Why Life Can Get Better As You Age —Goal-Setting for Seniors

By Etta Hornsteiner
December 31st, 2018 Health & Wellness 2 Comments
goal setting for seniors-bucket list

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” so wherever you are on your journey—retired, semi-retired, planning to retire, still working—keep setting goals. Why? Because life is a continuum. So, what if I told you the end goal of life is to attain wisdom?

Researchers have identified wisdom as a positive predictor of successful aging. Happiness is deeply rooted in wisdom. It’s not surprising, then, that researchers such as Drs. Monika Ardelt, sociologist, and V. Jeste, neuropsychiatrist would suggest that seniors should set as their goal to attain and grow in wisdom. Here’s why goal-setting for seniors should be about wisdom.

Wisdom makes other goals possible

What is on your bucket list? As long as you are alive, you should continue to dream. Former President Bush was 72 when he fulfilled his dream to skydive again. He did it again on his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays. It is important to continue to achieve milestones as President Bush did, but goals such as these are usually set when there is something else in place—a strong sense of well-being.

And that strong sense of well-being is what wisdom brings if you pursue and attain wisdom as you age. How can this be? It’s because wisdom is more than just knowledge-based. Wisdom is practical, such as developing compassion and empathy in life. Wisdom is also self-reflective. What lessons have you learned in life? Wisdom is about acceptance and contentment. This is not the same as resignation or avoidance of negative emotions. On the contrary, acceptance and contentment involve engaging with the negative. Wisdom is also about emotional regulation—staying present, being mindful. Lastly, wisdom is about finding purpose or meaning in life. Maybe these are the reasons the Hebrew sage told his people that “wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”[1]

Here are the goals that would help you acquire wisdom as you age:

To develop compassion and empathy

Wisdom is developmental; it is not a personality trait. Both compassion and empathy can be nurtured. Compassion and empathy involve considering life from different perspectives. They are the opposite of self-absorption. For wisdom involves “other-orientedness.”  Helping others allows you to show compassion and gives you the opportunity to see life from someone else’s perspective, which is called empathy.

What would a goal to develop compassion or empathy look like for a senior?

Your goal should be SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Reasonable/Realistic, and Timely

Wisdom Goal Example

Specific: To develop compassion and empathy

Measurable: One of the challenges of aging is loneliness. The loss of a loved one or friend can lead to loneliness. So, it is important for you to continue to connect with old friends and make new friends as you age. Become a volunteer. Volunteerism can be healthy for your well-being because it is an opportunity to connect by helping. Or participate in a community play. Playing another character allows you to practice seeing life from someone else’s perspective. Role playing can help develop empathy and compassion.

If you need something less daring, Dr. Ben Dean, a psychologist, suggests subscribing to two news editorial publications that are on opposite ends of the political spectrum (e.g., The National Review for the conservative perspective and The Nation for the liberal perspective).  Read them both and consider both sides of the issues.


  1. Search online for play acting for seniors or a community theater. Inquire about improve groups too.

Here some community theaters to get you started:





  1. Audition or volunteer at a theater.
  2. If you don’t get the part, remember to ask about volunteering. If you have carpentry skills, maybe you can help build a set. Or you can serve as an usher and get an opportunity to see the play for free.

Realistic:  Look for plays that require your age-set and experience. Some parts will not require any experience. So audition and give it a try.

Dorothy Steel started acting at 88.  Four years later she auditioned and got a role in the film Black Panther as the tribe elder.

Timely: Give yourself a deadline.

You can apply the SMART steps of goal-setting to pursue the other characteristics of wisdom.

To apply life’s valuable lessons from different experiences

How can you share your story? Write a book? Become a mentor? What legacy could you leave? Imperfection belongs to human beings, and it is that character flaw that makes great stories and compelling characters that the world or future generations can learn from.

To practice acceptance and contentment

Acceptance and contentment are closely knit. Your body will go through changes as you age. But these changes do not mean you cannot enjoy quality life.  There is too much fear around aging, and it is this fear that is harmful not the aging process itself. Those who have a healthy view of aging tend to live longer, according to a study published in the APA Journal. A negative self-perception of aging diminished life expectancy by 7.5 years.  Also, those with a positive self-perception healed faster from an injury such as a fall than those with negative age stereotypes.

Confronting unpleasant emotions is never easy, but an acknowledgement and acceptance of them can help bring resolution.

A great way to practice acceptance and contentment is through mindfulness.

To be Mindful

Mindfulness is about staying present.  Do you spend most of your mental energy in the past or the future? Do you find yourself constantly thinking about something that has already occurred or someone who has already gone? Or do you create fearful fantasies about the future? Then making mindfulness a goal will help you to practice letting go and gratitude.

To find purpose or spirituality

Purpose can involve believing in something greater than you or finding meaning in life. You can discover purpose in caring for a pet, volunteering your skills, participating in or being part of a religious community.  According to the Chicago Tribune report, there is an abundance of evidence that shows “seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without this kind of underlying motivation.” The report also adds that these seniors also tend to be more physically active and take better care of their health.

Finding purpose is not easy. There are some clues to help you find purpose, however; for example, spending time in activities that you like or using your skills in a different area of life.  Dr. Ben Dean suggests reading the works of great thinkers and religious leaders (e.g., Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela).  How many books about these people can you read?

Be SMART and wise

This year, what will your goals be? Set SMART goals. Set goals that are specific, measureable, action-oriented, realistic and timely.  Grow in wisdom. Be compassionate and empathetic.  Learn the lessons life brings. Know when to accept the things you cannot change. Be content. Be mindful and live purposefully.

[1] Proverbs 4:7 KJV.

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