When I read of Brian May finally getting his PhD at age 60, having dropped out to pursue a career as ‘Queen’ guitarist, I was inspired to continue my own journey in my sixties and prove to myself that I could do it.
My research focuses on a particular type of wellbeing in older people known as eudaimonic wellbeing which has yet to be explored thoroughly. It means flourishing, living with a sense that one’s life has meaning and purpose and living in accordance with your values.
I hope my research leads to the eudaimonic wellbeing of older people being valued in making government policy decisions, as the current lack of consideration of eudaimonic impacts of policy decisions could be construed as indirectly discriminatory against older people.
As a former government economist, I understand what needs to happen to bring that about. By better understanding the drivers of eudaimonic wellbeing, we can predict the impacts of different policies on it.
The support I received from academic and administrative staff was fantastic. My supervisors were encouraging, stimulating, responsive and motivating. I looked forward to my monthly meetings with them for their insightful comments and another injection of enthusiasm. I was amazed at how they remembered the details of my work despite their own workloads.
There is evidence that purpose in life is lower in older people, as ageing is often associated with reduced social roles, increased health problems and more active contemplation of one’s death.
I found participation in a wider range of social and leisure activity mediates the strong association between self-assessed health and older peoples’ evaluations of how worthwhile the things they do in life are.
I also investigated associations between leisure activities and momentary feelings of pleasure and purposefulness: momentary purposefulness had not been previously explored. Volunteering or caring for someone was associated with the greatest feelings of purpose, followed by DIY and gardening. Creative hobbies and visiting friends or family were associated with the greatest feelings of pleasure. Those who spent less of their days sedentary seemed to get more pleasure and purpose out of all their activities.
Finally, I explored what retirees meant by purpose in life. Many described a desire to keep busy with a range of activities such as regular exercise and volunteering. Being busy also helped keep existential despair at bay. Sometimes however retirees simply appreciated life and nature or roles as a grandparent or volunteer. Importantly, I found it was the attitude to a given activity, rather than the activity itself, that made it feel purposeful.
Using the skillset acquired during my PhD and my previous career in government, I now have a research and policy role with the Centre for Ageing Better.
In this role I am campaigning for, and influencing, policy and practice on employment of those over fifty. This includes monitoring the labour market for older people, researching factors leading to their increased economic inactivity, barriers to their employment, age-friendly employment practices such as flexible working, and pay and benefits in work. Making evidence-based cases for change to government and other stakeholders is crucial to the success of the work of the Centre.
Alongside this role, I am working toward publishing two more articles based on my PhD research (I have published one already) and looking to pursue further related research.