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The Missing Ingredient in Purposeful Living

Ryan Frederick October 29, 2018
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Legendary musician and entertainer Jimmy Buffett has been throwing great parties for decades in concerts, casinos, restaurants, resorts and, now, senior living residences. “Margaritaville” is more than a song, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a 24/7 sport of leisure that is missing an important demographic—kids.

When I recently visited the new age-restricted, 55+ community Latitude Margaritaville planned community in South Carolina, the sales associate was quick to point out features like spacious homes, swimming pools, fitness rooms and live music venues. No kids. The agent was careful to emphasize, “We’ve designed this so it’s as if kids don’t even exist. Isn’t that great?”

Well, no. If Buffett and his development partners believe life is best when partying, and partying is best without the kids, they are missing a key point. Youth bring life to the party. With increasing levels of loneliness expressed in our modern era, they need us, and we need them. It can provide purposeful living to all of us.

The Rise of Age Segregation

The notion of separating ages in our society is a relatively recent phenomenon. Over the millennia, we lived together and we cared for one another. Young and old. It wasn’t until mid 20th century with the invention of retirement and the rollout of age-restricted housing led by Del Webb and his Sun City communities that this became a “thing.” Generational separation has perpetuated and grown despite what research tells us and what many people prefer and what research proves is actually good for us.

Three quarters of people feel age segregation is harmful, according to a recent Harris Poll. About 90 percent of people polled believe both older adults and youth benefit from time together, and their skill sets and talents are complementary. These impressions have been proven with research: Experience Corps, an intergenerational volunteer program developed by Encore.org now run by AARP, has shown the positive impact on well-being for both youth and older adults. Researchers from Johns Hopkins even found how brains of older participants actually became healthier through program engagement.

We also know partying—or seeking self-focused happiness—is valuable. There are real benefits for people who report high levels of pleasure-based happiness. Researchers have found that happier people tend to be healthier and live longer, engage in more supportive relationships, are more active citizens, and show greater resilience.

Moving Beyond Pleasure to Purposeful Living

But, pleasure-based happiness in only part of the story. Seeking pursuits that have purpose—in other words, things provide both personal meaning as well as lead to productive engagement with some aspect of the world beyond self—provide additional benefits. These benefits include increased longevity, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment, reduced risks of strokes and heart attacks and a higher over sense of life satisfaction.

In other words, you are likely to live longer, party longer, if you have a greater purpose for partying: Purposeful living and its associated impact on other lifestyle habits can add up to six years of life on average, one study shows.

But it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Stanford researchers found people who focused on purposeful living were generally also more engaged in more self-oriented activities than those who focused on self-oriented activities more exclusively.

Connecting Across the Age Spectrum

There is comfort to many of us to be around our peers but some of the best housing options for those 55 and over may be ones that are not advertised as such. Apartments and condos in walkable mixed-use areas that bring together people of all ages allow us to see people and engage in friendships with others across the age-spectrum. It’s only natural. And for those that do live in age-restricted enclaves, not all is lost. You can shatter the fantasy that kids don’t exist and find ways to engage in younger generations through programs in the local community.

Intergenerational relationships, just like any relationships, can be a hassle. However, in our “connected” modern era, we’re all struggling with social isolation and loneliness. At some point, the music will end for all of us, including Jimmy Buffett. But the party can go on if we include the kids.

Ryan Frederick is a 2018 Encore Public Voices Fellow.

Ryan Frederick

Ryan Frederick, founder of Smart Living 360 and developer of intergenerational communities, is a 2018 Encore Public Voices Fellow.

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