13 May Finding Purpose and Meaning As We Age
We humans are social creatures, and so we need to have a good quality of life filled with purpose and meaning. We need this no matter what life brings throughout the aging process. So how do we find purpose and meaning in the later stages of life?
Bad news, good news
Let’s start with a reality check. There is no doubt that aging brings physical decline and cognitive decline. What does not get enough attention is that mental health improves as we age, our happiness tends to increase, and our life satisfaction increases.
I think it is helpful to consider our spirituality to help us focus on what gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life. For some people, spirituality is held within a framework of religion.
George E. Vaillant has an interesting take on spirituality and religion. In his book, Spiritual Evolution, he points out that religious doctrines reside in the newer, frontal part of the brain.
In contrast, the spiritual quality of ourselves – with our strong need for human connection – resides in the older, back part of the brain. It is here that dwell our human and spiritual qualities of gratitude, love, hope, joy, forgiveness, compassion, faith, and awe.
Thinking about spirituality
There are many ways to think about spirituality, and different people have different ways of expressing it:
- deepest values
- purpose and meaning in life
- true essence of our being
- personal transformation
- inner path to personal development
- contemplation, wonder, or awe of
Spirituality, purpose and meaning
I believe that, however we think about spirituality, it is incomplete unless we carry it into our daily lives to give us a sense of purpose and meaning. In fact, the world’s major religions have some way of bringing spirituality into the rough and tumble of everyday life: Sikhism, Islam, Christian and Judaic, Hinduism, Buddhism, and First Nations.
Another way of considering spirituality and having a sense of purpose and meaning is to talk about balancing our inner and outer worlds. The American monk, Thomas Merton, suggests that we start off by building our container, and later in life focusing on the contents.
The container or outer world is about creating our image, having an impact and influence, our hopes and fears interacting with the world, and how we look while we’re trying. The inner world – what’s inside our container – is about our ideas, intuitions and feelings, values, faith, our true self or inner truth, and our spirit or soul.
Getting in touch with your spirit to find purpose and meaning
As I see it, the burning questions are, What do we care most about in our heart of hearts, and how will we carry this into everyday life?
To help answer these questions, there are probably as many ways of connecting to spirit as there are religions. This says to me that carrying spirit into the world matters to very diverse peoples and doctrines. Perhaps one or more of these methods might work for you:
- ethical and moral development
- personal development
- deprivation (e.g. fasting, sweat lodge)
No matter how well you currently carry spirit into the world, is there some way that you can try something different, or gently nudge yourself to stretch yourself a little further?