Older adults recall memories of life challenges: the role of sense of purpose in the life story

Shubam Sharma, Kennesaw State University
Susan Bluck, University of Florida


Late life is still often characterized as a time of loss and decline. The current study moved beyond this view, using both the resilience framework and the life story approach to highlight the rich life experiences of older adults. Doing so created an opportunity to explore perspectives on sense of purpose in life, from the vantage point of old age. The study had two central questions. That is, how have older adults drawn on their sense of purpose across their lives, and what factors led to the development of a sense of purpose? Following guidelines for the consensual qualitative research method (CQR; Hill et al., The Counseling Psychologist, 25(4), 517–572, 1997; Hill & Knox, 2021), in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 older women and men (aged 60 – 100 years) and transcribed for analysis. The CQR method revealed seven domains in the interviews. Three domains were relevant to the first research question, including: overcoming life challenges to pursue purpose, perspective-taking to maintain purpose, and purpose as part of one’s religion. Four domains provided insights on the second research question: life background influencing purpose, shifts in purpose across life, fulfilling purpose across life, and obstacles to pursuing purpose in life. Findings highlighted how older people use sense of purpose as a guide in the face of life’s inevitable challenges. They also revealed the unique life story paths that lead to the development of purpose across individuals’ lifetimes. The implications of maintaining a sense of purpose in life, across the later years, are discussed.