The former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once wisely said: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” But what exactly does life purpose mean?
In short, it is what gets you up in the morning.
When you have this sense of purpose in life, you reap a slew of outcomes. For instance, having a purpose promotes happiness and a sense of well-being1, might alleviate loneliness2, and adds years to your life3. Other plus points: Better sleep quality4 and a reduced risk of a heart attack or stroke5.
So, how do you gain this purpose? Here are some tips from three retirees who share their own life purpose:
1) Stay active & have a sense of curiosity
For Lily Boon, 80, who started playing the piano when she was young and continued learning on her own, she has found that doing what makes her happy and others is her purpose in life. “Playing comes naturally for me and sometimes, I don’t have to look at the scores!”
Six years ago, she started playing at public areas like street pianos and cafés to live audiences. “When people enjoy my music, I feel happy too.” She also plays occasionally at churches and special events. So, what’s next for her? She wants to learn public speaking to “gain more confidence in speaking in front of an audience and improve my communication skills,” she shared.
Her advice to others: “You must continue to stay active. If there is anything you want to do, don’t hold back.”
2) Stay connected with family & friends
During intergenerational events, Lily shares her past memories with the youths so they get to learn more about what Singapore was like in the past. “You must stay in touch with your friends and get to know new people of all ages. I grew up speaking only English and Malay, but Singapore is a multi-cultural society. So, there were times I encountered language barriers, but that didn’t stop me. I still joined in the activities and even picked up some simple Chinese phrases over the years.”
Let it be. What is yours is yours, don’t go and fight for it
3) Keep life simple
Actress Beatrice Chien, 78, who recently starred in a project called “A Day with Popo” where she talked about old places that have long since disappeared, said it is important not to sweat the small stuff: “I don’t complain of unnecessary things and I don’t take things too seriously. I just smile or laugh it off.”
Sometimes, she may not get the roles she auditioned for, but there is no point getting angry or losing sleep about it. “Let it be. What is yours is yours, don’t go and fight for it,” she said.
4) Make amends
Chien advised that you should make amends to family if you can, as “family is family and one should try to maintain good relationships with family.” Retired colonel, Tan Peng Ann, 72, added: “It takes a conscious, discipline and deliberate effort to keep a family together, and everybody plays a part. There needs to be give and take, and that no one is always right.”
Chien said that she is particularly lucky to be close to her family, including her two grandchildren. “We used to bond every week before the pandemic and would all go out to eat. Since the pandemic hit, we don’t do it so often but we are slowly getting back to eating together.”
5) Keep your passion burning
Chien’s passion and hobby is acting — she is so happy not only being able to do it but also get paid for doing it. “I don’t want to be sitting facing my four walls and doing nothing!” She also enjoys planting vegetables such as potato leaf and red shen choy, and eating them. “You have to keep yourself busy or else you tend to think of unhappy memories. In keeping busy, I don’t have bad memories and I look forward to things in my life.”
6) Give back to society
“At a certain point in your life, you should think of how to give back to society what you have taken!” said Peng Ann, who started Sangkhoem Khmer (which roughly translates to Cambodian Hope in English), a Cambodian project started in 2006 to give locals the necessary skills so they can lead better lives sustainably. “I am so happy to see that people are happier and benefitting from my little effort.”
So, what are you waiting for? Find your purpose so that when you get up tomorrow, you will be looking forward to a new and meaningful day ahead.
Eleanor Yap is the founder and editor of Ageless Online, an e-magazine for those over 50.
1 Whitbourne, S. K. The purposeful life is healthy and wise. Psychology Today, July 27, 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201907/the-purposeful-life-is-healthy-and-wise.
2 University of California – San Diego. Lonely in a crowd: Overcoming loneliness with acceptance and wisdom. ScienceDaily, January 10, 2020,
3 Steptoe, A., Deaton, A. & Stone, A.A. Psychological wellbeing, health and ageing, Lancer. 2015 Feb 14; 385(9968): 640-648, published online 2014 Nov 6,
4 Turner, A.D., Smith, C.E. & Ong, J.C. Is purpose in life associated with less sleep disturbance in older adults? Sleep Science and Practice 1, 14 (2017),
5 Mount Sinai Medical Center. Having a sense of purpose? It may protect your heart. ScienceDaily, March 6, 2015, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150306132538.htm.