When you’re working full-time, “retirement” is the brass ring you strive for. But what keeps you going once you retire?

Doing nothing. The popular fantasy is that you won’t want to keep going-that doing whatever you want all day every day will be perfect. But satisfaction with doing nothing typically lasts about a year. And then?

For many retirees, it’s the start of a long, frustrating time of life. You’ve reached the Promised Land, and you don’t like the program. Now what?

Doing anything. Many resort to filling up their calendars-joining clubs and volunteering for everything that comes along. Maybe it beats meeting the guys at McDonald’s for coffee every day, but you still feel empty. Pretty soon you quit because it’s not working. Then you volunteer somewhere else, and the cycle repeats. And the emptiness continues.

Doing something authentic. Both the “extended vacation” model of retirement and the “jam the calendar” model lack a sense of purpose. Knowing what’s important and what you want to do about it is a huge piece of creating a satisfying retired life.

Why PURPOSE? To really thrive, you need to act on more than your own needs. You believe in what you need to do rather than just “having to get it done.” Purpose keeps you excited about life and that has a lot of pluses.

  • Purpose helps you physically. In one study, nuns who reached advanced age never exhibited symptoms of Alzheimer’s even though the physiological characteristics were evident when their brains were studied after they died. The nuns were involved in something more important than themselves even at age 100. They had a reason to continue to function effectively. So they did.

  • Purpose helps you emotionally. Doing work you believe in confirms you’re competent and relevant-reinforcement that’s hard to find in a leisure-centered retirement.

  • Purpose helps you mentally. Doing purpose-defined work keeps your mind functioning more effectively. You learn new concepts and try new things to make things happen. You seek and implement solutions. Acting on what’s important to you keeps your world expanding and your learning curve going up.

  • Purpose helps you socially. Being involved in something bigger than walking the dog connects you to a larger social sphere. You build relationships with people with the same interest. You make contacts to learn more. That kind of involvement means you’re less likely to be depressed. You’re also less likely to dwell on everyday aches and pains.

A sense of purpose if the very first thing anyone planning retirement needs to come up with-even before the money part. (It makes your financial planning easier because what you want to do determines how much money you’ll need.) Purpose helps you thrive. It saves you money by helping your stay healthy. It’s crucial.

Only you can find your purpose in retirement. Starting before you retire can make that a lot easier.

About the Author:

Mary Lloyd is a consultant and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. Her focus is on using on the potential of those over 50. For more, please visit her website http://www.mining-silver.com. She can be reached at mary@mining-silver.com.