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Maintaining Social Contributions

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

The first meaning in my life is, above all, social relationships. It goes into hobbies, music, photography, travelling—into everywhere. […] As long as people need to see my pictures, this is the engine. When people tell me that they like my pictures, it enhances my personal worth. I think to myself: “Well, I am still useful”, because I can please people with my work. (Male retiree, 69 years old, photographer)

The quote above is from a study by a group of researchers (see reference below) who looked at the concept of ‘mattering’ in retirement. For the man quoted above, producing photographs that others would value gave him value. Essentially the idea of mattering is that people feel they have a purpose or can make a difference in the world. It means that people are not only connected to others, but that they feel that they are important to others.

This feeling of mattering becomes even more important when people leave valued roles and responsibilities in their work. As the researchers suggest: “While preparing for and adjusting to the new role as retiree, workers need to face the question of how to still feel that one is useful—that one still matters”.

The researchers conducted a study with 178 retirees. In general they found that feeling this sense of purpose was central to feeling positive overall and that social interactions alone do not contribute to positive feelings in retirement.

The researchers suggest that this sense of purpose not only encourages or motivates people to take action, but also provides a general sense of confidence to bring into one’s life and future. A recent meeting with Regina and Dan at a state park in Tennessee supports these findings. Dan retired a year ago and this was their first big trip with their fifth wheel. Dan explained how he has thrived under the challenges the trip has imposed on him. He has had to use his organizational, planning and problem-solving skills—honed through his previous work as a tool and die maker—to deal successfully with the challenges of planning for, towing, and setting up their rig.

Thinking about the above ideas:

  • What strengths or skills that are used in your work role can you bring with you into retirement?

  • What sorts of new (or previously-enjoyed) activities can you build into your life that are close to your work life?

  • What sorts of retirement projects or activities can you create for yourself that can matter to yourselves and others?

If you want to think more about these ideas I encourage you to check out the following Retirement Resources: The Personal Strengths Inventory and the Losses and Gains worksheet.


Froideveaux, A., Hirschi, A., & Wang, M. (2016). The role of mattering as an overlooked key challenge in retirement planning and adjustment. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 94, 57-69.

If you want to read the full study, please feel free to contact me:

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