When You Create & Contribute, You Matter

Our modern world is bearing witness to the incredible possibility of living longer and healthier lives, and 75% of Americans hope to live to 100 if they can do so while maintaining good health. There are several contributing factors to set oneself up for success when it comes to longevity. These include adopting a healthy lifestyle, building, financial security, remaining socially engaged, and finding meaning and the mundanity of life.

A decade ago, I was struck by a longevity study that revealed that the people who live the longest not only have healthier habits, but also tend to engage and connect with the people around them. They visit their neighbors. They take classes on ballroom dancing, bookbinding, and baking at the local community center. They pass down traditions to their children and grandchildren. They contribute to the world around them in whatever ways they can.

Though the article didn’t state it outright, it alluded to trend of people consuming more and creating less as they age. The average retiree leans back in their La-Z-Boy and binges CNN, Fox News, Netflix, of whatever game show happens to be on the television. They are no longer innovating new ways to market a company’s latest product, trying out new recipes, or sewing clothing for their now-grown children. They are no longer bringing new ideas into the world.

Meanwhile, the people who keep on participating in life tend to be the ones who keep on living. The message was clear: people who contribute to their community live longer.

But why is this true? And how can you apply it to your own life?

Applying this to our daily lives, it makes sense that longevity would be prevalent in cultures where contribution is part of everyday life. For example, in a culture where it’s common to go to your neighbor’s house and talk each night, the face–to–face interaction provides both parties the opportunity to contribute. Both are able to help and to be heard.

The act of contributing to a conversation, no matter how simple it seems, allows you to derive a small sense of self–worth. Partaking in a meaningful discussion makes you feel like you were a worthwhile part of your neighbor’s life. When you add up all of your small contributions to the many conversations over the years, it’s easy to see how you can develop a strong sense of self–worth when you live in a culture where contribution is both expected and valued.

You alter the course of other’s lives by what you create and share. When you speak or write or act, you influence the people around you. When you contribute something to the world, you matter. And thus the act of creating enhances your feelings of self–worth.

That’s important and it’s often lost on us. It’s becoming increasingly easy to spend our time consuming rather than contributing. Electronic devices like smartphones, iPads, and Kindles isolate us. Social media websites like Twitter and Facebook distract us. The internet, in general, distances us from opportunities to connect and give back. Most of the time we spend on those devices and networks is spent consuming what someone else has created rather than contributing our own ideas and work.

The result, I suspect, is that our sense of self–worth slowly dwindles and our lives become less healthy, less happy, and less meaningful. That’s no way to live life!

Make Something

When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Creating and contributing to the world is not only a foundational piece of living a healthy and happy life, but also a meaningful one. You can’t control the amount of time you spend on this planet, but you can control what you contribute while you’re here. Your contributions don’t have to be major endeavors. Cook a meal instead of buying one. Play a game instead of watching one. Write a paragraph instead of reading one. Engage in such tiny projects. You don’t have to create big contributions, you just need to live out small ones each day.

Too often we spend our lives visiting the world instead of shaping it.

Be an adventurer, an inventor, an entrepreneur, an artist. Suggest your own ideas instead of reacting to everyone else’s. Be an active participant in life and contribute to the world around you. Make good conversation. Make good art. Make good adventure. But above all, make something.

Contributing and creating doesn’t just make you feel alive, it keeps you alive.

You can find more from me on my personal blog: https://existentialergonomics.com/

29 thoughts on “When You Create & Contribute, You Matter

  1. I love this, Erin: “It’s becoming increasingly easy to spend our time consuming rather than contributing.” Your thoughts about the importance of self-worth, the power of being interdependent aligns beautifully with what I believe. Everyone has something to offer and the best antidote to loneliness isn’t just interaction but feeling the mutual benefits of “being with” as we share ourselves with others. “Too often we spend our lives visiting the world rather than shaping it.” Here’s to shaping and giving…thank you so much! 💕💕💕

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! I, too, believe that everyone has something to offer, however small it may seem, and sharing ourselves with others is always a mutually beneficial act. It’s such a simple concept, but I think so many people get caught up in overthinking to recognize the importance of just showing up, interacting, and making something. It’s all so good for the soul! 💕

      Liked by 2 people

  2. An important topic. As it happens, yesterday’s Washington Post printed a related piece: A Silent Crisis in Men’s Health Gets Worse. Current statistics are offered to underline the concern.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing that article, Dr. Stein. Lots of new-to-me data and it’s interesting that cultural expectations influence longevity when it comes to the pursuit of healthcare. I can’t help but wonder whether men may also worry about appearing non-masculine by pursuing hobbies and friendships, which, in turn, could impact their healthspan and lifespan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As a man in the retired and older groups, I can offer a few observations about those who were born shortly after WWII.

        The games we played taught us to “rub some dirt on it (the injury) and get back in the game.” Our evolutionary value was to protect our mate and children, and to bring home the bacon while the female was limited by her pregnancy and childrearing after. The more recent changes in female roles can’t change that evolutionary tilt for the man.

        To the extent that these men have defined themselves and bee defined by sex, virility, and winning the conflicts of the battlefield and the workplace, many find themselves wondering who they are after these definitions have no longer apply.

        Medical tests like the digital rectal exam and colonoscopy are avoided by taking on the belief that a man only needs to consult an MD when he can tell something is wrong.

        The wives of my generation had the social responsibility of the family far more than the husbands.

        The suicide rates of older men skyrocket. In the worst cases, they live in unexpressed grief over the loss of their former self and their previous and admired role in life.

        Not all men feel this as strongly but every man either has experienced it or knows others who do.

