Envisioning Growing Older with the Right Data (Frame of mind)
The quality of our lives can be enhanced by making choices that will allow us to have health and wellness later in life.
In our last edition, I wrote about the U-Curve of Happiness. This name came from the data that was collected over decades on what age we are the happiest. If you want to access that article, here is the link: https://wholenessheali.wpenginepowered.com/wholeness-healing-today/as-we-age-we-become-happier/
What the data showed is that the happiest years are before our 20s and after 54 years, when we then steadily get happier until we peak at age 82 years. (Hence the U Curve). As we age, we get happier. (Yang, 2008) I found this data to be surprising, which indicates I might have another picture of growing old. I don’t think I am unique in this. With aging comes lots of beliefs in myths that are not accurate and behaviors that promote ageism. Ageism is stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups based on their age.
In our Wholeness Healing Today newsletter, we often talk about thinking the thoughts we want to manifest or envisioning our future self arriving where we want to be or being mindful of our negative thoughts and aware of our beliefs that are not true. With all of this, it might be important to catch our thoughts, or beliefs, or any myths we carry about life. I want to take this to a specific area where the majority of our population is moving into – aging. By 2030, the U.S. will, for the first time, have more 65 and older residents than children. (Gibson, 2018) At some point, we probably all hope to arrive at older age versus the alternative. As we are all living longer now than we were just a few years ago, we might also want to consider how we view older aged people and change our perspectives as we visualize some of these myths about older people and/or growing old.
There are plenty of myths about growing older. Laura Carstensen, author of A Long Bright Future, talks about the five worst myths of aging. I am going to cover two of those myths in this article.
Myth #1 – Older People are Miserable
This is one of the worst myths. It is the misery myth – older people are unhappy and lonely. As we talked about in the last edition, this isn’t true. As you get older, in terms of emotion, you get happier. Older people suffer less from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than younger people. Older people experience fewer negative emotions than younger people, and they manage negative emotions better. Older people don’t ruminate on negative emotions as much as younger people do. As you get older, you learn to regulate better emotionally.
It may seem like a paradox that older people are happier. These findings have caused social scientists to reconsider our understanding of what brings happiness, such as the youthful qualities of health, beauty, and power. If these qualities recede with age, what is it that makes aging people happier? Part of this goes back to older people realizing that their life span clock is limited, and so they tend to focus and savor their priorities with that limited time. This includes enjoying the depth of experience, and closeness, and prioritizing the people they spend time with. Simple pleasures are noticed and embraced, and expanded in importance. Older people have more life satisfaction than younger people. This comes from their perspective of life.
Myth #2 – DNA is Destiny
It is easy to assume that DNA has our fate in its hands. DNA may show a predisposition for our longevity, but it isn’t out of our control how longevity goes for us. Genetic longevity isn’t a very strong predictor of individual longevity. People can become complacent about longevity, thinking the worst thing that could happen is that you die younger. But you might want to rethink this. Science has proven to be able to save people from death, but not as effective in changing the results of a lifetime of bad habits that got someone to death’s door. You might not die from risky behaviors, but you may suffer from those behaviors. You want to be thinking about the quality of life, which is in your control.
Research has narrowed down the risk factors that matter. This comes from a Harvard University study that has been running since the 1930’s tracking the lifelong health of both Harvard graduates and people born in inner-city Boston. In this study, they found that longevity was based on seven lifestyle choices, which, if made by age 50, were an accurate prediction of well-being after age 70. These choices include not smoking, not abusing alcohol, getting regular exercise, maintaining one’s weight, having a stable marriage, having an education, and having good coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s difficulties. However, even after age 70, there is still time to make changes. Four factors reduce by 60% the chance of dying from any cause over ten years. These four factors are exercising, not smoking, consuming alcohol only moderately, and following a Mediterranean diet heavy on fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats like olive oil. (Knoops, 2004)
Where do you stand on these two myths about growing old? Hopefully, the takeaway today is that we do bring more skills to the art of living, thus leading to more satisfaction and happiness in our aging years. The quality of our lives can be enhanced by making choices that will allow us to have health and wellness later in life. This is good information for any age. Start now to implement those seven factors that contribute to the quality of life.
In the next edition, I will address two more of the remaining five myths that Laura Carstensen refers to as the most common myths.
Carstensen, L. P. (2011). A long bright future. New York: Public Affairs.
Gibson, W. (2018, March 14). Age 65+ adults are projected to outnumber children by 2030. Retrieved from AARP: https://www.aarp.org/
Knoops, K. d.-V. (2004). Mediterranean diet, lifestyle factors and 10-year mortality in elderly European men and women. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1433- 439.
Yang, Y. (2008). Social inequalities in happiness in the United States, 1972 to 2004: An age-period-cohort analysis. American Sociological Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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