Building a Meaningful Activity Portfolio in Later Life

Posted Thursday, July 2nd, 2015  | Comments (1) rule
Christina Matz-Costa, PhD
Senior Research Associate
Center on Aging & Work at Boston College
Assistant Professor
School of Social Work, Boston College
Phone: 617.552.1634

In diversifying our activities (taking on a part-time job, volunteering, helping to solve a community issue) we increase the likelihood for engaging in positive lifestyle behaviors. Research suggests that it is important not only to engage the body through continued physical activity, movement and strength building, but also to continue to engage the mind by challenging yourself intellectually, and to engage the heart and soul by connecting through relationships, place, and purpose. We also know that the quality of engagement matters just as much or more than the participation itself—so, doing things to enrich your experience is important.

If somewhere in our development we were taught the importance and value of activity portfolio diversification—the act of seeking out multiple opportunities for engagement in community roles and social roles that are interest/passion-driven but that also engage us physically, cognitively and socially—we would find that we can live healthier and happier lives. Indeed, such a rich portfolio can afford us some protection in the face of age-related social role losses. For example, there is evidence that those who have volunteer roles in their lives and then experience a spousal loss or who acquire a volunteer role after spousal loss have fewer depressive symptoms than widows who did not volunteer (Brown et al., 2004; Li, 2007).

What can people do to diversify their activity portfolios?

  • Plan for the psychological and social aspects of retirement by thinking ahead about the transition, the development of identity, finding meaningful activities, options for generativity, etc., with the same vigor dedicated to planning financially for retirement (e.g., AARP’s Life Reimagined).
  • Develop a strategic plan with a mission, vision and goals for your life. Identify strengths and interests, building on those to develop a strong activity portfolio. Reach out to local organizations that can help you to achieve these goals and leverage existing resources.
  • “Job-craft”—advocate for yourself in the workplace, identify and follow your strengths, network.
  • Develop your skills across the life course, become a lifelong learner, actively seek-out training and learning opportunities

What can employers do to help their employees plan for the non-financial aspects of retirement?

So, what’s in YOUR activity portfolio? Did anyone ever tell you to plan for the non-financial aspects of retirement? How do you currently organize/structure your days? Is it purposeful? Does it support the continued engagement of body, mind, heart and spirit?

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