Let us try to see things from their better side: You complain about seeing thorny rose bushes;
Me, I rejoice and give thanks to the gods That thorns have roses.
~ Alphonse Karr
Have you ever heard the phrase “Where attention goes, energy flows”? Where we choose to focus our thoughts can impact the quality of our lives. Though I think denying reality under the guise of “staying positive” can be damaging, and I do not believe positive thinking, on its own, will magically change everything, I do believe that our mindset and approach can offset negativity for ourselves and those around us, particularly when grounded in reality and tempered by intention.
A 2012 New York Times article, Older People Become What They Think, A Study Shows addressed this concept in regards to how we age. Among its assertions? “When stereotypes are negative — when seniors are convinced becoming old means becoming useless, helpless or devalued — they are less likely to seek preventive medical care and die earlier, and more likely to suffer memory loss and poor physical functioning, a growing body of research shows. When stereotypes are positive — when older adults view age as a time of wisdom, self-realization and satisfaction — results point in the other direction, toward a higher level of functioning. The latest report, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that seniors with this positive bias are 44 percent more likely to fully recover from a bout of disability. For people who care about and interact with older people, the message is clear: your attitude counts because it can activate or potentially modify these deeply held age stereotypes.”
So how do we shift ages-old culturally ingrained stereotypes about aging? How do we find resilience even when facing downsides to growing older like physical problems or disabilities, issues with illness, grief from increasing losses, and other tender life occurrences? My feeling is that Positive Aging must be rooted in authenticity, a genuine grasp of the up sides and down sides of aging and of yourself, as well as a conscious choice to discard what is not true for you and to embrace both what is true and what is possible. Often, it is precisely those of us over 40, who have garnered the kind of knowledge that can only come with time, who are best poised to face life’s challenges with a deeper, authentic sense of hope, optimism, and fortitude.
I never see what happens to me as tragic. And I’ve surely had my share of challenging times. I always find the silver lining and some positive rationale as to what my takeaway is going to be. So what kinds of benefits come to mind when I consider a more positive aging experience? For starters, as we age, many of us no longer are held back by the same all-consuming self-doubt of earlier years, so we are freer to be true to our inner nature (and in times when we do doubt, we are more aware of available resources for re-visioning our old self-stories).
~ Those of us who have lived through a multitude of experiences often find we know how to be more optimistic.
~ We may have fewer regrets as we learn to be less judgmental and have a broader context within which to examine and assess all that happens in the world.
~ We may tell our truths more courageously given a more solid sense of self.
~ With something learned from every experience and a deeper sense of self-trust, we value that each of us has deep wisdom and are able to be more discerning in our choices, what we share, and with whom.
~ We often feel less self-conscious about exploring and expressing our playfulness and creativity and are more capable of showing up with full presence to ourselves and each other. (Quick Aside: I am excited to share more detailed descriptions of these and other beneficial aspects of aging with you when my new book, The Ageless Way, is published).
Rather than seeing growing older as a reason to be discounted, let’s acknowledge and honor the beneficial aspects of aging so we can move into the future with the sound knowledge of our place in attending to, thus ensuring, a thriving, more alive, realistic and inter-connected (hence healthier) self, community, and world.
What realities of aging are you currently contending with and what benefits of aging are allowing you to find the silver lining in, and work through, your experiences?