Research shows having a defined purpose can improve longevity. Guest blogger Dr. Heidi Hanna discusses why it matters.
It’s no secret that being trusted with someone’s financial future requires a significant amount of confidence and communication. But wealth is just one component of financial wellness – assessing clients’ health and perspective as they approach retirement is also a critical part of the conversation. Financial advisors can provide tremendous value to clients by offering guidance on how to navigate this life transition in a healthy way.
According to census data, the number of centenarians (people over the age of 100) in the U.S. has roughly doubled in the past 20 years and is projected to double again by 2020. Thanks to advances in medicine, science and technology, we are able to extend the number of years we may live. The key is to be healthy and happy enough in these bonus years to enjoy them.
The Power of Purpose
Although many people assume we’re born with longevity coded into our DNA, research says genes are only responsible for about 10% of how long we will live. In fact, longevity studies from around the world indicate that one of the best ways to extend a healthy life is to have a clear sense of purpose – a reason to get up in the morning. These studies estimate that people who wake up each day with a sense of purpose live an average of seven years longer than those who don’t. In Japan, one of the five so-called “Blue Zones” with the greatest population of centenarians, this phenomenon is called “Ikigai.”
In his book “The Power of Purpose,” Richard Leider asked people over the age of 65 what they would do differently if they had their life to live over again. Three general themes emerged from all the interviews:
- Be more reflective
- Be more courageous
- Be clear earlier about purpose
Purpose evolves throughout our lifetime. As a child, a student, a companion, a parent, a leader and a caregiver, the reasons behind the decisions we make can change. Sometimes these choices seem obvious based on our priorities at the time, especially when it comes to work or taking care of family. But what happens when those day-to-day demands no longer take up as much time or energy, as often happens in retirement?
Tip: Inspire clients to seek local volunteer opportunities that allow them to draw on their unique passions and talents.
It’s common for people to struggle with their sense of purpose once they have raised a family or retired from work. Initially, it seems fun to relax and enjoy the downtime, but may people become restless if they don’t identify a new area of focus that gives them purpose. That’s because we are not designed to function in a state of all or nothing: To flourish in life, we need a good balance of stress (challenges) and recovery. What’s more, a diminishing sense of purpose often corresponds with a diminishing level of health and happiness. In fact, one of the highest mortality spikes occurs within the first six months after retirement.
Turning Purpose into Mission
Purpose is undoubtedly crucial to our mental and emotional health, and it’s quite likely tied to our physiological longevity as well. But as individuals transition to a new phase of their lives that is no longer defined by work or raising a family, they may feel that sense of purpose is suddenly lacking. How can advisors help?
The first step is to identify and define the client’s values, beliefs, passions and talents – these are the unique characteristics that must be tapped to achieve a renewed sense of purpose. The next step is to find ways to channel those attributes into activities that help nourish the individual’s sense of purpose.
Here are just a few examples:
- For the retired accountant who kept a creative writing journal every day, suggest mentoring high school students in composition, starting a blog or developing a few polished pieces to submit for publication in literary journals.
- For the retired physician with a passion for the arts, propose volunteering at the local art museum or theater, attending creative workshops or exploring philanthropical efforts.
- For the retired marketing executive who loves cooking but never had time for it, suggest taking culinary courses to hone those skills and parlay them into new opportunities.
By helping new retirees put purpose into action, advisors can help clients ensure they have a target for their energy investments. This targeted energy can help alleviate the stress and potential physical decline associated with a lack of purpose and ultimately help clients remain healthy, fulfilled and productive throughout retirement.
About the Author
As an experienced speaker, Dr. Heidi Hanna has been featured at many national and global conferences, including the Fortune Magazine Most Powerful Women in Business Summit, ESPN Women’s Leadership Summit and the Million Dollar Round Table. She is founder and Chief Energy Officer of Synergy, a consulting company providing brain-based health and performance programs for organizations, and the Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress.
Dr. Hanna’s publications include The New York Times bestseller The SHARP Solution: A Brain-Based Approach for Optimal Performance (Wiley, Feb 2013), Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress (Wiley, Jan 2014) and Recharge: 5 Shifts to Energize Your Life (Synergy, 2015). Dr. Hanna is a National Board Member for the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, a Fellow with the American Institute of Stress, and she currently serves as editor of their quarterly publication, Contentment. Recently, Dr. Hanna created The Beyond Funny Project, a non-profit dedicated to providing resources and education related to the benefits of healthy humor.
Dr. Hanna holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Penn State University and holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling and a Ph.D. in holistic nutrition.
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