The Meaning and Purpose of the Second Half of Life

November 10, 2013

The dawning day at Green Lake

The dawning day at Green Lake

Another November morning, pink and gray,  at Green Lake

Another November morning, pink and gray, at Green Lake

“A human being would certainly not grow to be 70 or 80 years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs.  The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage of life’s morning.  The significance of the morning undoubtedly lies in the development of the individual, our entrenchment in the outer world, the propagation of our kind and the care of our children.  This is the obvious purpose of nature.  But . . . whoever carries over into the afternoon the law of the morning must pay for so doing with damage to his soul.  Moneymaking, social existence, family and posterity are nothing but plain nature — not culture.  Culture lies beyond the purpose of nature.  Could by any chance culture be the meaning and purpose of the second half of life?”
— Carl Jung

I am preoccupied with thoughts of old age.  I am well past the morning of my life, and I have a strong sense that the afternoon is waning, too.  This year, I am on the threshold of turning 60, and I feel that I am entering the evening of my life.  I may be getting a late start on embarking on a new path for the second half of my life.  I didn’t give birth to my daughter until I was 34, and I want to keep working at the library for another 6 years or so, and that means I’m still given over to moneymaking, etc.

But I agree with Jung that staying engaged and growing means changing my attitude and the mechanics of my life.  I feel lucky to feel passion for photography, watercolor painting, and blogging/writing, all of which absorb me and delight me.  I also admire people who immerse themselves in other people — helping and enjoying family and neighbors and strangers.  They, too, seem to lead purposeful lives as they age.  There are many possible paths for navigating the afternoon and evening years.  What is yours?

9 Responses to “The Meaning and Purpose of the Second Half of Life”

  1. Adrienne Says:

    History describes times and events. Those who lived through the time must then complete, must “flesh out” the story. Many may not listen, but many will, and the culture becomes richer.


  2. Donating to charities, especially those that help children. Making my life more spiritual by studying the Bible, and praising God and giving thanks through singing and prayer. Reading memoirs and other inspirational books. Exercise and cooking more at home. Travel. I am also trying to reduce my TV time.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I’m inspired by your list. A nice balance of inward-looking and outward-looking endeavors. I also love your generosity and am reminded that I need to think more about giving. I am very often inward focused to the point of insensitivity to people.

  3. camilla wells paynter Says:

    I’m not sure I ever figured out what the meaning and purpose of the first half of life is, but as I settle into middle age, I more and more conclude that there are as many purposes as there are people, and that this is as it should be. Perhaps the greatest purpose in any time of life is to be as much one’s self as one can be–to add this unique value to the sum of the Universe, creating a Whole which is surely greater.

    I think for parents, it often seems as if there is a fairly distinct line: when my kids were young I knew my life’s purpose. Now that they’re independent, I feel I don’t. But in reality, you’ve been asking yourself the same questions–the ones that are “beyond the purpose of nature”–all along, every time you agonized over a decision of childrearing, every time you thought carefully about an answer you gave them: Who am I? What matters to me? How do I want that to affect this individual and to go out into the world?

    I guess I’m chafing a bit at Jung’s “morning/afternoon” division here. I haven’t read the quote in its context, but it seems to me that he is talking about the evolutionary/biological purpose of longevity and then confuting this with the existential quest for meaning. I suspect that “purpose and meaning” are found in a constant balance between inward examination (Who am I? What are my values?) and outward expression (How do I bring those qualities into the world? How do they inform my interactions?). This balance is applicable whether I’m in high school or trying to figure out how to raise my kids or planning my retirement, etc. The questions are the same, and how we answer them continues to develop throughout life. Purpose is a journey.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Yes, parts of Jung’s message are puzzling. Words like “pitiful appendage” for example. Could your purpose in later life grow out of the foundations and investments in people and skills from your earlier life? For me it’s a fuzzier line. Yet the idea of being open to change is good, I think. This might be our last chance to become something we’ve deferred.

  4. camilla wells paynter Says:

    Stunning photos, by the way! (I’m glad you chose views at dawn and not at dusk! :-))

    • Rosemary Says:

      I miss so many sunsets. I’m usually indoors in the middle of something and am not even aware when the sun goes down. The sunrises lately have been quite beautiful, but the peachy pink sky doesn’t last long at all. Sometimes I’m motivated to carry my camera on my morning jogs around the lake. Usually I don’t bother and miss the chance to take photos.

      • camilla wells paynter Says:

        I miss the sunrises, because I am asleep! 🙂 Nice to see them in your photos, anyway!


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