In a community group I attend, a woman in her late 40’s talked about her struggle with depression. She explained that her two children were both almost out of the house, and she didn’t know who she was anymore. She had a career, before being sidelined by an illness, so her entire life revolved around her children, and when they left, who would she be? Some of us find our purpose through raising children, but them they grow up and leave home. Some of us have careers we love and feel fulfilled, and then retire. And then what? How do we continue to find purpose through all of life’s changes? Some people find fulfillment through volunteering, and some find it through continually learning.
For many older adults, volunteering is the next step after retirement. Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community and feel rewarded. Volunteering can reduce stress, improve mood, and help prevent social isolation. Volunteering helps you feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Volunteering can help your brain stay active, which lowers the risk of dementia and helps with cognitive health.
What are some different ideas for volunteering?
Mentor teens and young adults in your area of expertise.
Work as a volunteer in the local hospital.
Snuggle NICU babies who may have family who aren’t able to visit often.
Volunteer in a museum.
Help out in elementary school classrooms with reading or math.
Volunteer at a refugee agency, helping teach English to new refugees.
Become a crisis counselor for crisis hotlines.
Volunteer with hospice.
Babysit for family or friends.
There are so many different ways of volunteering. When you find what you are passionate about, you will reap all the rewards that comes with volunteering.
Learning should be a lifelong process. Keeping the brain active works to lower the risk of dementia. Find ways to regularly challenge yourself mentally. Study a new topic just for fun or take fitness classes at a local gym. Learn a new language, find new books to read, or learn to play an instrument.
Many local colleges and universities have programs specific to adults over the age of 60. Some allow older individuals to audit classes for free, and some have a reduced fee per credit. Attending classes also allows for social contact and reduces loneliness. It’s a great way to meet new like-minded friends, or finish a degree that you started, but never completed.
There are also online learning opportunities, like edX which was founded by Harvard and MIT. Many of the courses on edX are free, and some of the courses are offered at a significant discount. You have the ability to learn about Computers, Communication, Math, Nutrition, Culture, Ethics, etc…. The possibilities are endless for learning.
Of course, not all learning has to happen in a classroom. A library card gives you a pass to read all the books you never had time for. Work on reading all the classics and join or start a book club. Gyms are a great way to learn as well. There are many different group fitness classes for older adults, and opportunities to learn about fitness and nutrition from certified instructors.
Finding fulfillment is possible through all stages of life. It does require planning and focusing and being intentional, but whether it’s through volunteering your time, or focusing on learning new things, the benefits are enormous. Better mental health, lowered stress, improved social inclusion are all benefits from living with intention and finding a new purpose at any stage in your life.
Written by: Becky Gomez
Becky Gomez is a Nursing student at Boise State University. She is currently applying for grad school to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. She bakes when she’s stressed out and loves weightlifting. She has spent many years in different volunteer positions and hope to spread awareness about volunteer opportunities. She and her husband are raising 4 children, in Boise, Idaho.
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