Whether you are approaching age 50, 60, 80 or beyond, growing older requires us to deal with loss in one form or another. Many people face the prospect of living on less money as they grow older, their body parts have more limitations (and some have simply worn out), and you are likely to experience lowered ambition, waning libido, increased health issues, diminished opportunities, and for some the loss of people close to them.
The flip side is that we are now strong in places we were once weak. We’re better able to take things in stride without getting knocked off balance so easily. We have perspective that allows us to better separate out what is important from what isn’t. We know ourselves better, and we’re more in charge of our emotions, our words and our actions than we’ve ever been before. Many people have developed more of their internal attributes, such as generosity, patience, kindness, decency, honesty and faithfulness. Author David Brooks calls these the eulogy virtues—the ones talked about at your funeral—rather than the resume skills many of us have spent much of our lives developing and promoting.
Aging well requires that you keep your emotional and social connections vital, your body active, your mind busy and your attitude positive. Here are some ways you can assist yourself in aging well:
Look carefully at what gives you meaning and purpose. Many people think as they grow older that they can take life easy. But that often is the opposite of having a sense of purpose, and it doesn’t encourage you to challenge yourself, explore new identities, or how you might give something of yourself back. It is the lack of meaning and purpose that speeds up the aging process, so make sure you find something to do that you truly find value in.
Keep your relationships with others strong and engaged. People in warm, caring or loving relationships are healthier and live longer than those without such social ties or intimate relationships. Your vital social ties might include spouse or significant other, family, friends, children, religious or interest groups and your pet. The capacity for intimacy is powerfully correlated with your health and happiness as you grow older, so if there’s an important relationship in your life that’s broken, fix it. It is essential to your well-being, and it usually improves longevity.
Work hard at something, through strenuous mental, emotional or physical effort. Brain researchers assure us that brain tissue gets thinner from lack of use. So you want to learn a new skill, a foreign language, a challenging cross-country bike ride, take a class at your local college or publish a novel. You’ll be rewarded with a more youthful brain, an increased ability to pay attention and you are likely to have greater memory retention.
You must be physically active. If you’re not, your muscles will begin to deteriorate from lack of use.
Live in gratitude every day. What people, experiences, achievements or relationships are you most thankful for? What happened today that you feel grateful about? Living with a sense of genuine thanksgiving is the simplest way to hold off negative feelings and memories, and it assists you to live in peacefulness and harmony.
Give yourself the “last year test.” What if you were told that you had exactly one year to live? If you lived this current year as if it were your last, you’d be far more likely to eliminate those activities that simply don’t serve you.
Do something fun or playful at least once a week. Fun keeps us feeling young.