When I was a young kid, my reason for getting up was to play with my four younger sisters. Then in my tweens and teens, it was to hang out with my friends. In college, it was to get to my classes; in my early 20s, it was to get to work.
Then, in my early 40s, after the untimely deaths of my parents–my dad after a year-long battle with cancer, my mom in an instant after a stroke—it was to distract myself from my grief. Every morning I woke up, got dressed and walked to my neighborhood coffee shop where I followed Julia Cameron’s advice from The Artist’s Way and wrote morning pages. Doing so was definitely my lifeline, one thing I could control and a way of coming to terms with my grief and guilt, as well as my fears.
Eighteen months later, once my grief had ebbed, work once again became my reason for getting up. Somedays I was so driven to get started that I turned on my computer on my way to the bathroom.
But now that I no longer work full-time, I’ve been pondering my reason for getting up. Pre-pandemic it might have been to attend a board meeting, enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend or, pre-hip pain, walk the Stone Arch bridge across the Mississippi—all activities that connected me to others and the world in which we live.
Now, my reasons rarely involve connecting with others or the outside world, especially because COVID means doing it in front of a screen rather than in person. It’s hard to get excited about more screen time. As a result, getting up can sometimes be the most challenging part of my day.
That’s why, while writing my recent Aging with Gusto post, I was excited to discover the concept of ikigai (ee-kee-gahy). According to the authors of the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, ikigai is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” When combined, the term means “that which gives your life purpose, meaning or worth.”
Minnesotan Dan Buettner talks a lot about purpose in his book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People. So does fellow Minnesotan Richard Leider whose newest book is Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?: The Path of Purposeful Aging.
While I’ve been tempted to pooh-pooh the power of purpose, data shows that having one can make a difference, not only to the quality of our lives, but also their length.
So, now that I’m of a certain age (only six years away from the age both my parents were when they died, I’ve become determined to do all I can to extend not only the length of my life but also the quality of it.
That’s meant turning inward by once again writing morning pages. At first, they were filled with recriminations, accusations, reprimands and wouldas, couldas and shouldas, all of which undermined my ability to identify—and perhaps more importantly—fulfill my purpose.
But slowly, over the past 18 months, my pages have begun to fill with more positive thoughts (the sun shining on the bright white snow is beautiful) and simple delights (this cup of coffee tastes great). And while COVID is still interfering with many of my hopes and dreams, I am—morning by morning and page by page—finding new reasons to get up each day.