Inside: Are you drifting through midlife without a sense of purpose? You’re not alone. Here are seven ways to finding purpose in life after 50.
“The world is your oyster” declared the graduation card I was picking out at Target. A wave of nostalgia washed over me. I flashed back to my own graduation, like Marty McFly in his time-traveling DeLorean.
On that long-awaited day, my graduating class was told we could do anything we put our minds to. Bubbling with idealism, we then set out to find our life purpose (or at least make some money). That seemed like a lifetime ago.
Fast forward a few decades to midlife.
Juggling multiple responsibilities, we learn that life isn’t a world of endless opportunities anymore. Some of us might even question our purpose all over again.
If you’re struggling with finding purpose in life after 50, you’ve come to the right place.
What Are the Benefits of Finding Purpose in Life after 50?
Purpose in life isn’t just a hope we have for our kids as they transition to adults. Having a sense of purpose benefits us later in life as well. It increases our well-being on many levels—regardless of when we discover it.
Purpose gives us direction in our day-to-day life, rather than a sense of drifting. It gives us meaning to our to-do lists. And it helps us see life as more than an endless string of Groundhog Days like Bill Murray.
The sense of purpose is so important that it affects our physical health. In one study, people with purpose had more physical strength and agility later in life. Other studies showed that participants had a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a lower mortality rate.
In other words, people with a sense of purpose live longer.
Life purpose is also a buffer against stress. People with a greater sense of purpose feel less stress and anxiety after a difficult day. They take better care of themselves and go to the doctor regularly. And they even floss more. (Because let’s face it, we could all use help with flossing.)
In Man’s Search for Meaning, psychologist Viktor Frankl argues that one of our deepest desires is finding meaning in life. As he endured Nazi concentration camps, Frankl observed that purpose gave people the drive to push through challenges, even when they were unfathomable.
He wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
Here’s What You Need to Know
Not all purposes are the same, however. While having some kind of purpose is better than having no purpose, studies have found that people with “pro-social” purposes experience the greatest benefits.
According to Anne Colby, significantly higher well-being is seen in those who choose to serve others. After studying 1200 Americans, she concluded, “Those who were purposeful beyond the self said their lives were filled with joy and happiness.”
So it’s no surprise that Jesus is quoted as saying in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (NIV).
The word “blessed” comes from the Greek word makarios, which means to be happy, well off, or fortunate. We’re happiest when we give freely to others. We’re most joyful when we’re rich towards God and our neighbors.
All this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t pursue a favorite hobby or goal for ourselves. But if we’re looking for the deepest sense of meaning, we’ll find it in living for a purpose outside ourselves.
As the apostle Paul writes, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4 ESV).
Loving others is one of the keys to a satisfied life. The great irony of the Christian life is that we feel the fullest when we pour ourselves out for others. So here are some approaches to finding purpose in life after 50.
7 Keys to Finding Purpose in Midlife
1. Stay available to God
Contrary to what the world says, the second half of life is not merely a time to “take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (see Luke 12:16-21). God used plenty of people in the Bible in the second half of their lives.
Abraham was 75 when God told him to leave his birthplace and head out for the land of Canaan. Moses was 80 when God appeared to him in a burning bush and sent him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Sarah was 90 when God blessed her with a child. And Daniel was in his 80s when he was thrown into the lion’s den.
Maintain a positive mindset. Keep an open mind about what God has in store for you. He’ll use you, too—but only if you allow Him to.
When God spoke, Abraham and Moses humbly responded, “Here I am.” This phrase comes from the Hebrew word hineni. It describes a total availability to God, a readiness to serve, even when we don’t know what will be asked of us.
Let’s maintain a similar posture. When God speaks, let’s also say, “Here I am.” No matter your circumstances, stay prayerful—and available to God.
2. Imagine what you’d do if you were FIRE
An increasingly popular modern lifestyle is the FIRE movement (Financially Independent, Retire Early). Its proponents believe in saving and investing aggressively so that they can retire much earlier than age 65.
But FIRE enthusiasts don’t necessarily want to retire. They want to do something that brings them more meaning. They, too, are hungry for more purpose.
For Christians, our goal is not to retire early so that we can start living a life of meaning years down the line. It’s to live a meaningful life right now, wherever God has placed us.
But let’s use this hypothetical FIRE scenario to help discover our purpose.
Imagine what you’d do if money, time, or energy were no object. Think about how you’d spend your days if you were FIRE (after that year-long cruise around the world).
What interests have you had that you’re too busy for? What subject gets you excited that doesn’t seem to interest others? What do you secretly wish you could do if you wouldn’t fail?
