As is the case for many of you reading this column, I officially became a senior citizen last year. Every morning we older Americans wake up facing a new day filled with challenges and struggles in many forms: physical ones, financial setbacks, difficulty with relationships, emotional trials and struggles with our faith. But for many of our parents, the biggest struggle is maintaining a good attitude while being alone.
So my advice for July is: 1) invest in meaningful relationships, and 2) serve others.
I promise if you do both every day, you will be much happier and less worried about the future.
A few years back, I watched a movie that portrayed a scientist played by Sandra Bullock who struggles to survive when she is cut off from her space station and all of her colleagues and support systems. She gains an acute understanding of how precious both time and oxygen are in her new situation.
What keeps her focused and alive is remembering her most meaningful relationships and her desire to live on so she can be an example and serve future female scientists.
In the popular 2013 song “Let Her Go” written by Michael David Rosenberg and performed by the group Passenger (1 billion-plus YouTube views), the lyrics relate the following message about how easy it is to become complacent and ungrateful:
Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
In our daily regime, we often take our relationships and service opportunities for granted, treating them like the time and oxygen we have before we are cut off from our supply lines. We only miss time when we have a few months or moments to live. We only miss those we love when we can’t easily connect on our terms.
I have some suggestions if you’re feeling lonely or unfulfilled:
- Create a thankfulness calendar. Keep a record of the contact you make with those you love or care about. Write simple bullet points of things and people you are grateful for. Make sure those people know how you feel about them.
- Volunteer outside of your family commitments at least once a month. Make an effort to really get to know someone in need. I promise it will make your challenges and struggles a little lighter (or at least put them in perspective).
- Focus less on things and more on others.
I can attest to how being grateful and serving others can not only make you personally happy, but help you lead a more prosperous life. I have served as a Boy Scout leader and college professor for almost 20 years. Many of my best memories are helping young men and women feel a strong sense of self-worth and accomplishment, and to find their first jobs. As a result of my efforts, I have a stack of thank-you notes and photos from former students. Those students, along with the Eagle scouts I mentored, are raising wonderful families, creating jobs and serving their communities. They credit me for a large part of their success.
Philosophically speaking, serving our families and young people can feel like the tree in the book “The Giving Tree.” We start by giving away our apples, and then our branches, and when that isn’t enough, they ask for our trunk. Before we offer our trunks, we should pause and remember what sustains us.
Trust me, if you live your life focused on what you have to be thankful for and volunteer once a month, you will feel more fulfilled and happy after 55.
Dr. Don Capener, Dean of the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business, lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Annie, and their two youngest daughters. His 55+ And Alive is an occasional column in The Florida Times-Union’s PrimeTime section. He can be reached at email@example.com.