As Sindy Newman (right) planned her weekly schedule of online classes, she realized that ballroom dancing – which she relishes – was scheduled at the same time as the Finding Purpose, Wellness and Community After 60 discussion group. “Damn!” she said. “I don’t want to miss that!”
Several dozen seniors feel the same way – a pleasant surprise to Pat Whitty, who launched the group in in early 2021 at Senior Planet’s San Antonio site. “I hoped to get a few seniors together to talk about matters related to finding purpose later in life,” he says. Today ‘a few’ is 30 to 40 people logging in every Friday afternoon.
Four years ago Whitty, 79, (at left), left his position as dean of the School of Business at a small university. The reason? “I wanted to pursue my purpose,” he says. Whitty cites Stanford University’s Dr. Phillip Pizzo’s identification of three items that are especially important as we age — purpose, well-being, and community – as the inspiration for (and the name of) the Senior Planet weekly discussion group that he moderates.
Senior Discuss their Special Insights
A point of special gratification is how readily seniors share their experience and hard-won wisdom. “It doesn’t happen immediately,” says Whitty. “But people do open up as their comfort with the group increases.”
Irmine McKenzie (at right), a regular, has insights that Whitty encourages her to share as she becomes more comfortable. While quieter than others, McKenzie is meaningfully involved. “I always investigate, download or look in to books that Pat tells us about,” she says. “They help so much to broaden my outlook on life.”
Building Happiness and Well-Being
It is not surprising that this is the case. Insights from psychologist Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the breakthrough area positive psychology, inform many of the “life-broadening” discussion topics that Whitty crafts. Included in Seligman’s contributions is PERMA, the acronym for the five important building blocks of well-being and happiness:
• Positive emotions – feeling good
• Engagement – being absorbed in our chosen activities
• Relationships – having authentic connection to others
• Meaning – purposeful existence
Building blocks generally seem small. “Just” baking cookies with a grandchild appears to be a “small” activity – but isn’t. The activity touches on all five building blocks and meaningfully contributes to the larger purpose of deepening family bonds.
The discussion group not only helps seniors to better identify a special purpose for their later years, it has become a community of help and support for this quest. The unexpected can happen, too. “One of the first attendees is 91 years old,” says Whitty. “Since he seemed bored, I was surprised when he returned – and still seemed bored.
“But as the weeks passed, the man livened up. He’s now an engaged, regular discussion participant – something I never expected.”
Want to Discuss?
Senior Planet’s discussion groups offer many opportunities to share thoughts, possible solutions and build community for a variety of audiences, including Spanish speakers and the LGBT+ community. Moderator Pat Whitty’s Finding Purpose, Wellness and Community After 60 is one example of many. To find this group or others, visit https://seniorplanet.org/social/