Goals for Grays

ImageI recently presented my happiness model to a group of 300+ seniors—the Senior Scholars at Queens (University in Charlotte NC). A major element of my model focuses on goals—not on goals per se, but on making progress towards goals. To have a goal of building a mountain cabin is titillating but does not particularly contribute to one’s sense of well-being. However, completing a step towards completing that cabin does elevate one’s mood, one’s sense of well-being, one’s felt happiness.

At the conclusion we had a Q&A session. One delightful yet puzzled lady lamented—“I understand the importance of having goals and making progress on them. However, I am 83, my husband died, and I just don’t feel I have much to live for except to stay as healthy as possible. How is your emphasis on goals applicable to me?”

Well, that just got me to thinking! What poured forth were oodles of possible goals for seniors.

  • Design your own Winter Holiday Card every year and send it out to your family and friends list.
  • Vicarious goals, such as helping a student/young person attain a specific grade reading level, mathematics competency, drawing skill, craft mastery (macramé, knitting, etc.), public speaking confidence, and so forth
  • Keep your profile on your college alumni/ae website updated
  • Living until the age of 90, then 95, then 100, then 105, well, you get the idea!
  • Make it a point to write, email, call, visit, or otherwise communicate with all of the members of various sets of friends, family, or acquaintances from your past and present: all your children, all your grandchildren, all your great grandchildren, all your cousins, all your siblings, all your former co-workers (at least, the ones you liked!), all your high school friends, all your college friends, all your graduate school friends, all your military buddies, all your former spiritual advisors, all your former favorite teachers, all your former favorite neighbors. Do this weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. (maybe a different set of folks each week). If you have trouble thinking of things to say (you can tell them about your progress on all of these goals!), then just tell them how much they have meant to you and that your memory of them is still warm and active.
  • Take care well in advance of how you want to distribute all of your possessions among your descendants and others close to you, so there will be minimal squabbles when the time comes! My mother made a list of everything, then asked each of her seven children to pick something, starting with the oldest child having first choice, then continually cycling through each of the seven children until the last item was chosen.
  • Write a poem (or song, or paint a picture, etc.) for each grandchild, child, or other significant person for their birthday every year.
  • Create (if you haven’t already) your bucket list of all the things you’d like to do before you kick the bucket, and then share the list with friends, family, retirement home social planners, etc., to see how many of the items you can check off. And keep adding items to your bucket list as you think of new things you would like to do, be it travel, crafts, reading, trying a new food or cuisine, meeting people, or whatever.
  • Write your autobiography, including photographs, stories, history, favorite songs/foods/movies/athletes/etc., medical history, where you’ve lived, your heroes, your mentors, where you’ve traveled, awards you’ve won, concerts and plays you been in, loves you’ve won and lost, biggest regrets and proudest moments, and so on. Once you have a finished product, have a copy made for the school and public libraries where you grew up, and one for each of your children and grandchildren.
  • Write a biography of your parents or grandparents.
  • Join Ancestry.com online and build your family tree—you’d be amazed at what you will find with their online resources. I’ve traced one of the lines in my family—the McGaheys—back to the 4th century BCE!
  • Make a scrapbook, either a paper one or an electronic one (I have made 14 different family scrapbooks using Power Point’s “photo album” feature). Make a different scrapbook for each major theme of your life—your childhood, your school years, your courtship(s), your children, your grandchildren, your special interests (concerts you’ve been in, newspaper clippings from political campaigns, sports, etc.), and so forth.
  • Find or purchase a scanner that you can use and set out to create digital versions of all of your family photographs. Both black and white and color photos deteriorate over time. But if you scan them and convert them to a digital format, you stop that deterioration. You can even learn how to reverse some of the fading and sharpen old photos that have suffered the ravages of time.
  • Begin a series of collections of various kinds: stories your parents told you (you could write them out, or you could dictate them to a recording device), songs your family sang, games your family played (at holidays, birthdays, etc.), poems/verse your family recited, family recipes. One of my nieces is working with her two daughters to type up all of our old family recipes that are now on 3” x 5” cards and are fading fast.
  • Build or make something: a cradle for your grandchild/great grandchild, a doll house, a model railroad, a display rack, a special storage case for something someone values (like a musical instrument), a piece of furniture, an item of clothing (maybe a christening dress!).
  • Set a goal for exercise—number of repetitions for situps, pushups (I try to do 40, three times a week), number of steps per day (use a pedometer).
  • Reread or revisit all of the great art from your past. You will be amazed at how much about them you have forgotten, and how much meaning they have decades after you first encountered them. Every time I reread a Shakespeare play, revisit a Breughel painting, or rehear a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, I am thrilled to rediscover what is in essence an old friend whom I’ve not visited for years. All of the old programs you heard sitting on the floor as a kid next to a monstrous Philco radio are available now in digital form—Dragnet, Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Green Hornet, Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, and so on.
  • Every time your college alumni magazine asks you for an update, send them something, including your progress on all of these goals you are working on!
  • And of course, help plan your family reunions! If your family doesn’t have one, then get the planning started. If your nuclear family is no more, then join in with another family that you are related to, or one that you just like being a part of


Many of these goals could be tricky if you tried to do them by yourself. Perhaps you could find a student who could visit with you after school or on weekends and who could help you with your project(s). My 90-year-old sister in Pittsburgh bought her first computer for her 90th birthday, and she found a high school student in her church who stopped by regularly after school to help her with email, printing, etc.

Being older does not mean we stop having goals. I am 72, and my To Do list will take about 500 more years to complete! While I still work a full week, every week, for my career, it is not necessary to be in the work force in order to have meaningful goals. I hope I have triggered something for you to pursue. Happiness comes, among other things, from the joy of chasing your goals! Read more about the pursuit of happiness in my 2013 book, The Owner’s Manual for Happiness.

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