Daydreaming is encouraged here. Take the time to journal without self-editing. The answers might be revealing.
3. Think back to your darkest valleys
Have you ever wondered why God allowed you to go through a certain period of suffering? Why you endured a devastating loss or trauma? Or why your life turned out a certain way?
God may intend to use your past or present circumstances to encourage others. He’s the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).
When life brings more pain than we could ever imagine, there’s nothing like a kind word from someone who’s been there before.
Think back to the trials and tribulations you’ve experienced. Perhaps you had a difficult childhood that you’d rather blot out from memory. Your heart breaks for one of your children right now. Or you’re going through more crises than you can count on one hand.
Ask God if there’s any way that He wants you to bring comfort to others. It might be a specific person, group, or even a ministry. Let Him redeem your suffering.
4. Find ways to leave your mark
According to psychologist Erik Erikson, middle adulthood (age 40 to 65) also marks the seventh stage of psychosocial development. It’s here that we navigate between generativity and stagnation.
Generativity is characterized by pouring into relationships, mentoring, and contributing to the next generation. A sense of generativity is usually found in raising children, but it can also be found in work, friendships, and community relationships.
Stagnation, on the other hand, is characterized by a failure to find a way to contribute. People who become stagnant are focused on themselves rather than the needs of others. They end up more disconnected from those around them.
Think about your level of generativity at this point in life. How much are you serving others, as opposed to yourself? Are there ways to better the lives of those around you? Or invest in the next generation?
If you increase your generativity, you’ll be on your way to finding purpose in midlife. As the saying goes, leave the world a little better than you found it.
5. Pass on your wisdom
Do you have days where you feel like your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders anymore? Me too. It’s not our imagination.
Studies show that midlife marks the switch between two kinds of intelligence: fluid and crystallized intelligence.
Fluid intelligence is the ability to learn, process new information, and solve problems. It refers to our ability to think on our feet and tends to peak in the mid-thirties.
Crystalized intelligence is the ability to use knowledge gained in the past through experience and education. It’s what we call wisdom.
Here’s the good news: Crystallized intelligence increases in our forties and keeps going until our seventies (Yes!).
By midlife, our crystallized intelligence (wisdom) is greater than before. We’ve not only gained a lot of knowledge, but we also know how to use it. Let’s put this newfound strength to good use.
Whatever abilities God has gifted you with, seek opportunities to impart knowledge. The best teachers are those with lots of experience. Serve others with your uniquely acquired wisdom.
6. Change your definition of success
Given that we’ll all hit a peak in our careers, we may need to shift our idea of what success looks like. Most people will hit a career and earnings peak in their 40s or 50s. Even the highest achievers will eventually experience a decline in their professional lives.
The way we handle this transition will determine how bumpy the ride is.
After retiring, former race car driver Alex Dias Ribeiro wrote:
Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy. For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success.
The key is to stop equating life success with career success. Now is the time to broaden your horizons beyond your work life. This might look different for you than for me.
For many people, success looks like nurturing those relationships that fell by the wayside when they were busy building their careers. Plenty of research shows that the richer your relationships during the second half of life, the greater your sense of well-being—and the smoother your career transitions.
7. Base your ultimate purpose in God
But none of this matters if we don’t base our ultimate purpose in God. For life has no meaning apart from God.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon goes on an extravagant hunt for meaning. He chased self-indulgent experiences and racked up record-breaking achievements. His net worth was 2.1 trillion dollars—ten times greater than Elon Musk’s.
In the end, he despaired that it was all “meaningless” and “a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1, 2). King Solomon concludes that purpose cannot be found outside of God. No amount of wealth, accomplishment, power, or pleasure will satisfy our hunger for meaning.
At the end of the book, King Solomon discovers the meaning of life. He writes, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
The deepest meaning of life is found when we grasp the greatness of God and all that He’s done for us—and decide to obey Him wholeheartedly. God cares about every detail of our lives, and we’ll be accountable to Him for everything we do. Your life is more meaningful than you imagine.
The Bottom Line
As Phil Ryken writes, “The final message of Ecclesiastes is not that nothing matters in the end but that everything matters in the end.”
By midlife, the world might not be our oyster anymore, but it doesn’t matter. When we put God first, everything has meaning. And that’ll give us all the purpose we need.
Recap: Finding Purpose in Life After 50
1. Stay available to God.
2. Imagine what you’d do if you were FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early).
3. Think back to your darkest valleys.
4. Find ways to leave your mark.
5. Pass on your wisdom.
6. Change your definition of success.
7. Base your ultimate purpose in God.
What does finding purpose in midlife look like for you? How might your purpose be different now than before?
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