Would you like to age well? If so, it's never too soon to change your mind about aging and let go of negative stereotypes -- such as the notion that older people are less competent or vital than when they were young, for example.
Why? Because negative expectations regarding aging can have a powerful impact on how we actually experience aging. We may begin internalizing such expectations years before “getting old” actually happens to us.
People with positive attitudes lived 7 years longer
A study of 660 adults aged 50 and older from an Ohio community, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that people who had positive attitudes about aging in younger years -- trust, for example that all will be well, and confidence in their own destiny -- lived more than seven years longer than those with negative attitudes.
Not only that, but the effect of a positive attitude seems to trump other factors known to influence longevity, such as smoking, exercise, and loneliness.
Using data from the Ohio study, Becca Levy, assistant professor of epidemiology and public health at the Yale University and colleagues found that people who had more positive perceptions of aging were likely to take better care of themselves as they got older.
Dr. Levy noted that in the US, for example, people are exposed to negative stereotypes about aging even in childhood -- whereas things are very different in cultures like China, where older people are more revered.
But the important point here, as Dr. Levy says, and I agree with her 100 percent, is that negative perceptions of aging “can be changed – particularly if people are exposed to positive role models.”
Childlike heart very helpful as we age
“The great man is he who does not lose his childlike heart,” said the Chinese philosopher Mencius.
I find in my own experience that a “childlike” attitude toward aging helps me approach this rite of passage that comes to us all with an open mind and heart.
It helps me discover that rather than being a negative experience, aging can be a door to greater meaning and happiness, a greater experience of my true potential. Who’d have thought it?
Let me give a few examples here.
1. Aging can be an opportunity to see the beauty and magic of little moments and little things more vividly than was perhaps possible before.
2. Aging can be an opportunity to redeem our lives in areas that perhaps sorely need redeeming. For example, I'm so happy that I have at long last changed my attitude to my father, Reg, who died 12 years ago at 95.
I could never understand my Dad while he was alive. I felt alienated from him. But I do not feel alienated from him any longer. This may sound strange, but I feel I have healed this split between us. I feel the presence of his indomitable spirit quite vividly– and I am so thankful for it.
3. Aging gives us space to reconnect more deeply with our genuine, authentic self.
If you have any thoughts on this article I would love to share them. Also, if you know someone who would benefit from this email, please forward it to them. Love and blessings to you.
Picture credit: Prince George's County Department of Parks and Rec