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Living with purpose is valued more than money, studies show

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: The current economic condition is creating a bottomless pit it in my belly.  I am one of those who did all of the right things – saved, invested and lived reasonably. Yet, even though I still have savings and investments, I worry about my future and am developing a dim world view.  Is there any upside to our retirement dilemmas?  I am a widow.   

Answer: It may be hard to find the “upside” if one is unemployed, the house is in foreclosure and there’s a stack of unpaid bills. Yet many do, and are able to move forward.

Two recent reports document what midlife and older adults are thinking and feeling during these dramatic economic times.

A report by Age Wave, “Retirement at the Tipping Point:  The Year That Changed Everything,” examines the fears, hopes, attitudes, advice and plans of four generations of Americans.  Results are based on an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on March 30 and 31, sampling more than 2,000 people.   Here are some interesting results.

Working longer: Pre-retirees say they need to postpone retirement, on average, 4.2 years. This is the first time in history the traditional retirement age will increase. Historically, the trend has been for Americans to retire earlier and earlier.  For example, the retirement age fell from approximately 68 in 1950 to about 62 years in 2000.    Some in the survey found a silver lining in working longer – that their retirement would become more affordable.

Lessons learned: Four out of five interviewed said they learned about the importance of financial responsibility.  The most significant lesson they would pass on to the next generation was to live within your means and begin saving at an early age.  All generations agreed that the best thing about money was “feeling secure.”  Women expressed this more than men.  Men were more likely to say the best thing about money was “having freedom and choices.”

Most valued: Respondents defined success as having a loving family and friends.  With these relationships were responsibilities to provide care and support for parents, children and siblings.  One might have assumed that money, power or influence would have been key success factors.  But according to the report, strong relationships were more important.

Retirement and new purpose: Retirement is beginning to signify a time for new purpose, priorities, careers and opportunities to give back to the community and the world.  About two-thirds of the interviewees described retirement as an “opportunity …for an exciting chapter in life.”  And about 70 percent said they plan to work during their retirement.  Rather than a withdrawal or retreat, retirement was envisioned as a time for continued learning, contributing and remaining productive.

Respondents also expressed changing preferences and expectations from volunteering.  Rather than doing tasks, they want to “make use of the full range of their work, life skills and experience.”

Ken Dychtwald, CEO and Founder of Age Wave summed up the key points.  He calls them the prescription for change, which I fully support:

  • It’s timely to live within our means.
  • Continued work may be good for both spirit and purse.
  • Relationship planning is of equal importance as financial planning.
  • To keep vibrant and fit, keep learning and growing.
  • Live with purpose.

A second study affirms the importance of purpose.  A 2009 survey by the MetLife Mature Market Institute,  titled “Discovering What Matters:  Balancing Money, Medicine and Meaning,” reveals that meaning trumps money in defining the good life.

In a Webinar on the subject, Richard Leider, executive educator, life coach and a partner in the study said “The good life consists of health, finances and doing what’s important.  Purpose is what holds the good life together.”  Sandra Timmermann, director of the institute,  notes, “Living the good life is not as closely equated to material wealth and physical comfort as we have traditionally believed.”

This information will not pay the bills or lead to a needed job.  And there is no substitute for engaging a financial specialist to review our finances. What these reports can do, however, is frame this economic revolution as a time to rethink our lives, identify what truly matters and then take action to create the best life possible.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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