The Purpose of Life? A Beautiful Sunset?

In the Last Quarter of life (post-60), the purpose of life suddenly becomes unclear. Paid employment finishes. Children become independent and leave. You are free! …But to do what? And for what purpose?

A Beautiful Sunset?

Travel seems to become a ‘purpose’ for many. Ticking off the bucket list. Going to places only dreamt of. Watching yet another beautiful sunset. Eating yet another gourmet national delicacy.

Minding Grandchildren?

Few of us imagined we might become, or be able to become, grandchild minders. Yes, it’s unpaid, but the uniqueness of having a role in raising young children without the ultimate 7-day-a-week responsibility. Could this be the new purpose? Or are we just being used by our children as cheap child care while they develop their careers?


Perhaps our new purpose is to do nothing, or do whatever we want, when we want. To play golf, to read, to watch movies, all day, every day.

A Higher Purpose?

All these options are very attractive, to different groups. A friend said recently, ‘We don’t have any responsibilities any more. Isn’t the aim to just enjoy ourselves, doing whatever we like each day?’

I restrained from answering, because my answer would be ‘No’. I would answer that we have a responsibility to the society to contribute where we can, not just the option to enjoy ourselves endlessly. How many sunsets can you watch? How many countries can you visit? How much food can you eat?

Is raising grandchildren ‘contributing’? Yes, of course. But this is a very personal contribution, not one with widespread societal benefits.

There are many ways to contribute more widely. The democratic process is clearly declining in the world. Unless some groups, like GetUp, address this, it will decline before our eyes, just as it is in democratic heartlands like the US.

Volunteering for social welfare organisations, for health groups, for environmental groups, for the public education system, for arts and culture organisations are just some of the possibilities where time, energy and skills are needed.

Research shows that engaging in volunteering leads to more satisfying lives for volunteers. Engaging with other people in the community, doing useful work, gives a sense of satisfaction that watching a beautiful sunset, travelling to a new destination, eating new food rarely gives, in the long term.

I love beautiful sunsets. I love travel. I love food. I love hedonism. But doing useful work that helps others seems an important way to give purpose to life, in the last quarter at least.

Try it. You might be surprised.


One thought on “The Purpose of Life? A Beautiful Sunset?

  1. ‘Useful’ is your key adjective.

    Daily, we are told that the system that bestowed meaning to ‘useful’, is being dismantled. In less than a generation, the system which defined ‘our humanity’ ie ‘paid employment [useful work]’ may well be made inaccessible to most of this same humanity.

    This projected and much proposed possibility* of barred access to what makes us human, has significant implications: both for the young, dreaming of entry into it, and to the old, who have just ‘left’ and whose ‘humanity’ was once thought to have been defined by it.

    However, if we were to recognise that, it was always a mistake, to bestow upon ‘paid employment’ the role of ‘ defining humanity’** then we might also realise that it is ‘paid employment’ that is being marginalised from humanity’s core self-definition.

    Furthermore, we then realise that it is NOT humanity that is being made redundant [useless], to a robotic global economy*** but that it is the ‘utility’ of a ‘robotic global economy’ to humanity, that is in question.

    If that were to be the case, then it is the concept of ‘retirement’ from this ‘humanity defining system’ that has become useless.

    Because, with the prospect of greater longevity for the ‘retired’ [to 85-90] and the extension to 30+ of the entry process to much ‘paid employment’*****, this ‘humanity defining’ system endures, for each human, for no more than two decades [30-50] in a conscious human lifetime of 80 years [10-90].

    This is clearly a ‘reductio ad absurdum’****** that has now become palpable to those who are the first to live it – the Baby Boomers and the young Millenials. But it seems well hidden from the awareness of the ‘two decade’ operators, of a shrinking system.

    Maybe like power generation, we are all supporting a broken system, for fear of its collapse, instead of re considering its replacement.

    So, again, as usual, thank you Graham for presenting us cogently, with what matters, and what we need to think and act upon.

    * [yet to be actualised – no matter how many one percenters assure us of its inevitability]
    ** See Hanah Arendt – The Human Condition
    ***[as depicted by Noah Harriri]
    ****by a decade to from 15-21 in the 1950’s to 25-30 in the 2010’s.
    ***** Youth unemployment [15-25] is in the 20%-30% in many economies
    ******a method of proving the falsity of a premise by showing that its logical consequence is absurd or contradictory.


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