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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Aging in Full Bloom: Three Empowering Aspects of Aging


by Lisa Stockdale 

Enough with all the negativity!  It's high time we learned to celebrate, honor, respect, cherish and embrace the aging process.  Put away your anti-aging mindset and open your eyes to possibility of living out loud instead of accepting the so-called reality of getting old.  Know that you have survived every challenge that life has delivered to your doorstep thus far, and look to the future with the confidence and know-how that experience brings.  Make decisions that bring you peace and happiness and strength. Continue to takes chances, create, learn, engage and explore. 

If you are reading this, your ending has not been written. You owe it to yourself to live with your eyes and arms wide open greeting each new day as your own personal opportunity for growth, happiness and new beginnings.   

Growing old is one thing but getting old is out of the question. To grow old is to continue to pave a path through learning and leadership in the family, workplace and community.  To get old is to stand by and watch things happen as if you are powerless in the experience. The challenges that aging presents are admittedly obstacles associated with aging, but there have always been obstacles associated with aging from puberty to adolescence to young adulthood to mid-life crisis and beyond. We are constantly evolving and making adaptations along the way. 

What are the benefits of aging?  

A NEW KIND OF FREEDOM COMES WITH AGING...

Freedom from the grind of all the demands associated with earlier stages of life like the challenges of building a career or being a caregiver.  Consider the following quote from an email entitled Aging and Friendship submitted to the Echo Press:

"Whose business is it if I choose to read, or play on the computer, until 4 a.m., or sleep until noon?  I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 50s, 60s and 70s, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love, I will.

I will walk the beach, in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves, with abandon, if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set. I know I am sometimes forgetful.  But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And, eventually, I remember the important things."  

A RETURN TO HAPPINESS COMES WITH AGING...

Research indicates that people report being happiest in their youth and then again in their 70s and early 80s. People report being least happy during those years associated with mid-life.  Why?  Maybe it’s because older people have come to understand the value of happiness, and they have learned how to be happy along the way.  They know that happiness is a personal choice.  It is not contingent upon circumstances or the things that have happened in life.  It’s a way of thinking and knowing.  It is closely connected to one’s ability to appreciate the small pleasures like taking a warm bath or a watching the sun set.  It is also closely connected to purposeful living which generally includes maintaining close social ties and engaging in meaningful activities that promote the greater good. 

These days everyone seems to be researching happiness.  There’s even a Happiness Research Institute, which is an independent think tank, working to improve quality of life by exploring human happiness.   Scholars and universities are also focusing on the topic.  According to Acacia Parks, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hiram College, who researches and teaches on the science of happiness, happiness is not about feeling good all the time but instead is associated with a more even-keeled mood.  Parks cites recent research that indicates that those who focus on feeling good all the time actually undermine their ability to be happy by trying to achieve an unrealistic goal.  Parks writes, “You have the ability to control how you feel – and with consistent practice, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life.”  It seems the researchers are working hard to confirm or prove what many older adults already know.  


NEW OPPORTUNITIES COME WITH AGING...

Many seniors report the opportunity to focus on hobbies and talents that had to be put on hold in their earlier years.  Some return to the university to earn advanced degrees or audit classes without the pressure of exams and assignments.  Others discover hidden talents they never knew they had.  For example, my own mother discovered that she is a talented painter late in life.  Some are blessed with grandchildren and describe being a grandparent very differently than being a parent.   Eva Figes wrote in It's a Nan's World that the difference between being a mother and a grandmother is like the difference between marriage and a love affair.  Apparently, she is enjoying being a grandmother quite a lot.  Others report becoming more assured in their faith or spirituality.  One of my favorite articles on the opportunities associated with aging comes from Loren Olson, a retired psychiatrist, entitled The Opportunities for Aging: Freedom from the Tyranny of Ambition.  

Consider the following excerpt:  

 “We can either measure time or we can experience time.  For me, time still carries a sense of urgency, but the urgency of time has been transformed from a seemingly endless series of appointments and moving from one goal to the next to an urgency for experiencing every moment and not wasting the time that remains.  I decided to stop wearing neck ties.  I promised never to sit through a boring meeting or lecture.  I stopped going to cocktail parties to ‘network’ with people I didn’t really like but who might do something for me.  I moved things from my bucket list to my un-bucket list and began to get rid of things I once treasured but increasingly felt like just some burdensome ‘stuff.’

I stopped doing what I thought I should do to meet someone else’s expectations of me.  I deconstructed my old value system and reconstructed one of my own.  I realized that good relationships are always U-shaped, and to hang on to them sometimes requires a lot of work to get to a richer place. 

I stopped seeking relationships based on what the other person could do for me.  I discovered that whom I dined with was more important than what is on the menu.  I began to shed myself of stuff that had lost its meaning.  I have learned to appreciate my experiences and the wisdom that has come from my successes but also from the mistakes I’ve made”