By: former Atherton Staff

“Retirement,” Malcolm Forbes famously observed, “kills more people than hard work ever did.” Studies have repeatedly shown that people who retire early tend to die younger than those who continue working. The ancients called us “homo faber,” the one who “works” for a reason. As much as we crave leisure, we were created to “do,” not merely to watch others doing.

A growing body of literature suggests that one crucial key to satisfaction during one’s senior years relates to how you spend your time. People who find ways to invest their days wisely and significantly seem to derive greater enjoyment from their remaining years. I have long marveled at the residents at Atherton, Alhambra’s premiere century-old retirement community, and the way so many of them seem to live to 100 years and more. Perhaps the “secret sauce” is their unusual commitment to continuing meaningful activity and engagement in the world around them, particularly through volunteerism.

In recent years, Atherton residents Doug and his wife, Martha, returned from Dubai where the Doug upon arrival served for several months as an interim pastor for yet another church. Since joining the Atherton community, they have been in Asia, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East with similar assignments. Doug completed, and saw published, his 18th book printed by a major Christian publisher, extending his contributions to training the next generation of leaders around the world.

Others such as Wicham travel to Thailand for months at a time in order to train pastors and church leaders. Cory and Reine, Donald and Yetsuko, Kazuko, and Connie all take a global approach to volunteerism as well, devoting serious time to efforts overseas. Gary and Sharlene leave Atherton for work in America with the Gleanings organization, a mercy ministry that has helped with hunger issues in more than 100 countries.

Some seniors volunteer locally. Celia recycled her experience as a professional teacher to conduct ESL classes in Alhambra and surrounding communities. Her goal is to help immigrants learn English. Ernie and Lucille have focused their time with the “Movers and Shakers” group at Atherton, volunteers who work to extend the useful life of things by taking “gently used” items of clothing, jewelry, books, and small household items and “repurposing” them. Also, buses of Atherton residents have traveled to work with Samaritan’s Purse, assisting in their annual Operation Christmas Child effort. George and Elaine typify what motivates this kind of activity.“We looked many places, some fancy and others not so much, but all places of value, what really was the determining factor in our move to Atherton was the various opportunities for volunteerism. It is so important to us to continue our active and useful lives.”

Activity with a purpose or cause larger than oneself seems to capture the flavor of why so many seniors find their retirement years to be the most meaningful of all. Gene stated it well when he observed: “I thought I was getting old, and it was time to make a move. Little did I know how busy I would be serving in local and not so local ways, and right here at Atherton. I realized again how much I had to offer and that I was not too old to help others. Almost 20 years later I continue to serve at an age I used to think was “old!”

Various empirical scientific studies cannot agree on what makes for longevity. However, whether volunteer activity makes you live longer or not, finding ways to reinvest yourself significantly, particularly in the service of others, will make the life you do have feel fuller, more vibrant, and exciting. It certainly beats trying to guess what letters Vanna White will be turning over next.

As one longtime resident of Atherton put it: “Caring about others and doing for others is part of who we are here. We have so many opportunities here and outside Atherton to make a difference. I love it; the people here love it. It’s part of what keeps us going and makes us happy.”