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.
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.