning a vacation than they do planning their retirement. Chances are your career provided a lot of your life’s meaning over the last 40+ years.

So how do you find a replacement for that fulfillment once you’re no longer punching the proverbial time clock?

Here are several ways to help you find meaning for your life after retirement.

1. Hit the books

Senior student studying
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

When you were choosing a college major or career, did you ever turn to books to help you zero in on your passions?

Maybe it’s time to reread those guides. When you listen to podcasts or read interviews from visionaries and millionaires, one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear is to read a book.

That advice works as well for pursuing a passion in a career as it does for finding your meaning for life after retirement. The bookstores and libraries are full of great titles. Here are a few to get you started.

  • Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl: If you read lists about the books successful people most often credit with being inspirational, it is a good bet that this will be a top contender.
  • The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama: This book is the cornerstone of positive psychology.
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach: Maybe go a bit retro with this 1970s classic.
  • A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle: The spiritual teacher and author describes ancient truths and applies them to life in the 21st century, encouraging readers to live in the present moment. First published in 2005, the book sold 5 million copies in North America by 2009.
  • Gratitude” by Oliver Sacks: The book chronicles the famous author’s thoughts, wishes, regrets and — above all — feelings of love, happiness and gratitude even as he faced the cancer that ended his life at 82.
  • The Five-Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day” by Intelligent Change: Using the science of positive psychology to improve happiness, “The Five-Minute Journal” focuses your attention on the good in your life. Improve your mental well-being and feel better every day.
  • The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho: Although set as a novel following the journey of a shepherd traveling to discover the meaning of a recurring dream, this book was called “more self-help than literature” by The New York Times. The journey teaches the reader about listening to our hearts, recognizing opportunity and following our dreams. Originally published in Portuguese in 1988, it has been translated into more than 67 languages and is an international bestseller.
  • The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life” by Chris Guillebeau: American entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau set out to visit every country on planet Earth by the time he turned 35. Everywhere he went, he found people pursuing extraordinary goals. These conversations compelled Guillebeau to study the link between questing and long-term happiness.
  • You Learn by Living” by Eleanor Roosevelt: The former First Lady penned this simple guide to living a fuller life at the age of 76. The book offers her own philosophy on living with compassion, confidence, maturity and civic stewardship. The book may be more than 50 years old, but her advice is as applicable today as it was in 1960.
  • The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future” by Ryder Carroll: Organize your thoughts and focus on what is meaningful to you.

2. Try a mindfulness app

An older woman in glasses smiles while holding a smartphone
VGstockstudio / Shutterstock.com

Mindfulness apps are all the rage right now.

The idea behind most of them is to help you with being aware of how you are feeling and learn to control your thoughts, which will result in more happiness and meaning in your life.

  • Headspace: Start with this app’s calming one-minute breathing exercise to see if this is something for you.
  • Calm: Voice-led meditation and a range of calming background sounds.
  • Stop, Breathe and Think: This app checks how you are feeling and recommends a meditation based on your mood.
  • 365 Gratitude: 365 Gratitude is a science-based app that will motivate you to cultivate a grateful mindset in just five minutes a day. Gratitude is a key component of feeling and finding meaning.

3. Meet with a life coach

Elder Couple w Adviser
Yuriy Golub / Shutterstock.com

You may work with a financial adviser to help guide your investing and savings choices, but did you realize that there are life coaches that specialize in helping you transition to life after retirement?

Just as a financial adviser can help you navigate the complex and sometimes emotional choices in your financial life, a retirement coach can do the same with personal choices faced by people at or near retirement.

A retirement coach can help you view retirement not as an ending, but as a transition into a new, exciting phase of life. You may have planned your retirement financially and even planned where you wanted to retire, but what else are you going to do for the next 20, 30 or 40 years?

  • Be prepared for some tough questions about life and death, regrets, or forgotten dreams.
  • They might help lead you to part-time work, humanitarian efforts, entrepreneurial adventures or even artistic pursuits that you hadn’t considered before.
  • A retirement coach can also help navigate intangibles such as building a new social network and finding value in how you spend your time.

Coaching rates may range from $50 to $250 per hour, but many coaches offer a free initial session to ensure the relationship is a good fit.

Check out the International Coach Federation to find a credentialed coach in your area.

Want to know more? Explore “6 ways a life coach can help you have a better retirement.”

4. Take care of your finances

seniors dining
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that the most fundamental human needs are physiological (air, water, food, clothing and shelter) and safety (personal and financial security, health and well-being).

These basic needs must be met before an individual can focus on secondary and higher-level needs such as love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

It makes sense. If you are spending your days worrying about whether you’ll have enough money to cover food and shelter during retirement, your time and energy will be focused on meeting those needs before you consider cultivating a social circle, engaging in a hobby or realizing your full potential.

Having our fundamental needs threatened can happen pretty easily in our retirement years if we don’t have sufficient income or savings to satisfy our basic needs for food, shelter, transportation, health care, and so on. So start getting your finances in order as soon as possible.

Consider how you’ll satisfy those basic needs in retirement while still having something left over to devote to higher-level needs.

Once those needs are addressed, your mind will be free to think about higher-level issues such as cultivating friendships outside of your professional networks, realizing your own personal potential and helping others to achieve self-actualization.

A retirement planner can be an excellent way to help you figure out if you are financially prepared for life after retirement. NewRetirement’s Retirement Planner is designed for anyone who is worried about their retirement — especially people nearing the end of their careers who are in their 50s and 60s. This tool makes it easy to get a detailed assessment and helps you find ways to strengthen your plan.

5. Identify what gives your life meaning and purpose and makes you happy

A happy senior man gives his wife a piggyback ride outdoors
goodluz / Shutterstock.com

The traditional pursuits of retirement: hobbies, volunteer work, travel, part-time jobs, exercise, friends, leisure, family and more can all offer you meaning, purpose and happiness.

Try browsing 120 things to do in retirement and identify the pursuits that will deliver the trifecta of happiness, purpose and meaning.

Still stuck for a retirement purpose? Try writing a retirement manifesto.

6. Identify your “ikigai”

Rock cairn stacked by waterfall.
Netfalls Remy Musser / Shutterstock.com

The Japanese define purpose with the concept of “ikigai.” Ikigai is the intersection of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for.

Maybe in retirement you can have ikigai without getting paid, but it is still a powerful way of thinking about how to achieve meaning and purpose.

Learn more about ikigai and other Japanese secrets to a long and fulfilled life.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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