Living Every Day with Purpose

“Great minds have purposes; others have wishes,” wrote the 19th-century American author Washington Irving.

Purpose might be more easily determined at certain life stages when education, work, or child-rearing take priority. But seniors who make a concerted effort to find their purpose are rewarded by more fulfilling daily lives.

In 2018, Stanford University conducted a national study on purpose among adults age 50-92. The “Pathways to Encore Purpose” study involved nearly 1,200 survey responses and 102 one-hour interviews. Among its findings, it revealed that 31% of respondents exhibited purpose beyond the self. They pursued goals that were personally meaningful and contributed to the greater good.

Additionally, the researchers found that purposeful people had a positive outlook on life. The great majority (94%) of those interviewed who were purposeful shared a “positivity” trait—joy, hopefulness, optimism, or other related emotions.

While many senior living communities offer a lifestyle similar to living in a high-end resort where residents never need to lift a finger, that way of life isn’t healthy, according to President and CEO of Christian Living Communities Jill Vitale-Aussem.

“Senior living communities aren’t hotels… For a sense of community to develop, people need to have an influence on their community and see themselves as citizens instead of consumers of services,” Vitale-Aussem wrote in her 2019 book, “Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift.”

She based the book on research on aging, ideas from influential thinkers in the aging services field, and her own experiences managing and operating senior living communities. In it, Vitale-Aussem challenged readers to question long-accepted practices, examine their own biases, and work toward creating vibrant cultures of possibility, purpose, and growth for elders.

Clermont Park fosters that kind of vibrant culture. It’s a place where clubs, committees, community groups, and volunteer opportunities abound. Residents have found purpose within the Clermont Park community by volunteering in ways that allow them to utilize their strengths and passions

Don D. loves shoveling snow, so the maintenance team got him his own shovel to help keep the community snow-free. John A. taught a drumming class. Ed C. loves landscaping, so he planted bulbs, rehabilitated seedbeds, and worked with other residents to ensure those new seedlings were planted and watered. Other residents have volunteered at the front desk and in the gift shop. Still more knit for a cause and then donate their warm knitted hats and scarves to a local shelter.

“Purpose is crucial here,” said Andrew Sharp, director of community life. “We strive to be a resident-driven community and give every opportunity for residents to choose what is important to them.”

During the pandemic, Sharp said that residents selected a number of community issues where they could put their energy and resources to good use. They’ve been active in recycling initiatives, food and coat drives, and efforts to improve community members’ physical fitness and mental health.

“Their purposeful efforts have deepened connections within the community,” Sharp said.

This is the second in a three-part series on People, Purpose, and Passion that explores how each aspect of the three P’s is critical to a happy life for individuals of all ages. Read the first part of the series, “People Make All the Difference.”

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