Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say that the world is hungry for our help and our love. Whether we seek to help people, animals, or the earth itself, the world’s need for our service has never been greater. And the funny thing is, the more we help, the more energy we get. That’s because when we make a difference in life, we forget about our own problems, which are really what make us feel old.

Of course, it fills us with sadness when youth passes away and we face some difficult issues of life. This may, for example, mean coming to grips with reduced earning power, recent disappointments, or long-buried sadness. I believe that, more than the wrinkles and the aches and pains, such a process of facing an account with ourselves makes aging more painful. But we can gain joy and a vitality different from the easy energy of youth when we help others, alleviate the plight of the disadvantaged, or work to heal the earth. And this vitality can endure even into our last years.

If you make the effort to find meaningful ways to spend your time, contributing to the world and making even a small difference, you will be valued. Age will then be just a number, not a prison. Here are some things to keep in mind as you look for the ways you can best tap into your inner power.

1. Conserve your strength. No question, meeting others’ needs is one of the trickiest areas in human life. Some individuals are perpetually needy; with the best intentions in the world, we may try to rescue them--when it would be better to let them help themselves. Whether you’re helping a friend or a nonprofit group, make sure your own legitimate needs are reasonably fulfilled, your own personal boundaries healthy, and that you are giving from personal fullness, not taking away vital resources you need for yourself.

2. Think big, start small. When we were younger, energy was abundant and seemed to automatically connect us to many friends. But as we age and this energy ebbs, we may feel depressed and alone. Now it’s necessary to reach out and make that extra effort. It might seem small, but pick up the phone and call that friend you have lost touch with and suggest meeting for coffee. Or offer to help your neighbor prune her roses or pick tomatoes. If you just look for small opportunities, your attention will leave your own problems as you make a difference for someone else.

3. Find a need that meets you “in the heart.” My grandfather, a lifelong do-it-yourselfer, discovered his passion by offering to fix things free of charge for other residents of his Florida retirement community. I don’t believe he felt old on the day he died. He remained happy because he was able to help many people from his very nature. You may not have fix-it skills, but every one of us has something we care deeply about. If you are not sure what your passion is, ask those close to you how you have been most helpful to them. You may be surprised. I heard of a man who was taciturn but loved dogs, and he ended up training companion dogs to visit the elderly. He may not have been much of a talker, but his passion brought much happiness and companionship to many lonely people.

4. Use your wisdom. Keep in mind the unique gifts and skills you’ve developed over a lifetime.
The years ahead stretch out before the 25-year-old, but for us, every action counts. Any help we can extend to others is bound to be appreciated, but we work best when we find a context where our own unique skills can grow and bloom. For example, a retired actress I know trained as a reading-skills tutor to help low-achieving students in a local elementary school. Her love of reading and dramatic ability really got through to the kids. They did better in school and often went on to college. As they moved into careers and became parents themselves, her influence expanded to reach a whole new generation.

No matter what your age, you can stay creative and change the lives of people for the better. The longer you live, the more people will benefit from your life—and your happiness will grow exponentially.
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