Measuring a Life

I wrote a book called Physics of Living (available through where I drew parallels between our physical and psychological worlds. With this in mind the concepts of length, width and depth can be applied to the assessment of life during the third age.

Length of life seems at first glance to be pretty straightforward, a simple measurement of time that we spend on this earth. But is it really so simple? In my younger years I couldn’t imagine “running out of time” but now life looks so different. What once looked so far away is now much closer. The experience of time is subjective and needs to be understood by focusing on how we dwell upon the past, the present, and the future. Where are we putting our energy? Are we making the most of the present? Are we shutting down the future and spending more time in the past? What choices are being made about how we are experiencing our life?

For some people length of life becomes a fixation with a need to stretch the years as long as possible. For others, the physical shutting down of our bodies is only one step towards a new beginning. The way in which we conceptualize these questions helps to give meaning to life.

A second measurement dimension is that of width and the overall quality of life. With width comes busyness as people become involved in a wide range of activities. In some respects this busyness can become a symbol that defines personal significance in the community. Moses (1999) draws attention to the “cult of busyness” and suggests that people often use busyness as a badge of honour, a way of attaining status and worth. While people might complain about how busy they are, they also hang on to busyness as a way of assuring their identity and importance.

 For many persons in the third age, the prevailing issue is not busyness but rather a sense of under involvement and marginalization. It is a time when people can be set aside and find themselves dealing with boredom and too little activity. The traditional view of retirement can certainly create conditions that point to this form of dilemma.

Of course, involvement in life is not all about over extension or under involvement. It is also the way in which we connect with others and create a sense of community and belonging. It is the way in which we engage in meaningful action.

The third and perhaps most significant dimension is that of depth. The focus here is on discovering purpose and meaning in life. It is within this sphere that people seek answers to the bigger questions of life: What is life? Who am I? How did I come to be here? Where am I going? Where, if anywhere, are we as a civilization going – particularly in the face of ongoing global conflict and climate change? How should we live with one another? And, how can we best respond to the world around us?

These three dimensions intersect with one another and help to create a holistic view of where we are at in our lives. In entering the third age people are challenged with length, width and depth issues. Resolving these challenges is an essential part of creating a life that allows us to experience wisdom, truth and beauty.


Amundson, N.E. (2003). Physics of living. Richmond, B.C.: Ergon Communications.

Moses, B. (1997). Career intelligence. Toronto: Stoddart.