Last week my husband Dave found a book in the library called, ‘Bolder: Making the most of our longer lives’ by Carl Honore.
He read out the following quote by Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist.
“Thinking you’re old makes your brain and body decline while thinking you’re young has the opposite effect.”
I was thrilled to read this because the timing of this information was absolutely perfect for me.
This past March I turned 76.
I’ve been practising saying “I’m 76” since January to see what it feels like and, you know what? It feels pretty damn good.
I tend to make a little joke at my expense.
I tell everybody that, as far as ageing is concerned, I’m in total denial. As it turns out, this is only half a joke. There’s more truth – and value – in this belief than I imagined.
But here’s the thing, actually two things.
The first one is that celebrating my age (not just my birthday) is a huge contributor to my fabulous physical, emotional and spiritual state.
The second one is, I defy expectations.
In 2017 I discovered Alexander Technique and worked with Bernie Tonge for over 3 years until she retired just before the first lockdown.
Before her I tried lots of other things, physio, acupuncture, cannabis oil, chiropractor, McTimony chiropractor and some NHS interventions.
None of them worked.
It was my husband Dave who suggested the Alexander Technique when I had all but given up hope.
Even though I joke about being in denial about my age my work with Bernie has made a huge difference.
Even so, she warned me against unrealistic expectations. The scoliosis would get worse as I age, she warned me.
Even though we no longer work together I still practise daily all the things I learned from her.
And, over time, I added exercises I learned from scoliosis specialist Edward Paget and my own initiative, 7 minutes very fast walking, daily without fail.
So here’s the thing.
Don’t give up.
Don’t ever give up.
And don’t always believe the medical profession when they tell you there’s no hope.
Your job – our job – is to defy negative expectations.
So how do we age joyfully?
I was just watching a TED talk where Jane Fonda, the actress, describes ageing as the rise of the spirit.
She told us that, ever since she reached 60, she started wondering what ageing was all about. She decided to start researching it and what it meant for each of us and the wider world.
She discovered that one-third of how we age is genetic. That means there’s nothing we can do about it.
But it also means that there are a remaining two-thirds we can do something about, things like
Appreciate the positives in your life and express gratitude for what you’ve gained rather than focusing on what you have lost or anticipate losing as you grow older.
When you find there’s something you used to do that you can no longer do find something else to fill the gap.
Happiness comes more from wanting what you have rather than focusing on mourning what you no longer have.
Savour the positives
Slow down. Smell the roses, literally and figuratively.
Time seems to fly as you get older so make a point to be in the here and now, making the most of those special moments.
Positive memories are a way of savouring the past. Retell the story of one of your past peak moments to yourself. Remember every detail and how you felt at the time.
Stay with those positive feelings for at least 10 seconds. This is called ‘savouring’ and is a powerful way to add a sense of wellbeing into your life.
Both, reminiscing and savouring, are ways of developing positive emotions.
Adopt an optimistic mindset
Optimists like me are better placed to challenge the overwhelmingly negative stereotypes of later life.
We enjoy greater physical and psychological wellbeing and are more likely to cope positively when things go wrong.
Optimists tend to interpret negative events as temporary and try to do something about them.
If you catch yourself viewing something negatively try to look at it from a different angle.
Ask yourself, what would you say to a friend who was experiencing the same problem?
Live life with meaning
Later life is the time to focus on what’s truly important to you – whether that be certain people or something you love, whatever or whoever that might be.
Research has shown that an important role for us perennials is that of custodians of the future so ask yourself, “What meaning does my life have?” “What knowledge, experience and wisdom can I share, including (or especially) my mistakes and what I learned from them?” Share your insights with your children and grandchildren.
Or you might act as a volunteer for a favourite charity or perhaps befriend others less well off.
There is a deeper kind of happiness which comes from serving a purpose that goes beyond ourselves.
Finally, I came across a quote by Picasso, who lived well into his nineties which really chimed with me.
“It takes a long time to become young.”
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