Article by Mike Milstein.
"Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be." –Grandma Moses
Do you think that you can age with energy, enthusiasm and wellness? Or do you think that aging is a time of decline, disease, and destitution? Do you even give much forethought to your aging years or is the prospect so negative that you avoid thinking about it if you can?
The choice is ours. We can grow or decline in our aging years depending on how we approach this phase of life. We may not be able to control some of the challenges that come our way, such as insufficient finances, health problems, and loss of loved ones. But, even in these situations there is still much that we can do to improve our lives, if we are willing to do so. For example:
- Financial resources: As individuals we don’t have much influence over economic downturns in the market place, but we do have the ability to choose whether and how to invest our resources. We can control our spending habits; and we can take joy in the many things that are inexpensive or free, like being in nature, listening to beautiful music, and visiting museums.
- Health: We can improve the quality of our lives by making positive choices regarding health factors that are within our control, such as not using alcohol or tobacco products. We may have little choice about whether we will have to cope with genetically related diseases like diabetes, but even regarding such genetic health issues, we can have a positive impact. For example, by exercising and taking dietary precautions we can reduce the severity or even the occurrence of diabetes.
- Relationships: We have little control over whether our friends and loved ones will suffer debilitating diseases or die, but we can do much to nurture them while they are still with us. Further, we can find ways to connect meaningfully with others we meet later in life. We can also learn to enjoy being alone and travel our own inner byways.
Can you answer the following questions positively? Do you believe that you can improve the quality of your life? Do you take time to recognize and celebrate your accomplishments and reward yourself for the progress you are making? Do you try to enhance your well being? Do you practice saying no when you are asked to engage in activities that are not appropriate for you? Do you get as much pleasure from reflection, or “being,” as you do from action, or “doing”? Do you help other aging people improve the quality of their lives?
Most of us are fully able to respond to the challenges that stand in the way of a quality life, but to make our older years more meaningful we need to believe in our ability to do so. Our attitudes impact how we experience life and, thus, how we age. How else can we account for the fact that the same conditions can diminish one person while another person grows?
We know that ageing well has its challenges. But there are things that we can do to make the journey more positive. Some advice that can be helpful includes the following:
- Be realistic about expectations. Start with small steps and work up to a full agenda over time. If we want to build our muscles we should start with five or ten kilo weights, not fifty or one hundred kilo weights. The same is true about building our confidence: Be realistic, don’t overreach.
- Start with things that are positive and attractive. Building a solid, positive platform is more motivating than having to break bad habits. For example, we will probably be more enthused about learning a hobby than we will be about quitting smoking. With time, accomplishments, and growing self-confidence it will be easier to confront our more difficult challenges.
- Keep it simple. For example, for most of us it would probably be a lot easier to explore spirituality by participating in a guided workshop than it would be to try to read the many volumes that have been written to compare and contrast what the world’s great religions teach about spirituality.
- Enjoy the journey because it is as important as the outcomes. We learn as much from the efforts that we expend and the insights we gain on the journey as we do from the goals we attain.
Life, as we age, is an amazing journey. It is an adventure that invariably enriches those who engage in it fully and positively.
Note: This article was published in The Leader, Nelson, NZ. It was written on behalf of the Conscious Ageing Network (CAN), which is sponsored by Age Concern, Nelson. If you want to share your thoughts with CAN or wish to know when interviews will be aired, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.