In our youth-obsessed culture, it can be tough to face the fact of getting older. Many men and women find themselves bemoaning their deepening wrinkles and rounder bellies…resenting those who still have the vigor of the young…and falling deeper into depression or dread with each passing birthday.
What a waste of years! Aging doesn’t have to be awful. No matter how much you don’t like getting older, there are ways to make an attitude adjustment…let go of resentment…age with grace and good humor…and find joy, peace and well-being in the process. Clinical psychologist Judy Kuriansky, PhD, who has researched aging populations and advised many older adults on how to take a positive view of their later years, offered the following suggestions…
Give some thought to time-honored words of wisdom about aging. Some sayings passed down through generations may sound trite on the surface but actually provide valuable insights. If you are willing to open your mind and reconsider them, they will help you.
What to do: Take at least two minutes each day to ponder the truths behind common adages about aging and really take them to heart. For instance, with the phrase, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better,” you may recognize that a certain kind of wisdom or life-enhancing enlightenment comes only with years of experience. If you have a longtime partner, you can think about poet Robert Browning’s lines, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,” letting them inspire you to better appreciate how decades of shared history make possible a uniquely close and loving future. For a smile, consider one of Dr. Kuriansky’s favorite quotations from Mark Twain—“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Need more inspiration? Check out quotations about aging on Web sites such as BrainyQuote, Bartleby and Quotations Page.
Caution: Resist the urge to repeat negative phrases, either aloud or to yourself. Saying, “I’m having another senior moment” (even if you think it’s funny), or, “This old body is a wreck,” imprints negativity in your own mind and in the minds of others about your capabilities.
Focus on your accomplishments, not on your regrets. When you’re feeling blue about getting older, take a moment to say, “After 40 years of experience as a [parent/accountant/artist or whatever], I can say with confidence that—” and then fill in the blank with some highlights from your life to remind yourself that you have the right to feel proud. What if no proud declaration comes to mind? You don’t have to set the world on fire to feel justifiably good about your accomplishments. For example, as a parent, you might finish the phrase with, “I did a good job raising kids who turned out to be good people.” As an accountant, you might say, “I’ve helped a lot of people get their finances in order despite very tough times.”
If you do have regrets about lost opportunities, make a list of things you never had time for before (touring Italy, say, or playing a musical instrument well) and formulate concrete plans to do those things now. If you assume that you can never again achieve something wonderful, you are selling yourself short.
Here’s just one example of a “late bloomer” who was recently in the news. The legendary blues guitarist/singer T-Model Ford, who died recently in his 90s, had no musical experience until he learned to play the guitar in his late 50s and didn’t release a record until he was in his 70s—yet he toured as a successful musician into his ninth decade. Think about all the vibrant years he might have missed if he had said, “I’m too old to start something new.”
Even if a certain door truly has closed, you can find related ways to satisfy at least part of that ambition. For instance, you do have to accept that you’ll never compete in the Olympics, but it’s never too late to support a current Olympic hopeful or get involved with the National Senior Games Association.
Be inspired by role models. Actress/comedienne Betty White at 91 and singer Tony Bennett at 86 are both enjoying renewed popularity, career success and even new younger-generation fans. What you can do: Make a list of your favorite 70-plus public figures…consider what it is about their attitudes and actions that you find so admirable or interesting…and then seek to emulate those qualities.
For instance, at a recent celebrity “roast” by the famous Friars Club where White was the subject, Dr. Kuriansky spoke with some of the other attendees. Today Show host Kathie Lee Gifford said that she loved White’s smile and her energy…Regis Philbin admired how White is so mellow and optimistic…and actress Susan Lucci complimented White for being gracious.
Notice that none of those qualities requires being a famous actress!
In fact, a role model who will help you be a happier older person needn’t be a celebrity at all. You can admire and be inspired by the way an octogenarian neighbor still cuts his own grass with a hand mower…or by the fact that your older sister still dresses in her finest and goes out to late-night cabarets rather than crawling into bed by 9:00 pm.
Spend time with younger people. Instead of wasting psychic energy envying the young, make young people an active part your life. Their vitality may rub off on you…and you’ll have the satisfaction of sharing your knowledge with them. You might mentor young students in your field of expertise, teaching them what you know while keeping your own mind sharp as you learn from them about new advances in the industry you love. If today’s technology befuddles you, take a class (which will probably be taught by a younger person) on how to use an iPad, the latest apps, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. The more you involve yourself with the younger generations, the less resentful you’re likely to feel.
Smile. Frowning furrows your brow and imprints your face with an unpleasant expression that can add years to your appearance—and it makes you feel bad. In contrast, a smile—while it may add crinkle lines—also brightens your eyes, plumps your cheeks, makes your whole face shine and makes you feel better. Dr. Kuriansky said, “When you smile, you actually become more beautiful because people stop noticing your age lines and instead focus on your inner glow…which makes you and everyone around you feel more joyful.”