The Art of Aging HAPPY

Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D.

Pictured above is my typical breakfast: Greens, fruit, and oats. Alright, I also walk every day before work, get medical check-ups when called for, floss my teeth 3 times a day and do everything else the experts advise will best preserve my health as I grow older.  I would guess that you too make some effort to feel your best, knowing how precious and fragile good health can be.

Well, here’s a newsflash: We can take all the right “actions” to stay well, but did you know that what we believe to be true about ourselves may be just as important if not more so?

The danger of self-stereotyping:

Let’s face it: If a Martian landed on Earth and relied on TV, film, or print media, to learn about humans, he/she would get the impression that women can’t do math, Republicans are bigoted, Democrats are communist, Italians eat spaghetti and play the mandolin all day, overweight people are jolly, and older adults are senile, useless, out of touch, and incompetent. The list goes on, no matter what societal category you examine.  Research shows that the result of overgeneralizations, especially in the form of negative stereotyping, is not just limited to discrimination towards individual members of that group, but there is also a likelihood that negative stereotypes can also become internalized, and seep into the individual’s own self-concept. This “self-stereotyping” (or believing in others’ stereotypical presumptions about you) can affect your self-esteem, your outlook on life, and even your physical health.

So where do stereotypes come from? How do they start? Most likely they start in childhood, when children are exposed to stereotypical beliefs held by parents, teachers-even peers. They are also probably reinforced by media from childhood to adulthood.

When I served as the Research Director for AIDA (American Italian Defense Association), I conducted a large survey research study to see how Americans formed their concepts about people of Italian heritage. The stereotypes included an image of Italians as cartoonish, over-gesticulating buffoons, mobsters, overweight housewives whose lives center around tomato sauce, males, who of course must be hot Latin Lovers, and the not-so-bright Jersey Shore -like TV portrayals of slicked back hair, gold neck chains and dummied down English. Participants indicated that they ‘learned” these concepts from media (TV, mafia movies, etc.), and just presumed most of them to be true.  

Ageist self-stereotyping, which can influence older adults on a conscious or unconscious level, has been shown to pose a threat to physical health, memory, cardiovascular health—and it may even shorten lives.   That’s good enough reason for me to resist buying into the nonsense of stereotypes—whether it be about others or about myself. I don’t purchase “over-the-hill” greeting cards. I don’t watch TV shows that portray older people as feeble, mentally unstable, or idiotic.  I go against the flow when it comes to how I dress or wear my hair, or what kind of music the boxed-in stereotype proponents say I should listen to or what kind of goals I should pursue. The first step is to be aware that most stereotypes are FALSE. We are all unique individuals, and the only one who has the right to define who you are is YOU. Have the courage to go against the flow and respectfully and civilly speak up when you hear someone categorizing you or others.  Often people are not aware that they are being insulting when they presume certain things about you and just bringing it to their attention can start to turn things around. Most important, what you think of yourself is what really matters. Focus on all the positive things about you and don’t hand over your valuable energy to the negative influences around you.

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I also welcome you to join my AgingHappy Facebook page, where occasionally, I will go life. www.Facebook.com/AgingHappy

References

Allen, P.M., Hooker, K., & Meja, S. T (2015) Personality, Self-Pereptions and Daily Variability in Perceived Usefulness Among Older Adults.  Psychology and Aging v30 n3 p534-543.

Herndon, K.K; Norsworthy, C.F.;  & Kor-Sins, R. (2020).  Democrat or Republican? Using Political Stereotypes as a Bias Discussion Exercise Journal of Leadership education. Vol 19(2). 

Levy, B.R. (2003). Mind Matters: Cognitive and Physical Effects of Aging Self-Stereotypes Journal of Gerontology: PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES Vol. 58B, No. 4, P203–P211 

Rivera, L.M, & Paredez, S.M (2014) Stereotypes Can “Get Under the Skin”: Testing a Self- Stereotyping and Psychological Resource Model of Overweight and Obesity J Soc Issues. 2014 June 1; 70(2): 226–240. doi:10.1111/josi.12057.

