One of my favorite writing gigs is providing the “Second Act” stories to The Wall Street Journal’s Encore section twice a year. Second Acts focus on those who find a new passion in their fifty-plus years — be it a career or full-time hobby or avocation. I feel privileged to be able to share the journeys of such a disparate group of people. In the April 23rd edition, I was pleased to have written four articles. I was moved to hear about how an owner of an investment firm decided to open up a chocolate shop to employ disabled workers. There was also a physical therapist who decided to become a whitewater rafting guide, a teacher who launched a nonprofit to generate enthusiasm for the STEM fields in girls and a marketing executive who spends her retirement years traveling the world inexpensively by house sitting. Interviewing these types of individuals gives me hope that there are many exciting ways to spend one’s later years, provided, of course that you remain healthy. I’m sure that the zeal they have for these new pursuits helps to keep them both physically and emotionally healthy as well. I was just as intrigued by another story I told in the most recent Encore issue: a mission of developers of 55 plus active living communities to build eco-friendly residences. They found that older adults crave environmentally sustainable living, partly because it’s economical as well. I look forward to continuing my coverage of the ways older adults are embarking on their senior years with great enthusiasm and joy. I’m always looking for Second Act candidates, so if you know of anyone who has made an interesting late-in-life career switch, please contact me!
As a journalist, I’m constantly observing the world around me, curious about what makes people tick. A never-ending source of fascination for me, as I’m sure it is for many people, is the factors driving longevity. People are living longer than ever. But what’s the recipe for a long life that’s filled with happiness? Research has shown that a big driver is social connections. Those who have meaningful relationships as they age tend to live longer, healthier lives. I was able to see this first-hand as I reported this Wall Street Journal piece on men finding friends after 50. This is an age when male friendships tend to wither while women’s continue to grow stronger. But boomers, never hesitant to act proactively for the sake of their own contentment, are actively joining groups to seek out male companionship. The results are particularly satisfying. It’s clear, based on those I interviewed, that these relationships have enhanced their qualify of life while promoting both physical and intellectual engagement.
I’ve been spending some time covering the importance of purpose these past couple of months. It started with Vic Strecher’s book, On Purpose,
which documents his painful but ultimately fulfilling journey following the death of his daughter, and how his realization that having a purpose could help him to lead a healthier life. I wrote about Strecher for The Wall Street Journal. Then, my editor at Michigan Today asked me to write a piece on the same topic. Last week, I was approached by another editor about writing an article about the way that having a purpose can help those involved in the care of others to live healthier. The reaction to these pieces from readers sharing their stories of how purpose helped them to be happier was overwhelming. It lent even more support to the theory, now being proven out by a variety of studies, that when you have a meaningful purpose, one that is transcendent and not self-involved, you’re motivated to engage in behaviors that help you live longer. Strecher believes this is a far better model for health care. You won’t quit smoking if someone tells you that it could kill you. But you’re inclined to quit smoking, exercise, reduce stress and sleep better when you’re motivated by a greater focus, beyond yourself, one that ultimately helps others. With so many of us engaged in worry and ruminating about our own issues and often selfish endeavors, this seems to make sense in so many ways. It’s now spurring a rethinking of what we need to live a healthier, happier life, amidst the craziness of our fast-paced, technology-filled society. In the end, getting back to basics, and spending our time in the simplest of pursuits that contribute to making the world a better place, seems to hold significant merit. It certainly is some great food for thought.