How to Create Meaning in Your Life

Keith died last winter.  He was a friend, a retired physician from New Jersey who had come to Ohio with his wife to enjoy his retirement years.  Keith was kind and humble and gentle and smart.  And even greater than those, Keith was wise.

For more than a decade I had the pleasure of meeting with Keith and a number of other retirees every Wednesday morning to discuss … ‘things’ – the changing world, quality of life, aging, health, how to leave a legacy and so on.  Keith was the quiet one in the group, only speaking when he felt he could contribute something meaningful.

One Wednesday morning the group talked about retirement and how to create meaning in one’s life after the years of work and the raising of a family are behind us.  Keith, with the wisdom of a physician coupled with more than eighty years of living a rich and productive life, shared that he often discussed retirement planning with his patients as it became clear that they would soon be leaving their careers behind. Before retirement, he advised, one should begin to develop a lifestyle that includes nurturing one’s mind, one’s body, one’s hands, one’s spirit and one’s relationships.

Following is my humble attempt to interpret Keith’s wisdom for those who never had the privilege to have met him.  Whether you are nearing retirement or not, I feel Keith’s advice is of great value to us all.  Are you and the people for whom you care paying attention to each of these areas in their lives?

Your mind: Stimulate and challenge your brain.  Listen to fine music.  Learn a new language.  Study astrology or history.  Research your family genealogy.  Travel.  Figure the morning crossword puzzle (from several different newspapers).  Play cards or board games.  Read.  Cook with new recipes.  Learn to play piano or use a computer.

Your body: Stay active.  Eat sensibly.  Take walks.  Swim.  Ride your bicycle.  Dance.  Lift weights, even from a seated position.  Stretch.  Treat yourself to routine massages.  See your physician routinely.  (Keith would have particularly liked that one.)  Engage in water aerobics.  Learn Tai Chi.  Play golf or tennis or ping pong.  Take kayaking lessons.   Join an exercise class.

Your hands: Find an activity in which you ‘create.’  Learn to paint.  Knit or crochet or quilt.  Make birdhouses or bat houses.  Master the art of scrapbooking or whittling.  Take photography classes.  Refinish furniture.  Create a vegetable or flower garden.  Learn origami or pottery.  Make jewelry.  Build model airplanes or cars.

Your spirit: Nurture and appreciate yourself. Attend religious services.  Practice yoga.  Sing.  Learn meditation or relaxation techniques.   Keep a journal. Take time to ‘smell the roses’.  Pray.  Read inspiring books.  Immerse yourself in nature.    Watch the clouds and the stars.  Write poetry.  Sit quietly and simply breathe …

Your relationships: Stay connected with family and friends.  Find an organization that inspires you and volunteer.  Write ‘old fashioned’ letters to family and friends.  Phone others to let them know you care.  Join a group in which you can meet new people.  All of those things that you made with your hands?  Give them away to those who will appreciate your talent and effort.

I’ll never forget Keith and the wisdom he so willingly shared with me and the group that Wednesday morning.  I think he’d be pleased to have you ‘hearing’ his words, too, but I suspect he’d be even more pleased if we all took a little more time for ourselves and followed the good doctor’s advice.

– Posted by Terry Fries-Maloy, MSW, LISW

Posted in Blog, Older Adults.