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC

When entertainment media wants to portray an exaggerated stereotype or caricature, one of the first tools it uses is vocal manipulation. The Italian (or Italian-American), for instance is often portrayed with an exaggerated broken English or dummied down speech. Witches are portrayed with a nasal, squeaky voice or laugh. And then of course in the true spirit of ageism, an older protagonist usually takes on a wobbly, creaky vocal quality.

There is no denying that physiological changes take place as part of aging. Our respiratory system (i.e., the motor that powers our sound) tends not to be as hearty as it was in our youth. The collagen and muscles used in the production of sound involving our vocal cords may also start to decline; just as happens throughout the rest of our body. However, similarly to how certain self-care routines and physical exercises help the rest of the body to stay strong for as long as possible, the same is true with respect to keeping a beautiful, youthful tone quality to the voice—no matter what our age; provided we are not suffering from a major disease that affects the voice directly.

 As a singer, I have studied with several vocal coaches; each of whom has emphasized the importance of good vocal hygiene if I want to preserve my voice and keep it clear and strong.  Unlike a piano or guitar, many variables can make the voice unreliable or inconsistent (such as allergies, acid reflux, talking too loudly when in a crowd or noisy event, etc.). The one thing we can do consistently, is take good care of our voice.

Proper vocal care is even more important as we age if we want to be taken seriously and avoid becoming that ageist media stereotype. The tone and quality of a confident voice is ageless and commands respect, not ridicule. Having a wobbly or weak voice influences how we are perceived, and how others relate to us. 

Here are 11 ideas for making your voice the best it can be, at any age:

1.Record your speaking voice. Just open a book or newspaper and read into a voice recorder. Yes, that really is how you sound to others.  What are the qualities you love about your voice? What are the aspects of your voice you would like to improve?

2. Don’t habitually speak either too loud or too soft.  Speaking loudly all the time can lead to hoarseness and swollen vocal cords. The same is true with speaking too softly or whispering as too much air passes through the cords and dries them out.

3. Avoid breathing too shallowly and stop to take in more air when you need it as you are talking.

4. Enunciate your words clearly. This will prompt you to speak more slowly and use less energy to make yourself understood.

5. Stay hydrated.  Water keeps the vocal cords from drying out and makes them more pliable.

6. Steam your voice safely if you feel your voice is tired. I use a facial steamer by Conair, but there are also inexpensive portable nebulizers available online. 

7. Use a humidifier at night if the indoor air is dry; especially during the winter.

8. Practice the lip trill. Singers rely on this exercise, and it is often recommended to public speakers, who want to avoid overtaxing their voices. Simply hum up and down the scale through lightly closed lips; like you are making a raspberry.

9. Eat right and exercise.  The body is one whole unit.  Keeping the whole unit as healthy as possible will also have a positive effect on the voice.

10. Maintain good posture.  When we are slumped over a computer all day or habitually hunched over, our air flow is crimped, possibly leading to vocal strain. Check your position a few times a day in a mirror. Your head should not be thrusted forward but rather, resting directly over your shoulders (which should not be rounded).

11. See a professional if you have persistent hoarseness or feel that you need some extra help in maintaining a vibrant, ageless speaking voice. I will occasionally seek consultations with two professionals when I feel I need it: One is an ENT doctor, who can scope you and let you know if you have nodules on your vocal cords or acid reflux; the other is a speech therapist who can point out ways you may you have been overtaxing your voice; and suggest the appropriate corrections.

©Raeleen Mautner, Ph,D.

www.facebook.com/aginghappy

References (or for further information)

Coyne, Audrey (2020) Opera Singer’s Tricks to Have a More Attractive Voice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJsgL5vmtqw

McMillen, M . 5 Ways Not to Sound Old. AARP Media. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/improve-aging-voice.html

Stoney, J (2020) Sing Like Never Before. Mission Point Press

Why You Should Become Your OWN Social Director (and 3 steps to get you started)

The research is clear: Loneliness is hazardous to our health. In fact some experts claim it increases our risk of premature death by a whopping 20%. It can affect our blood pressure, our heart health, and our weight. When we are lonely we take less care of ourselves. We lose the motivation to eat right, exercise, tend to our appearance, or even socialize.

