Monday, April 29, 2019


Ikigai - the Japanese word for 'sense of purpose in life' has been very much on my mind lately. At this stage in our lives when we don't need to get up every morning to go to work, what would make us look forward to welcoming each new day?

As I write this, I think of my senior friends who complain about retirement being a long stretch of boredom, with nothing much to do. Beyond looking after their grandchildren, going shopping, playing golf, travelling, meeting up with friends, what else is there? Is this all there is to living life to the fullest in our retirement years?

Retirees with too much time on their hands are the envy of those with 1001 things to do, and never having time enough to do them. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Then there is another group - the lucky ones who are blessed with good health, money to spare, and nothing much to worry about. But money does not guarantee happiness or peace of mind. The rich too feel a void in their lives, an emptiness that needs to be filled with something they have yet to discover. This is one reason why many billionaires turn philanthropists. It makes them feel good to use their wealth for altruistic purposes.

In finding our ikigai, perhaps we could borrow KonMarie's tagline 'spark joy', not so much to declutter our homes but to apply the same principle to an activity or interest. If it sparks joy in us, then this could be our ikigai to fill the void, the emptiness in our lives. We will have a sense of purpose in doing good, in sharing and giving back to the community.

Volunteering at community farm Kebun-Kebun BangsarSeniorsAloud contributes towards two plots of vegetables there.
Some have found pleasure in activities such as gardening, painting, writing. But these are primarily solitary activities. They spark joy only in us. Why not take it one level higher, one step further to also spark joy in others by sharing our passions?

SeniorsAloud members helping out at Pitstop, a community cafe that serves meals to the poor and homeless.

I am, of course, referring to giving back to society where it matters. You will be surprised how good it makes you feel to be able to help others, and know that you have made a difference in someone else's life.

SeniorsAloud members who love animals are encouraged to volunteer at SPCA and other animal shelters.

Volunteerism can be in a myriad of ways - from donating money, time or energy, or sharing our skills and experience to just lending our shoulder to lean on for someone going through a difficult period.

A study on volunteerism among older people revealed these benefits:

~ Volunteering leads to better health, and longer life because doing good generates positive effects on our physical and mental health..

~ We make new friends, develop social confidence, and boost our social skills.

~ Our time is gainfully occupied, and we experience a sense of greater self-worth and trust.

However, to receive the positive health benefits, volunteers need to commit to an activity on a regular basis, at least one to two hours a week.

To quote a former chairman of Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM), "It is never more rewarding than seeing that a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom and experience are put to good use at one’s golden age."

And to quote former US President Franklin Roosevelt, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

SeniorsAloud members presenting a cheque to widow and housewife, Helen Chan. She has three grown sons, two of whom are autistic.

And here's how we seniors can do our part, either as an individual or as a group.

~ For those of us with money to spare, we can donate to a deserving charity or a noble cause. Even RM10 can go a long way if many contribute. Some charities such as MAKNA (National Cancer Council) or Hospis Malaysia would welcome our help.

~ For those of us with time to spare, we can volunteer to help out at welfare organizations or community support groups when they are hosting an event.

Participating at Alzheimer's Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM)'s annual event to raise awareness of AD.

~ For those of us with energy to spare, we can start our own project to raise funds for charity, or create awareness for the less fortunate in society. SeniorsAloud has a Grant a Wish for the Elderly initiative that you can support whenever we organise a fund-raiser. The funds collected go towards helping the elderly or communities in need

(Top) Donating supplies to Tong Sim Old Folks Home. (Above) A bag of rice goes a long way for the poorest of the poor in Sentul. Our gifts spark joy in us and in the recipients too.

There are so many ways we can give back to society, including donating preloved items e.g. books, clothes, toys, to charities, NGOs and community centres. Personal items that no longer spark joy in us, may spark joy in others. 

Don't know who or where to donate your preloved items? Just contact SeniorsAloud and we will put you in touch with Kedai Jalanan and other community groups.

If you have materials but don't know what to do with them, donate them to Mums Sew With Love. They will put the material to good use. SeniorsAloud members pictured here with some of the single mums.

SeniorsAloud has a volunteer group that helps out at Pitstop and Kebun-Kebun Bangsar. The members are available to volunteer whenever the call comes from NGOs or community service groups. We are also looking at helping out at libraries and visiting welfare homes and activity centres for seniors (e.g. Pusat Aktiviti Warga Emas or PAWE). If you are interested to join our volunteer group, contact Choke Ling 012-2001929 or Kamil 019-6641951.

Be a volunteer and enjoy better health, make new friends and discover the joy of making a difference in someone else's life. This is what gives meaning and purpose in our retirement. Give it a try and experience the satisfaction and health benefits it brings.

Article written by Lily Fu
SeniorsAloud founder
MSc Applied Gerontology, MESL

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