"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Better at getting older

By on April 23, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

June Darling

Why do some people continue to grow and thrive so much

better and longer than others?

 

By June Darling

At 80 I believe I am a far more cheerful person than I was at 20 or 30, I most definitely would not want to be a teenager again….

— Author Henry Miller

This month I turn 68.

I’ve enjoyed my 60s. I never notice myself wanting to be younger, but I do catch myself looking ahead at people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and wondering if I want to go there.

I try to imagine what it will be like. I do see some vital people, but others appear withered and despondent. I’m asking myself a couple of questions.

Why do some people continue to grow and thrive so much better and longer than others? You might think that it’s all about better genes, but studies of Danish twins have nixed that.

Jane Hensel — “a beautiful, feisty, 91-year-old smart cookie” — is inspiration for June Darling.

Researchers say they have an answer, but it’s hard to believe. People who age well have a positive view of aging. That sounds nuts. What does it even mean?

As I delved into the research, it turns out that people who have a positive view of aging agree with statements like: my identity is not defined by my age, wisdom comes with age, and as people get older they are better able to cope with life.

This rosy way of seeing aging starts to impact all sorts of outcomes as early as midlife.

People with positive views of aging, for example, are more likely to recover from a disability, have lower blood pressure; have less stress, better physical balance, and even higher cognitive functioning!

Okay, then, supposing those researchers are correct, that it matters greatly about how we feel about aging. How do we craft a good attitude about getting older?

I couldn’t find research which gave me definitive answers there, so I came up with my own approach.

Step 1 — Find a person in his or her 90s who is living the good life. This person should be someone I’d like to be like when I’m in my 90s. Use this person’s life to show myself that thriving is quite possible.

Step 2 — Have lunch with him or her and find out everything I can about what it’s like to be him or her.

Step 3 — Note what seems to be contributing to him or her doing so well.

Step 4 — Steal ideas to start applying to my life right now.

It took me three seconds to land on who I wanted to be when I grow up. My friend, Jane Hensel, is a beautiful, feisty, 91-year-old, smart cookie. Basically, I love and admire her.

Here are six things I noticed about her, how she lives, and what I think contributes to her feeling so good about life.

Healthy regimen. Jane feels healthy and exceedingly grateful to be able to be active. She walks every day. Jane believes her good genes help, but she says she doesn’t abuse herself. She sleeps well and eats a healthy diet (as I write this I notice her eating a mixed green salad and tomato basil soup. Fie on my deep-fried fish and chips).

Gratitude, positive emotions, being present to life’s little pleasures despite ailments. Jane stretches regularly to help with arthritis in her neck; she looks out over the mountains and says to herself, “My gosh, how could I be so lucky?”

Jane reminds me to think about our sewer and water. “Can you imagine living where you don’t have clean water?” she asks. Jane says she feels blessed to live in a great community and gorgeous region where she takes “joy in being alive.”

Positive memories without suppressing sadness and loss. If you spend time with Jane, you’ll note that the word “blessing” pops up a lot. She says she was blessed with a family of four wonderful sons — one died unexpectedly when he was 45. She has daughters’-in-law, grandchildren, great grandchildren.

Though she grieves her husband who died recently, she reflects on how very fortunate she was to have had an “affirming” husband. “How miraculous this all feels for a woman who was an only child,” she says.

Hobby. Years ago, Jane’s father-in-law suggested that she might want to have an engaging hobby which could keep her interested and active. Gardening gives many people pleasure her father-in-law suggested. She took his advice and continues to enjoy it.

Social life and use of personal strengths. Jane loves people, but she clarifies that she’s not trying to get along with everyone — some people are just too difficult. (This attitude of enjoying people but being prudent about who to invest time in is common for people who age well.) Earlier in her life she used her love of people to talk with them and match them up with homes as a real estate agent.

Jane loves music. Each year she buys a season’s ticket to the Performing Arts Center productions and to Columbia Chorale performances. She usually gets one for someone else too. Jane doesn’t wait around for someone to invite her, she takes the initiative and attends every single event.

When I called to set up a time to have lunch with Jane, she had to look closely at her schedule because she has all this “wonderful stuff to do” which also includes church activities, bridge, book club, and even quilting though she doesn’t quilt — “it’s great fellowship,” she says.

Worry about the future. Jane characterized her grandmother, Mary Jane, as a bit of a worrier who thought about various bad future scenarios. She lamented that she wasn’t sure how she might handle them.

Mary Jane’s husband passed on this advice to her, “Mary Jane, when we get to that river, there will be a bridge.”

Jane used that advice throughout her life, particularly when she was dealing with the death of her husband, Robert.

The death of a beloved mate was unknown territory, fraught with questions and concerns. Jane reminded herself that when she got to that river, there would be a bridge which allowed her to be at peace. “That may sound like Pollyanna,” she says, “but I do believe it.”

What I learned from Jane is that we can be engaged, full of wisdom and laughter, and thriving in our 90s. It probably helps to have a healthy regimen, gratitude for life’s pleasures, engagement with activities and people we enjoy, and a way of maintaining some inner peace.

You can use Jane’s story to help you imagine a good life in your nineties. Let it nudge you to start preparing for it right now. Then you won’t need to worry. The bridge will be there for you when you get to that river.

Now go enjoy the May sunshine and flowers and take joy in being alive in this gorgeous valley.

How might you move up to The Good Life by having a positive attitude toward aging and preparing for it right now?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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