The statistics are startling! According to a 2020 study, 28% of retirees suffer from depression. That’s almost 3 in 10 older adults! As blogger Fritz Gilbert wrote in his Retirement Manifesto blog, “that’s a shockingly high number and far too little is written about this problem.” He went on to note that “those forced into retirement (i.e., through downsizing or illness) are especially prone to experiencing the challenge of depression.”
One reason so many older adults are depressed is lack of a fulfilling sense of purpose (a.k.a., a motive “to get up in the morning” or, as the Japanese call it, ikigai, loosely translated as an overriding passion that adds joy to life). Gilbert notes, “retirement is a big adjustment, with the loss of many of the non-financial benefits once received from the workplace (sense of identity, purpose, relationships, structure, etc.) coming as a surprise to many.”
Research indicates that people with a strong sense of purpose are happier, healthier, and live longer. Below are five strategies to navigate retirement to find meaning and purpose in later life:
Develop a New Descriptor- As I note in my book, Flipping a Switch, retirees need a new off-the-cuff answer to the “What Do You Do?” question to avoid awkward silences or outdated descriptions of previous work. Responses can reflect new jobs, volunteerism, creative works, or care-giving roles. They can also be humorous; i.e., “whatever I want” or “as little as possible.”
Focus on Four Pillars- Research by the investment firm Edward Jones and Age Wave noted that there are four key pillars to a fulfilling retirement: good health, family, a strong sense of purpose, and financial security. The Edward Jones online My Priorities quiz is a useful tool to identify personal values from among competing spending choices.
Find Role Models- Older adults who are living a joyful and fulfilling life can provide valuable insights. Take the time to interview them and ask questions like “What is a typical weekday like?,” “What activities bring you joy and purpose?”, “What are new activities that you tried for the first time in retirement?”, and “What part of your former job do you miss the most?”
Use Planning Tools- Activities in later life typically don’t happen without planning. On page 83 of Flipping A Switch is a reproduceable Financial Bucket List worksheet with over dozen lines to list planned activities (e.g., visiting national parks, sky diving, writing a book, starting a business, taking courses, reconnecting with family or friends, and family genealogy). Another popular planning tool is a Retirement Vision Board with photos or clippings that show memories that people want to create in the future (e.g., travel, encore career, and volunteering).
Practice Identity Bridging- Not everything associated with peoples’ pre-retirement life needs to disappear after their final paycheck. Far from it! Instead, retirement transition experts recommend asking the question “What activities (e.g., professional association memberships or volunteer roles) do I want to carry over from my past into my future?
This post provides general personal finance or consumer decision-making information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.