Friday, June 23, 2023


'Volunteering in community service may be the missing piece that completes our overall well-being and contentment in retirement'

Grey Matters by Lily Fu

Eat, sleep, wake. Repeat. Eat, sleep, wake. Ad infinitum. Doing what we like, living how we want, and no one to answer to. Bliss! But sooner or later, we will wake up one morning feeling something is missing in our lives. The hours ahead seem stretched. Day in, day out, it’s the same old routine. Retirement is turning out to be one big yawn.

Once we have got over the initial joy of being master of our time, harsh reality sets in. While some find they are busier (not necessarily happier) than ever in retirement, there are those among us who complain about the long endless days of boredom, with nothing exciting or fulfilling to occupy them. Beyond looking after their grandchildren, going shopping, playing golf, travelling, watching TV, meeting up with friends, indulging in their hobbies or learning something new, what else is there? 

Is this all there is to living life to the fullest in our retirement years?

When we have the rest of our lives ahead of us, what would make us look forward to welcoming each new day? How does one get to find meaning in life, that elusive ‘ikigai’, that ‘raison d’etre’?

Perhaps we could borrow Marie Kondo's tagline 'spark joy', not so much to declutter our homes although that would certainly help when we downsize our home, and give away the bulk of our possessions accumulated over the years, but to apply the same concept to finding something that would spark joy in our lives.

Some have found pleasure in activities such as gardening, painting and writing at home. 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, caring and giving to others?

Can we be truly happy and at peace with ourselves while there are so many people out there needing help, and so many causes out there that could do with our support?

Being financially well-off does not guarantee happiness or peace of mind. We know that. Even the rich may feel a void in their lives, an emptiness that needs to be filled with something they have yet to discover. This is why many billionaires turn philanthropists when they approach their senior years. They know they can’t bring their wealth with them when they depart on what my mom euphemistically refers to as ‘a world cruise with no return date’. It makes them feel good to use their wealth for altruistic purposes. Many set up foundations to offer scholarships to deserving students and grants to promising start-ups.

Ordinary folks like us can contribute too.

For those of us with some money to spare, we can donate to a deserving charity or to a noble cause. Even RM10 can go a long way if many contribute. Some charities such as Hospice Malaysia, Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM), Malaysian Association for the Blind would welcome our help. Not all of us can afford to donate money, but we can certainly give our time, our energy, our experience, our talents/skill to help where it is needed. There are so many ways we can give back to society, including donating blood, even donating our bodies for research in University of Malaya’s ‘Silent Mentor’ programme. 

We could offer to help at animal shelters, soup kitchens, recycling centres, community gardens and many more. Temples, churches and mosques welcome volunteers to help out with their community service projects. If we have a skill, why not make use of it to do something for the community? Retired teachers can offer to give free tuition. Retired nurses can volunteer at community clinics or old folk’s homes. It is never more rewarding than putting a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom and experience to good use at one’s golden age. And if we have more than what we need, to give some to others who have much less.

Camie Choo, 61, winner of the Tender-Hearted category in the ‘Be a Star Beyond 50’ campaign (organised by The Star in collaboration with Nutren Optimum by Nestle Health Science), is a fine example of a senior who made use of her excellent sewing skills to sew 1000 facial masks during the Covid-19 pandemic to raise funds for SPCA Selangor. She is currently sewing hats for sale with proceeds going to Cheshire Home to train those with disabilities to be independent.

There is Kamil Yusof, 72, who regularly delivers food and essential items to families living in low-cost PPR flats. Twin sisters Choke Ling and Choke Wun, 79, help out regularly at Kebun-Kebun Bangsar community garden. 

There is no end to appeals for volunteers, but not many will respond. 

The best gifts are those that are meaningful, that light up the recipients' face and bring joy to their hearts. Indeed, giving to those in need shouldn't be restricted to festive seasons, but whenever the opportunity arises to help.

Doing good generates positive effects on our physical and mental health. Our time is gainfully occupied, and we experience a sense of greater self-worth. 

Nothing is more satisfying and more rewarding than being able to help others who are in need. Volunteering in community service gives purpose and meaning to our golden years. It is the missing piece that completes our overall well-being and contentment in retirement.

If tables were turned, wouldn’t we wish for help from others? Kindness begets kindness. Let’s spread more of that. The world certainly needs it.

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