Happiness is Finding Purpose

Seniors Helping Seniors welcomes Nancy Hemesath, a guest blogger who will share her thoughts in a monthly series.   Nancy challenges negative stereotypes of aging, believing that post-career years are meant to be both fulfilling and meaningful.  She will explore with us how this can be accomplished, beginning with this discussion on finding purpose.

Liz, a friend of mine, who has been retired about three years, told me how her life has improved since she took a part-time job with Seniors Helping Seniors as a companion to elders who need support.  She does not do it for the money but she needs something to get her out of bed in the morning and organize her days. She made the commitment to be there for others and her own life has become richer.

Liz gives testimony to the importance of having a sense of purpose in our lives, no matter what our age.  One large study that followed over 1,000 older people (average age 80) over five to seven years measured the level of purpose in their lives . Through a series of questions they determined who had high purpose and who had low purpose.  Purpose is defined as a commitment to something beyond ourselves that helps to organize our days.

What they found was indeed astounding.  Cognitive decline was 30% less in people with high purpose vs. people with low purpose.  High purpose people had fewer disabilities.  They were 2.4 times less likely to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s than their low-purpose counterparts.  When followed for five years, high purpose people had a mortality rate of half that of those with low purpose.  For all these reasons, level of purpose is a robust predictor of health and wellness in the elder years.

This is a compelling argument to dismantle the idea that retirement is a long vacation centered solely on leisure activities.  Rather the best retirement years are years of contribution to others according to our preferences, availability and capability.  The overarching benefit of retirement is not that we don’t have to work but we get to work at our own pace doing that which gives us satisfaction and purpose.

The greatest gift we can give ourselves is to develop a pattern of giving to others.


Nancy Hemesath, Encoring Coaching

Nancy retired from her work as a non-profit executive in 2003.  She is now using her coaching expertise to empower others who are transitioning to life full of meaning and purpose in the retirement years or “Third Chapter” as she prefers to call it.  As a certified life coach, she supports individuals, presents workshops, leads book studies and leads Wisdom Circles.   Most recently she has joined Seniors Helping Seniors as a companion.  For more information, see her website:

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