The other day a friend was talking about recent news events and was looking to me to hold up my end of the conversation. I failed him miserably since I have been quite out of the loop about recent world and national events for the last month or so. I have not really been reading online news, news magazines and papers or checking my newsfeed and have not been actively participating in “hashing things out” with my politically astute and well-informed friends.
And, I’ve been feeling happier.
To me it’s simple but I always need reminding: happiness is based upon having a positive outlook on life. We can best make changes in our own lives and in the circumstances around us when we feel optimistic. This helps us to feel that we can be effective in making needed changes.
When we are bombarded, day in and day out, with the overwhelmingly negative media accounts of what is going on in the world around us our efforts to maintain our positive outlook are assaulted, our sense of control over events is diminished and we can find ourselves in emotional survival mode.
Ultimately, I have to accept that I cannot control others around me and what happens on the local, national and global stage. What I can control, however, is how I think and how I act. I am at my most effective, paradoxically, when I let go of the outcome and act in small ways that can make a difference. I do this best when I manage the amount of information that comes to me that says that things are hopeless, will never get better and are too complicated to do anything about.
So, I took some time off from the world to concentrate on my own little part of it. I intend to rejoin the newsfeed soon but in a more limited manner. I want to stay informed but I’ll be rationing my time there. It won’t be the first time I’ve learned that this is necessary to my happiness and effectiveness.
Aging is an ongoing experience of limitation if you sit back and let it be.
I’m sitting here waiting for a friend to get out of surgery. She is in her early 70’s, a vibrant human being who appears and acts much younger. But age has come to visit. She tripped over some wires and broke her hip. She is well aware that this can lead to permanent disability and a shortened life span. She feels totally unprepared. It’s truly scary.
She has just come out of surgery and has been wheeled to her room. What’s on her mind? Her regret about not taking care of business and missed opportunities for fulfillment. Luckily she has a good doctor who has advised her that, with rehab, she is likely to make a full recovery. She considers this a wake-up call to address a number of things in her life.
How do you remain optimistic when you see the walls of life closing in on you? Frailty, memory issues and the loss of family members and friends amplify the perceived diminishment of self.
But you can be happy and fulfilled as you get older. Let us count the ways…
Give other people the benefit of your wisdom. There is something to be said for living a long time. You have been through a lot in life and have had many experiences that you have learned from. Mentor a younger person who can benefit from your advice and guidance.
Come to terms with your relationships to your friends and family. If you have a good relationship with everyone, great, no problem. But if you have struggled in some relationships, attempt to open up the lines of communication and make amends if necessary. Let go of whether they own up to their part in things. You have no control over other people’s thoughts and actions. Be glad that you showed up and owned up.
See your friends and family members regularly even if you have to schedule time with them on your calendar. Go to family functions and put up with your brother’s noisy kids and your hard-of-hearing aunt. Remember they are not around forever and you may be the odd uncle in the corner someday yourself. Make special time for those who bring out the best in you. You know who they are.
Consider moving closer to those who will be there for you in a pinch. This may or may not be your family members; living near or with good friends may be a better choice for some people. Be there to celebrate the good times and support each other in the bad times.
Take up a new mentally stimulating activity, something that excites you but you’ve been putting off doing for awhile. Learn to tango. Learn a new language. Take up playing an instrument. These activities have been shown to be more effective in maintaining cognitive functioning in older adults than crossword puzzles, sudoku or online brain training.
Most importantly, cultivate a positive attitude. Spend time at the beginning and the end of the day being grateful. Write down what you are grateful for. Email it to yourself so that you can look at it throughout the day. Consider starting a meditation practice. Develop your own affirmations at the end of your practice. Read something that inspires you.
Aging well is about preparation, acting in ways that make us happy and preserving this happiness as long as possible. There’s work for us to do. Let’s get to it.