Vail Daily column: How to measure a life well-lived
Special to the Daily
Have you ever wondered, “What’s next?”
If you scan your local bookshop shelves, you will find quite a few books on “second-half-of-life” issues. These books ask questions about purpose and meaning, taking you through exercises designed to elicit thoughts about the course of your life and how you will design and direct your adult years.
In 30 years of experience and practice as a therapist, I frequently find clients asking questions about meaning and purpose in life. This seems especially powerful for those in mid-life as they look toward the remaining decades of life. Because we find ourselves living many years after the traditional retirement age, many want to know that the later years of life will have direction and depth.
In my earliest training as a therapist, I was introduced to the developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson. Throughout all the stages of human development, Erikson believed that there were specific tasks that were crucial to the development of the individual in that particular stage.
Erikson suggests that the last stage of growth, occurring in the senior adult years, involves a sense of “integrity” as the positive outcome of a life well lived. One part of the definition of “integrity” in this particular framework is to be able to look back on life and to affirm the way one has lived – to be able to say, as the famous song puts it, “I did it my way;” that is, to feel confident and positive about one’s life and the decisions, relationships and accomplishments made.
So, just how do we consider the question of integrity in life? There are certainly many different ways of responding, and I would like to suggest a series of questions and thoughts to stimulate your personal evaluation.
Dr. Frederic Hudson, in his stimulating work, “Life Launch,” outlined six adult passions that I believe can provide thoughtful measures of one’s life. Hudson suggests these passions as a way of considering how one has used, and will continue to use, his or her talents, gifts, relationships and personal strength in life:
• Personal power: This is the measure of “claiming yourself.” Consider the following as you think about your life: self esteem, confidence, identity, inner motivation, your positive sense of self, clear ego boundaries, self-love, courage.
• Achievement: This is the measure of “proving yourself.” Evaluate your life in the following areas: reaching goals, conducting projects, working, winning, playing in organized sports, having ambition, getting results and recognition, being purposeful.
• Intimacy: This is the measure of “sharing yourself.” How have you done in the following: loving, bonding, caring, being intimate, making relationships work, touching, feeling close, coupling, parenting, being a friend.
• Play and creativity: This is the measure of “expressing yourself.” In what ways have you done the following: being imaginative, intuitive, playful, spontaneous, original, expressive, humorous, artistic, celebrative, re-creative, funny, curious, childlike, and non-purposive.
• Search for meaning: This is the measure of “integrating yourself.” Consider the following in your life: finding wholeness, unity, integrity, peace, an inner connection to all things, spirituality, trust in the flow of life, inner wisdom, a sense of transcendence.
• Compassion and contribution: This is the measure of “giving yourself.” How have you done in the following areas: improving, helping, feeding, reforming, leaving the world a better place, bequeathing, being generative, serving, social and environmental caring, institution building, volunteerism.
So, how would you evaluate your life using these six “passions” as measures of your direction and meaning? If you were to write a personal inventory outlining the ways you have exhibited these in your life to this point, would you find a positive sense of purpose and achievement?
I urge you to take some time for such an inventory. A “life well lived” is one of the most valuable contributions any of us can make to the following generation.
Randy J. Simmonds, Ph.D. is the Clinical Director of the Samaritan Center of the Rockies, a non-profit counseling center in Edwards, CO. Dr. Simmonds can be contacted at 970-926-8558. For more information about the Samaritan Center go to http://www.samaritan-vail.org