Of course being alone does not always mean you are lonely. Nor does being in company always ensure you are NOT lonely. Also worth noting is that we all have different alone-time preferences, which must be respected.  

Research shows that true loneliness involves feelings of social isolation; indicating that two important ingredients may be “missing” from our lives; EMOTIONAL SUPPORT and PHYSICAL COMPANIONSHIP. The good news is, we can do something about it. A good place to start is to take control of our social lives. One way to do that is to grab a notebook, open a calendar, and TAKE ACTION.  Here are 3 simple steps to get started:

STEP ONE: The notebook is where you want to describe WHAT you want your social life to look like. You may be looking for romantic love, new friends, stronger connections with existing friends, or reuniting with distant family members. The possibilities are endless. 

STEP TWO, be willing to do the WORK.  Designate blocks of time in your calendar to devoted to working on relationships that afford you emotional support, and scheduling activities that provide you with physical companionship (e.g., special interest groups such as book clubs, walking groups, volunteering, etc.).

STEP THREE: follow through with at least 1-2 social activities per week. This can be increased or pulled back to whatever feels right for you.

PANDEMIC NOTE: It is important above al to stay SAFE and follow the guidance of professionals and the situation in your own geographical area as it pertains to the pandemic. Some activities may require masks and/or vaccinations. When it is unsafe to interact in person, there are plenty of online discussion and special interest groups, classes, workshops. And of course, there is the telephone, facetime, skype and zoom.  The important thing is to stay connected to feel connected.

If find you are often feeling lonely, take action, even if at first you don’t feel like doing so. It can save your life; kind of like exercising–if you make social interaction a more frequent habit, you will eventually feel so much better you won’t feel right if you go without it for too long. 

REFERENCES:

Carla M. Perissinotto, MD, MHS; Irena Stijacic Cenzer, MA; Kenneth E. Covinsky, MD, MPH (2012). Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death.

ARCH INTERN MED/VOL 172 (NO. 14).

Sorkin, D; Lu, J; & Rock, K (2002). Loneliness,lack of emotional support, lack of companionship, and the likelihood of having a heart condition in an elderly sample. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 24(4) 290-298

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2021

As I walked down the corridor of a large hospital, a young gentleman limped towards me and asked if I knew how to get back to the exit that led to the parking lot where his car was parked.  “Sure, let me walk you there,” I said turning around to walk with him.

He looked at me like he hadn’t heard correctly. “But you were going the other way” he remarked, “I don’t want to inconvenience you.  You can just point me towards the next corridor and I will try to follow the signs.”

 “I could use the extra exercise,” I replied with a smile.

The young gentleman had a knee injury so we had to walk slowly. “I’m really sorry this is taking up so much of your time,” he said as he carefully coordinated his cane with his steps. “Someone asked me if I wanted a wheelchair, but actually, this exercise is good for me, too.”

By the time we made it through 4 corridors to the EXIT, he had relayed the story of his injury, told me about his new car, the joy he took in being a new Dad, and how he loved tending to his garden. When we got to the door I walked him out further to the ramp so he could hold on and make a gradual descent into the parking lot.

“ Gee, I don’t know how to thank you,” he said. “Talking to you really made my day.”

And he was off. 

The fact was that seeing him out safely made my day too!

Often, we don’t realize how a simple good deed for someone, not only helps the receiver of that deed, but can also have a powerful effect on the do-er of the kind act.

Studies in the field of psychology have positively correlated the performing of kind acts (or what we call “prosocial behaviors”) with enhanced life satisfaction (i.e. happiness). This holds true for all ages.  In short: Kindness makes us feel good about ourselves in addition to bettering someone else’s situation. What a win-win!

