Growing older is such a blast.
I can’t wait ‘til I hit 60. I’m going to have a ball!
Yes, I know that’s a strange thing to say. But I’ll do anything if it gives me 7.5 more years to live.
That’s how much a positive attitude towards aging is worth, according to research.
If you’re looking forward to growing older, you’ll have more years to enjoy.
Although we’ve been led to believe that aging well depends on how much you weigh or how high your blood pressure is or whether you can run a mile without collapsing on the pavement, the REAL killer is less physical than mental.
How you AGE depends on how you THINK.
Buying into negative stereotypes about aging could make your health decline faster faster than puffing on cigarettes.
News to you?
I’m not surprised.
Doctors can’t prescribe optimism. It’s hard to package and sell a belief system.
We’re naturally more inclined to worry about what we SEE—the fine lines showing up on our faces—than what we THINK (like that offhand comment about having a senior moment).
What Do You Believe About Aging?
Think of 5 people you know over the age of 60.
What adjectives would you use to describe them?
That exercise is a litmus test of your beliefs about aging.
If the adjectives you listed were positive, then you’re on the right track to age gracefully.
If the adjectives were negative, you might want to find some new role models.
Our beliefs about what happens to people as they get older don’t arise in a vacuum. We learn from the people around us. We pick up messages from culture and the media.
We also learn from what we don’t see.
If there aren’t many silver-haired foxes in our community, or if everyone on the cast of our favorite programs are well under Hollywood’s threshold (35 for women, give or take), then we learn that aging makes us invisible.
What we think of as “normal aging” also comes from our parents.
Our parents are our first role models. We have a front row seat to watch them grow older, retire, turn gray, and embark on life after kids.
If they enjoy their golden years, then we expect to enjoy our golden years, too.
But what if your parents aren’t living the high life after retirement?
You might watch them become frail, struggle with health conditions, and experience rapidly declining quality of life. You might wonder if that’s your fate, given you share their genes.
Luckily, there’s one thing more powerful than biology:
Seeing family members decline is a wake-up call to turn around your view of aging FAST.
Grumpy Old People?
We tend to assume that growing older makes people grumpy, irritable, lonely, and unhappy.
But studies don’t bear out the stereotypes.
In fact, those of us in MIDLIFE are more likely to be stressed, unhappy, and irritable.
Childhood is happy for most of us. But once we leave school and head out into the world, we find that adult life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
We’ve got too much to deal with: career, marriage, mortgage, kids.
It won’t be until retirement, when our children have left home, that we’ll get the chance to breathe.
So if you’re worried that you’re “old and washed up” before your time, don’t worry. You’re getting through that long, difficult midlife period. Happier times are ahead.
Happy Times Ahead
In fact, the happiest year of your life might be when you hit 69, according to a study by the London School of Economics.
Happiness is the hallmark of maturity.
As they grow older, people tend to be more satisfied with their lives, appreciative of the little things, and more accepting of themselves and others.
It might be hard to believe that people at the tail end of their lives could be happier than the young, who have their entire lives to look forward to. But research bears it out.
85-year-olds report feeling more satisfied with themselves than 18-year-olds.
Positive Role Models
But maybe the science doesn’t convince you.
Maybe you won’t believe it until you see it for yourself.
The quickest way to change your view on aging is to spend time with role models. Find women who are a decade or two older than you in your community, or seek out mentors in your industry. Talk to them about what it means to grow older as a woman.
There are some extraordinary role models out there, overlooked by the press because their stories aren’t sexy enough.
Like Nola Ochs getting a college diploma at 95…
Or Barbara Hillary reaching the North Pole at 75….
Or Margaret Ringenberg flying around the world at 72.
(I’m particularly fascinated by yoga for seniors. Those white-haired grannies can contort themselves into positions I’d be insane to attempt.)
For me, though, the most powerful reason to search out the benefits of aging isn’t really the extra years of life researchers predict I’ll enjoy as a result.
It’s the knowledge that I’m a role model.
My daughter is learning about what it means to be a woman from me. I want her to look forward to growing up. I don’t want her to believe that the fun ends after childhood, or adult life is boring, or birthdays for grown-ups are embarrassing.
We are ALL role models.
We owe it to future generations to make our years count for us, not against us.