Sunday, January 27, 2013

What's so great about growing older?

What is so great about growing older? This is a topic I think about often, and since I am giving a talk with that title on February 3rd at the Ashland Library, I've been thinking about it even more, and I've been poring over some of my favorite books on aging for passages to share in my talk.

I visited with a dear friend recently and our conversation turned to how people age, or more specifically how in our society people don't necessarily grow wiser as they grow older.  I was very touched when my friend shared her experience of how elders are treated in Brazil.

"Sometimes you will see them coming down from the hills," she told me, "accompanied by their family members. The family members will each be holding some article that belongs to the elder, and you can see that they are very happy to be given that honor, the honor of accompanying the elder, of holding something for the elder. There's a great feeling of love and respect. Everyone thinks of the elder as wise, and in fact the elder is wise."

I've been thinking of this ever since. Yesterday when I was reading Zalman Schacter-Shalomi's book From Age-ing to Sage-ing, I found something that resonated with our talk. It involved a study done by psychologist Ellen Langer at Harvard University. A group of elders over 75 were encouraged to act as if they were 20 years younger. Study results showed that memory, manual dexterity, muscle strength and flexibility increased while hearing and vision improved.

"In general, our negative expectations make us age faster than nature intended," Schacter-Shalomi writes. In our society, many elders have negative expectations. They get the message that they are over the hill, useless, etc. and they internalize these messages. When we buy into negative self-images about aging, whether consciously or unconsciously, we set the stage for disempowered old people.

We lose many possible sages. It's important to shift social attitudes about aging, both for the sake of elders and for the well-being of society as a whole.

Positive self imaging is very powerful. Positive self-imaging does not deny aging; it does focus on the innate life force, and the powerful quality of our thoughts and emotions, including joy, appreciation and a sense of engagement.

Octagenarian blues musician B.B. King

These are some of the things I think are great about growing older.

Maturity -  It comes from Latin word for ripeness. It implies that we have fully developed. Of course there is still more to learn and integrate but if we have been paying attention, we have become mature. Maturity is a great gift, both to oneself and others. It is useful and inspirational, too.

Character - Our character has developed, too. That's one aspect of our maturity. We may be characters, too. We don't care as much about what others think about us. We are not trying to please others the way we were in earlier years. We have the authority of our life experience and what we have learned from it.

Resilience, adaptation, creativity - We have learned resilience and adaptability in the course of life, and if our hearing or eyesight etc. is affected, we learn how to work with it.

Panoramic perspective -The older brain has an integrative capacity that the younger brain does not have.

Contentment, happiness - The majority of older adults are happier in their age than they were earlier in their lives. Paradoxically so.

Spiritual deepening, altruism, transcendence - Psychologists such as Erik Erickson and Carl Jung have written about the natural turning within that occurs in the later years, when we become more reflective, altruistic, and detached.

These are a few of the things I think are great about growing older.

News Flash!

This article  and its accompanying video clip tells about a 93-year old Portland woman, Willa Asbornsen who decided that she wanted to move out of the nursing home where she was living in order to live alone. To reach that goal, she started to work out. Take a look at what she has to say-- she's inspiring and her story offers inspiring evidence of the benefits of exercise, and the truth that it's never too late to start working out.

Love the new look of the blog! Thanks so much to Betsy Lewis Consulting. Betsy is a social media whiz, and I love what she has done to beautify, update and connect this blog.

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