Back in the 80’s the buzz phrase “random acts of kindness”, implied that whenever it popped into our heads, we should do something kind for someone else.  But how would our lives change for the better if we consciously PLANNED to perform acts of kindness? After all, we can’t always depend on our Muse to give us a hint, and furthermore, the research shows that varying the kinds of good deeds we do has a more lasting impact on our personal happiness

When we first walk into someone’s kitchen as they are sautéing onions, we are overpowered with the aroma, but after a few minutes, we hardly notice it anymore. That is called “sensory adaptation”.  The same thing happens with other systems of the human body and brain. We adapt to what becomes routine, and it has less of an impact on us. 

This is where the element of “novelty” or variety plays a role.

Researchers randomly assigned participants ages 18-60 into three groups. They were asked to do one of three things: a) perform kind acts for 10 days; b) perform new (novel) acts of kindness for 10 days; or c) perform no acts and just go about their normal business (control group) for ten days. What they found was that BOTH experimental groups (the first two) experienced a significant increase in life satisfaction as compared with the control condition, which did not.

It seems that performing regular acts of kindness AND varying the types of kind acts one performs can bring greater happiness—both for the doer and the receiver.

A PLAN TO INCREASE YOUR KINDESS REPERTOIRE:

You might find it helpful to start making a KINDNESS list. To do this, jot down as many kind actions as you can think of. You can add to your list every day as you come up with additional ideas.  These acts could be big or small.  Try to recall some of the nice things you have done for others in the past, or things other people have done for  you, and add those acts to the list. Next, glance at this list each day to get ideas of how to spread your kindness around before the day is through.  Here are some examples:

In a world where self-preoccupation is commonplace, we can each be a unique light that shines kindness all around us. As a bonus, we become a whole lot happier for doing so.

Have you performed a kind act today? Share your story below!

References:

Buchanan, K.E., & Bardi, A. (2010). Replications and refinements: Acts of kindness and acts of novelty affect life satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology 150(3), 235-237

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology (9) 111-131 

 ©Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2021

Okay I admit it: Yes, I purchased an entire season of The Jack LaLanne Show from the 1950’s on DVD.  I loved him then and I love him now.  Jack was a pioneer of fitness with an over-the-top enthusiasm, and a charisma that catapults me from my easy chair right into a set of crazy jumping jacks before my mind even has a chance to talk myself out of it. I feel like I’m back in my grade school years when I watch the repeats of his show. There I was glued to our little black and white TV with the famous “Glamor Stretcher” in hand as Jack, his German Shepherd “Happy”, and his super-cheerful wife Elaine LaLanne took me through 20 frenzied minutes of a workout routine, to the muffled sound of a live organ playing Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do.  The tempo gets faster and faster until Elaine LaLanne could barely keep up and eventually bursts into laughter as Jack continues to coax her to keep going, keep going, do one more jumping jack.  

Watching the Jack LaLanne Show today brings back all kinds of wonderful memories that go beyond a message of exercise and healthy nutrition. At one point Jack pulls up a chair, looks into the camera and says “Boys and Girls, now go get your Mom and your Dad and have them do these exercises with you”.  Believing in the magic of TV and that Jack was able to see me right through the screen— into the kitchen I would run to get my mother. When she resisted,  I would grab her hand and pull her into the “parlor” (what we called the living room back then) and make her do the exercises with me. In that moment I would become Jack and she Elaine.  Eventually, unable to keep up, Mom too, would burst out laughing. Then I would run downstairs and show my grandmother how to work out—but that was where the line was drawn because in her day in Sicily,  programmed exercise was never a “thing”; as life  in the “old country” was hard enough and plenty active.

So many happy memories come flooding back with the nostalgia of the Jack LaLanne show! I still belly laugh at Jack’s  corny jokes, and contort my face all over the place when Jack leads us in exercises for our face muscles. Reconnecting to something that made me so joyful in childhood still has the power to bring me right back to simpler times, growing up with my parents and sister in a 4-room third floor flat above my grandfather’s shoe store and down the street from my other grandparent’s little grocery market. One memory spawns another and another and I begin to feel like a kid again.

