The other day I was in the greeting card store to purchase a birthday card., and was struck by our society’s view of getting older. Practically every birthday after the 18th was a card with the same corny jokes about your failing memory and sagging body. At the time I thought it was kind of funny. Lately however, I’ve been thinking if that is really the case. As someone in my early 60’s, I don’t feel particularly decrepit. I still travel, work, have ample energy and ambition to run, ski, garden, and do lots of other things.
Historically, America has always been a country that celebrated youth. In the past however our love of youth was tempered by respect for age. Today, the greatest fear is decline, followed closely by fear of death. Much of what we fear about aging – such as losing our hearing, eyesight, mobility, or memory – may actually be caused by our belief that we will lose these things. A study by the Yale School of Public Health found that people who held a negative view of aging die an average of 7.5 years before those with a positive view of it. The fact is that our personal perceptions about getting older have a major impact on how we age. In cultures that provide more positive views of aging, such as Japan, there are much longer life spans. I am constantly amazed by the parallel between a persons’ positive belief on aging, and their remarkable mobility and cognitive function.
Despite the evidence that positive beliefs on aging have beneficial health benefits, it does not mean you can believe your way to eternal youth. What I am trying to say is that we can either choose to see ourselves as rotting or ripening on the vine. Ultimately we know that life begins and life ends. It’s the finite amount in between that makes it sweet.
Make your New Year’s resolution a commitment to being more positive about aging. At a minimum we as older adults are less foolish, less self-absorbed, more experienced, and have a richer perspective on life.