Purpose and/or Productivity in Retirement: A Perfect Storm or a Rainbow?
There are four real-life issues that people face as they move into a new life stage such as retirement: (1.) what’s my identity now that I’m not working? (2.) How do I honestly assess my continued competency and skill level? (3.) What issues should I be thinking about in regard to where I live and my living environments? (4.) How do I find the right “work” and be productive as well as achieve life balance?
Productivity is an overused word in many circles. Some businesses use it to justify having fewer employees doing more work. Government loves to tout any increase in the overall productivity of the economy. Efficiency experts write books about it and conduct endless seminars. But, what does productivity mean to someone who is retired or moving in that direction? Aren't retirement and productivity polar opposites, an oxymoron?
No, not at all. Some of the words that are part of the definition of productivity include abundance, fertile, effective, prolific. Aren't those adjectives that help describe a satisfying retirement? A few techniques to be more productive in retirement are:
- When you begin something identify a target you must reach before you can stop working. For example, you want to get all the new plants in the ground this afternoon. Hit your target no matter what.
- Another approach is to give yourself a fixed time period, like 30 minutes, to make a dent in a task. Don’t worry about how far you get, just put in the time.
- Tell others of your commitments, since they’ll help hold you accountable.
- Delegate or form a team to accomplish the task.
- As you learned in grammar school, give yourself frequent rewards for achievement. See a movie, book a professional massage, or spend a day doing whatever makes you feel refreshed and rewarded. Do not feel any guilt on your reward day, after all you are retired.
On a similar level as productivity is the value of having a sense of purpose. Does purpose promote healthy aging? Why are we here? What is our connection to other people? What do we offer to our community and the world in retirement?
A Foster Grandparents program participant helps a grade school student improve her reading skills. Volunteering is one great way to build a sense of connectedness and purpose. The above questions might seem like abstract, philosophical matters, but research confirms that having a sense of purpose is vital for our health — especially as we grow older.
In 2009, Rush University Medical Center experts reported that people with a sense of purpose live longer. Lead researcher Patricia Boyle, Ph.D., said, "The finding that purpose in life is related to longevity in older persons suggests that aspects of human flourishing — particularly the tendency to derive meaning from life's experiences and to possess a sense of intentionality and goal-directedness — contribute to successful aging." In 2012, Dr. Boyle and her team also found that a sense of purpose helps lessen the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Explained Dr. Boyle, "Our study showed that people who reported greater purpose in life exhibited better cognition than those with less purpose in life — even as plaques and tangles accumulated in their brains." Since then, other scientists have confirmed the connection between a sense of purpose and healthy aging. Why is a sense of purpose so protective? Researchers believe it reduces stress, increases beneficial hormones in the body, lowers blood pressure and decreases depression. Goal-directedness promotes cognitive reserve — the extra brain connections that help us cope against dementia. And an even more simple mechanism was discovered by University of Michigan researcher Eric Kim: Seniors who report that their lives have meaning are more likely to take advantage of preventive health services, such as cholesterol tests, colonoscopy, mammograms and prostate exams.