        No wonder men live shorter lives.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you for the insight, Dr. Stein. It’s eye-opening and heartbreaking. though it really does make sense. Evolutionary, men and women served different roles in society until recent history, so that instinct paired with the societal push to “get back in the game” puts men in a tough position. Pair that with more women completing college than men, diversity initiatives, etc. and a lot of young men are struggling with career, relationships, and the self-esteem that would usually stem from each. Yes, it’s no wonder man live shorter lives.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow, wow, wow – what a rousing and inspiring piece, Erin! I’m all fired up to go create now! My mom who is so healthy and heart at 83 challenges herself to keep growing – learning new piano pieces and playing for her community as well as riding her bike and working out. I’d say you nailed it as to what keeps us healthy and alive!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank, Wynne! Yes, that’s the intention–we all need to go out and create something. I love hearing that you’re mom is healthy and active into her 80s, and that her activities exercise physical, mental, and emotional areas. I’ll seen elder folks who are always busy and those they seems to just be waiting to die, and it’s clear who still has something to live for.

      When my grandfather passed away last year, my grandmother said goodbye at his grave site and said something along the lines of, “You, stay out of trouble. I’m won’t be joining you just yet. I have things to do!” I love that attitude, and it sounds like you mom is quite similar. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely agree Erin, especially as a retiree myself! So many folks are tied to their careers and when those end the sad story is that they feel their identity ends as well. My landlord for one is clearly and very vocally terrified of who and what he perceives he will be if he ever retires. Imagine what that does to him mentally and physically and little does he realize what his outlook is already doing to shape the time that he truly has to stop.

    I always disagree with those who say they can’t start something new as they age, or they have been locked into an idea that a hobby or activity “just isn’t for them” based on what? Past belief, being too busy in their careers or with young families, just not being open to explore and try at the very least. I hear them later being rather grumpy about how boring retirement is as they sink deeper and deeper into their recliners 😉

    We can’t force anyone to up-end what they see as reality, but only make suggestions or better yet, show by example. There are so many possibilities out there and aging- healthy aging means having all the time you could imagine to explore new things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Deb, I’ve seen so many people retire and then act like lost puppies because they aren’t sure who they are or what they can do outside of their career. On the other hand, I know several older folks who can’t wait to retire! More time for garden, carpentry, travel, or whatever else catches their eye. At the end of the day, it’s a choice. Personally, I look forward to one day having more time to explore hobbies and learn new things. It’s never too late!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with the other comments Erin. What a wonderful piece and such inspiration. A recipe for improving our chances of a healthy longer life. Both my grandmothers lived until they were almost 90. I dont see why I can’t aim for that or more. I don’t see why 100 is not possible.
    I agree that there are too many who, when they retire, people don’t have a focus and just vegetate. Having some ideas of where to focus and what to do, puts us more in control

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Brenda! It’s so wonderful to hear that your grandmothers both lived such long and healthy lives! I completely agree with you–choosing what to focus on and the sense of control that comes with that must be so liberating. And the beautiful thing is, our choices are endless when it comes to what we focus on.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I do agree with everything you said. Contribute, be connected to other people and create. I found when I first moved to Arizona I missed the small daily connections I had in Palm Springs. I knew the grocery store clerks, the post office workers, I chatted with neighbors on my morning walks. I missed those connections after moving. Fortunately, I feel I’m building them in my new surroundings.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such an important point. Studies have shown that people who retire with no plan or purpose don’t live as long. It’s one of the reasons I got interested in retirement lifestyle coaching. We all need a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The Japanese call it “Ikigai”.

    My mum just turned 90 and she’s one of the most active people I know, mainly because she has kept busy looking out for friends, family and neighbours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michelle, and I love the idea of retirement lifestyle coaching! I fully believe that those without purpose don’t live as long. My grandmother is in her 90s and extremely active, whereas my 70-something in-laws seem to be just waiting to die with little interest is engaging with life. Carrying on some (any!) purpose past our careers seems to be invaluable to not only happiness, but also health.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The thought of living up to 100 is certainly appealing, Erin – meaning I’m not quite halfway with this life yet.

    I agree though that being engaged in life is important to longevity and wellbeing. I see this in colleagues who have retired moving on to do fun things with their life – be it taken on a new hobby like photography, go into consulting, or traveling. That social and mental stimulation is so important. And on the flip side, I can see how being a passive consumer can affect one’s longterm health negatively.

    Here’s to all of us living our twilight years to the fullest!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I find it fascinating that, anecdotally, many commenters have noted examples of retirees either engaging with life or not, and how they seem to be doing. It great how powerful something so (seemingly simple) can be.

    In regard to living to 100, good news, Ab! There are some awesome recent developments in longevity medicine and we’ll likely reach “longevity escape velocity” without our lifetime, meaning that a person’s life expectancy will improve at a faster rate than they age. If we want to, people our age will likely have the ability to prolong our lifespan and healthspan to 100 and beyond. It’s crazy to think about, but my inner nerd loves seeing science fiction become reality.


  10. Love this – “Meanwhile, the people who keep on participating in life tend to be the ones who keep on living. The message was clear: people who contribute to their community live longer.” This is a very simple choice if one wishes to live long!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Really interesting blog Erin. I feel like you’re reading my thoughts. I’m still a good number of years away from retirement, but I’ve been thinking a lot about my habits. I want to be a creator, I have no desire to simply be a consumer. While I love creating, the introvert in me doesn’t always like to connect with others. Given the studies that show that people that engage and connect with the people around them live longer, does that mean I’m a goner! Ha, ha, I don’t know, but it has gotten me thinking on ways to find my introverted niche in the larger community. Thanks so much for sharing. Lovely piece.


  12. I agree, but think that often people define “contribution” to only mean things that are externally validated, ignoring how a contribution can be as simple as a quiet “huzzah” & smile from a stranger you meet along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s