While alive, live. And don’t die until you’re dead.
In a nutshell, that constitutes my philosophy about aging well. And I am something of an expert on this subject, because I’m in my mid-60’s and I have no honest choice but to pay closer attention about how not to grow old and about how to not fade away.
The art of aging well involves keeping your mind busy, your emotional and social connections vital, your body active (and functioning), your spirit strong, your attitude positive, your sense of joy—and you must retain a sense of wonder. If you don’t do these, you will grow old. (If you do all of these, you will grow old anyway, but more slowly.)
Listen to what some wise people have said on this subject: “Old age takes away from us what we have inherited and gives us what we have earned,” says Gerald Brenan. “We do not die wholly at our deaths: we have moldered away gradually long before. Faculty after faculty, interest after interest, attachment after attachment disappear: we are torn from ourselves while living,” says William Hazlitt. “I don’t believe one grows older. I think that what happens early on in life is that at a certain age one stands still and stagnates,” said T. S. Eliot. “Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we are born,” said Albert Einstein.
Most of us have heard the expression that growing old isn’t for sissies. That’s another way of saying that it’s hard to get older. But as we age, we are seen, often for the first time, for who we truly are, because when we were young our good looks, ambition, constant upward striving and the need to prove ourselves—so frequently obscured our humanness.
So what do you do in order to age well?
First, write two lists. One on the theme of what you are optimistic about, and the other about what you still want to accomplish or experience before you die. Don’t just think it, write it down, because it becomes more real when we can see it and refer back to it. You’re going to need these lists in order to keep your spirit high and your focus centered on reaching the goals you have for your future.
Second, you need friendship and intimate connections with other people. In study after study, people in warm and loving relationships—with spouses, friends, church and/or volunteer groups—are healthier and live longer than those without such social and intimate relationships. Do not underestimate the importance of other people in your life—and pets count also. One way of deepening your relationship with other people is to listen to them, rather than talking about yourself or your own needs and feelings. Another way is to be generous with your time and energy that you offer to others. Sir Arthur Wing Pinero captured it this way: “Those that love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.”
Third, separate out what matters from what doesn’t. Don’t spend your time, energy and life force pursuing trivial things that don’t really matter to you all that much. Be disciplined with yourself. You have less time now and you don’t want to waste it. Elbert Hubbard said it this way: “The secret of salvation is this: keep sweet, be useful and keep busy.”
Forth, do something fun at least once a week. Fun keeps us feeling young.
Fifth, look carefully at what you could do to improve your health and level of fitness.
Finally, find a way to live more in the spirit of appreciation and gratitude for what gifts life has graced you with.
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made.” —Robert Browning