My childhood memories always include thoughts of my father. Right up until he passed away a few years ago, he was active and alert; cutting the grass weekly, keeping-up the house and expertly managing his computer. When clients ask me for tips about aging gracefully, all I have to do is think of him.
That notwithstanding, I’m not yet old enough to be an expert on aging. But what I can do is share the experiences of people I regularly encounter who manage to age gracefully.
One man in his mid-eighties told me, “I try to be out of the house by noon every day. I don’t care whether it’s a get-together or simply to go to the store. I get out either way.” This man lost his wife when he was in his seventies, but despite the loss, he found a way to cope by employing this wise strategy.
A friend who is now 102 years old tells me that the secret to successful aging is, “all in the head.” What she means is that you have to keep using your mind. She reads, visits museums, cultivates her tulips and is always ready to engage in an active discussion on any subject you can imagine. She has read all three of my books and we have fascinating talks about them. Her insight, gleaned over a century, has gifted me with a valuable understanding of human nature. She stays interested in life, and life pays her back with better physical and mental health than she might otherwise experience.
At 92, my mother still says, “You’re as old as you feel.” She has aged quite elegantly and attributes this to NOT thinking like an old person. I’ve noticed that people who age well do everything possible to maintain their posture and to walk with as much confidence as they can. They act and think young, and they feel younger.
On the opposite side are those who shuffle along, drive or perform other activities far slower or far more cautiously than is actually necessary out of fear that they will somehow break or fall apart. I’m always amused when my energetic 102-year-old friend accuses her peers of that very thing!
Of course, some people age better because they’re less susceptible to certain ailments and diseases. Yet, how you manage things emotionally counts for more than most of us realize. Mental health professionals who work with cancer patients have told me that recovery, or at least longevity, is more likely in people with happy, realistic attitudes than in people who engage in denial and self-pity. Of course we can’t just wish away negative things, but at the same time a good outlook is easier on the body than a negative one — no matter what the medical situation.
A major factor in aging successfully is how one handles the loss of a spouse. People who experience widowhood fare better if they work to accept the loss, while, quite understandably, still grieving it. It’s absolutely normal to grieve — indeed, in some measure for the rest of your life. But at the same time, you have to develop acceptance. If you can’t learn to accept, then you’ll never allow yourself the opportunity to experience the other things that life still has to offer. This applies to people of every age, since we’re all subject to loss at any time.
Healthy and happy elderly people have told me, “There’s never an excuse for being bored, no matter how old you are.” It makes sense! In my most recent book, “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference),” I coined the phrase “psychological entrepreneurism” in which negative developments, while still acknowledged as negative, are turned into opportunities and new experiences.
These are just a few of the things that people who age happily will tell you. Take it from them, not from me. Elderly people who thrive with a positive point of view are the most interesting and admirable psychological entrepreneurs. We can learn so much from them.
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