As it turns out, nostalgia really can have the power to be our fountain of youth.  And when we FEEL younger than our chronological age, studies show that we also feel healthier, more confident about our physical abilities, and more optimistic about our future health. In short, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Granted, for a small percentage of people, nostalgia can be equated to a kind of sad longing for something lost in the past. But more recent research shows that for most, nostalgia helps people feel more youthful and promotes a greater sense of well-being. A sentimental affection for one’s past, seems to give us a sense of continuity about our lives, and a self-perception of youthfulness. Among other benefits this feeling of youthfulness has translated into more positive recovery from illness, lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body), and an increased level of strength when performing tasks. 

Researchers from North Dakota State University performed three studies that compared participants who were asked to induce nostalgia, by listening to a song they from their childhood, versus the “control” group who were asked to listen to a contemporary song. In all three studies,  the older subjects in the nostalgic group—regardless of gender, felt younger than their chronological age. They were also more optimistic about their health, and had a more positive outlook about their current and future health status as compared to the control group.

So the Jack LaLanne effect is not all in my head after all. I didn’t think so. I have since thought of some other ways to weave the warmth of nostalgia your own life. Here are some of them:

1.Nostalgic Music: For me, it  was Gianni Morandi, Sergio Endrigo, Massimo Ranieri, Iva Zanicchi, Mia Martini, Cream, Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Dusty Springfield, and all those wonderful bands from the “British invasion”. What will you put on your nostalgic playlist?

2. Artifacts from yesteryear: I recently located and purchased a perfume that I used to use back in the day—Blue Waltz!  Albeit cheap and sickening sweet there was a magic to it, that all comes back to me when I take a whiff: A boy I might have had a crush on then; a girlfriend I might have snuck out to a dance with, etc.   What product or artifact brings make happy memories from your past?

3. Retro-Dressing:  Online or antique shops often offer jewelry or clothing pieces that have history—and my reconnect you with your own life history. I once found a dress that could have easily been worn on the  I Love Lucy show. Oh, where are you, my Ricky?!!  You may have an article of clothing or piece of jewelry (like your grandfather’s pocket watch etc) that makes you feel happy when you wear it—or even just look at it. I would love to know what it is; please let us know it the comments below!

4. Old TV Shows Have you ever set aside an evening to watch reruns of shows like I love Lucy, the Carol Burnett, Show, I Married Joan, Topper, Leave it to Beaver, Andy of Mayberry, Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour, Lassie, Popeye, The Three Stooges–and of course the yearly showing of The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. My heart still beats furiously when the wicked witch flies onto the scene!  You may watch these shows or old movies on YouTube, the Turner Classic Movie Channel, or even order them online. The black and white versions are still the best. What are your favorites?

5. Living in Real (not virtual) Time: Since the pandemic (at least for now) seems to have calmed in some locations, whenever possible and safe to do so I like to spend my free time doing old-fashioned activities. Like visiting a friend with a batch of cookies, or shopping at an open-air market. Even taking an adventure drive to explore a new city.   You can also get involved in community theater, go to a library discussion group, or take a guided tour at an art museum. What have you been able to safely do recently that you used to enjoy in the past or in your pre-computer days?

6. Browse old photo albums: I occasionally like to look at photos that put a smile on my face; especially remembering the good times we shared when my grandparents were alive, or when we went on family outings when our kids were small.  What favorite photos of the past bring joy to your heart?

Does nostalgia make you feel more youthful? What are some of your happiest childhood memories that energize you when you think back to them?  Would love to hear your thoughts! 

Reference:

Abeyta, Andrew A., & Routledge, Clay (2016). Fountain of youth: The impact of nostalgia on youthfulness and implications for health. Self and Identity. Vol 15(3) pp. 356-369

© Raeleen Mautner, 2021

After having put a deposit on a major appliance recently, I called a friend to complain about how ill-mannered I felt the person at the front desk was—both to me and to the lovely older salesperson, who clearly had a physical disability. My friend on the other end of the line was equally outraged when I described the situation and agreed with me that if it were not for the salesperson possibly losing a commission, she would have walked out and gone elsewhere for the appliance. 

