Finding a Sense of Purpose in Retirement

By Dr. Mariel Gonzalez-Mendoza, Primary Care Physician at The Villages Health Pinellas Care Center in The Villages®, Florida

Have you ever wondered about what you can do in retirement that feels meaningful – that gives you a sense of purpose?

As a mid-career family physician in sunny Florida, I have taken care of a wide variety of patients that are either retired or will soon be retired. Since my retirement age is still years away, it can be hard for me at times to understand what it means to be retired. So in order to satisfy my curiosity about this stage of life I usually ask my patients about what they do in their retirement.

The Surprising Truth About Retirement

The usual answers to my question include a common theme of spending time on doing things that they enjoy (such as hobbies, travel, dining, visiting friends and family, etc.). Some will admit to drinking more alcohol than they used to before retirement. And a few will say that they are involved in volunteering activities.

Sadly, I have come to find out that a significant number of my retired patients suffer from depression or anxiety (sometimes both) in spite of achieving their retirement expectation of having more free time for activities that they really enjoy.

Text on image reads, "Patients tell me that they fell like they no longer have a sense of purpose after ending their careers."

When asked what they think is contributing to their feelings of depression or anxiety some patients tell me that they feel like they no longer have a sense of purpose after ending their careers. Others dwell on the physical separation from their children and families that retirement has brought on, and others are afflicted by the realization that their health is declining.

Rediscovering a Sense of Purpose

These findings motivated me to search for ways an individual can still feel like they have a sense of purpose and be productive in retirement. In my search I came across the following Bible passages:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

When I read these passages a light bulb went off in my head. And I said to myself: “Of course! Our sense of purpose and productivity is not only measured by what we do for ourselves but by what we can do for others even after we retire, even after we separate from our families, even when our health is declining.” I also remembered the times I have traveled abroad on medical/dental mission trips. I remember how rejuvenating and eye opening those trips have been in my life. And the best part of doing that kind of work is the realization that the emotional and spiritual reward is far greater than any monetary one.

But traveling abroad on mission trips is not the only way you can serve others. It can also be done here in The Villages® and surrounding communities by working as a volunteer or mentor for people, children, or families with particular needs.

Volunteering’s Positive Impact on Your Health

Research studies on the benefits of volunteering, including in retirement, have shown that volunteering does not only provide social benefits but can also have a positive impact on an individual’s health.

Volunteering. Text on image reads, "Older adults who had volunteered reported greater increases in psychological well-being."

The Health Benefits of Volunteering, A Review of Recent Research, an article published in 2007 and posted online on February 16, 2016 by the Corporation for National & Community Service, concluded the following: “Research has established a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.”

Another article, Retiring Minds Want to Know, published in January 2014 in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology journal, discusses through review of recent research the impact that volunteering in retirement can have on an individual’s psychological and physical well-being.

It cites a study published in June 2014 by Carnegie Mellon University psychologist Sheldon Cohen, PhD and graduate student Rodlescia Sneed in the Psychology and Aging journal in which they found that older adults who had volunteered at least 200 hours within the prior year reported greater increases in psychological well-being than those who did not. In addition, they found that older adults who volunteered 200 hours over the year were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. Dr. Cohen also notes in the study that “volunteering may also increase feelings of purpose and meaning in life.”

So, start enjoying retirement by not only doing things for yourself, but also for others. You will be able to discover a new sense of purpose and enjoy the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual rewards that volunteering can provide!

Last updated: 10.11.2017
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Contribution byDr. Mariel Gonzalez-Mendoza

Mariel Gonzalez-Mendoza, MD is a primary care physician at The Villages Health® (TVH) Pinellas Care Center in The Villages®, Florida. She feels that everyone should have the right to see a doctor when they need to and explains her role at TVH further: "As a primary care physician it is my responsibility to listen to my patients and educate them about the importance of prevention and guide them in the management of their already established chronic illnesses. In doing so, I feel I am fulfilling my role as their medical advisor and caregiver."

Coach Image

Contribution by Dr. Mariel Gonzalez-Mendoza

Mariel Gonzalez-Mendoza, MD is a primary care physician at The Villages Health® (TVH) Pinellas Care Center in The Villages®, Florida. She feels that everyone should have the right to see a doctor when they need to and explains her role at TVH further: "As a primary care physician it is my responsibility to listen to my patients and educate them about the importance of prevention and guide them in the management of their already established chronic illnesses. In doing so, I feel I am fulfilling my role as their medical advisor and caregiver."

The Villages, The Villages Health, America’s Healthiest Hometown, and their associated logos are trademarks of Holding Company of The Villages, Inc., and are used with permission.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.

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