We often bristle at the concept of “complaining” but the fact is, that none of us can go very long without complaining about something; and sometimes—if not excessive to the point where it takes over our entire personality—complaining here and there has its usefulness along the spectrum of social interaction.

In a research study that looked at the psychology of complaining in social interactions, researchers found that complaining may be an important form of social communication, which serves a function.  Most of us complain on average about 5 times/day. We complain mostly about other people, objects, or events, as opposed to complaining about ourselves. When we do complain about ourselves, it is usually about a physical state (“my back is killing me”; “I’m so hungry I have a headache”, etc.). When participants were asked to keep a log of their complaints, the data showed that over 75% of all complaining did not involve an attempt to change a situation (“instrumental” complaining), but rather to find solidarity, a common ground to agree upon, to find solidarity, or as a way to express frustration.

I once challenged the students (and myself) in one of my psychology classes to go without complaining for 30 days. They were to keep of diary to first record a baseline of how many times they complained in a day; then draw up a behavioral modification plan to gradually decrease and then eliminate their complaining behavior. That was perhaps, they told me, one of the hardest assignments I had ever given them! I wasn’t surprised, having caught myself lamenting more than once during this same period, when I couldn’t find a parking space, or when icy roads made driving a nightmare, or when…

While eliminating our complaining behaviors completely may not be realistic, I still believe that if we want to be happier, we need to complain less and find more of the positive aspects in every situation we encounter. Believe me the positives are there if you look for them. Make sure to notice them and let them outweigh your negatives. 

My friend and I ultimately agreed that I did a good thing in going through with the purchase after all, since I wanted that appliance anyway, and as a result that salesperson who was so nice to me would get the commission. Then we set a date for lunch before we hung up.

Reference: Alicke et.al (1992)  Complaining Behavior in Social Interaction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 18 (5) pp286-295

copyright Raeleen Mautner 2021

The research is clear: social support through friendship—even more so than through family members, is related to greater life satisfaction as we grow older and may even lessen the impact of the health problems we commonly face. 

Friendships are voluntary, unlike relationships that we inherit through birth or blood. Friends are more likely to be our peers in age, and they are the people most turn to in confidence, about things we may not necessarily feel comfortable to discuss with relatives.

One challenge we face as we age, is that our circle of friends often dwindles, for any number of reasons, which might include taking different life paths, geographical distance, death, disagreements or simply lack of effort in maintaining contact. As with any close relationship, it takes time and effort to sustain established friendships; and if we want to make new friends, we must also call on the more extraverted dimension of our personality that prompts us to get out there into the world, start conversations, and follow through.

A few noteworthy points to consider:

  1. People who believe that finding friends is based on luck are lonelier than those who know it takes work and are willing to do that work.
  2. Be aware of a self-fulfilling prophecy—If you believe that you can never make new friends as you grow older, you probably will act –or not act–accordingly. 
  3. Consider the covert “avoidance” factor.  For example, you may give yourself a nudge to go out to an event, yet while there, you don’t really engage with others. 
  4. Change your perception if it is negative.  The more you see the people in your surroundings as welcoming and friendly ,the more they are likely to perceive you that way, too.
  5. Remember the “exposure effect”—People tend to like us more if they see us more! Just showing up to ongoing events (classes, workshops, lecture series, library talks at the same library, etc.) will foster the familiarity and positive regard needed to start new friendships.
  6. As with the research on successful romantic relationships, factors such as similarity of values, attitudes and beliefs may also play a role in “clicking” with new friends.
  7. When it comes to self-disclosure when meeting new people, remember to go slow and focus on reciprocity. Friendship is like a choreographed dance, based on give and take, and staying in step with each other. Little by little each person reveals a bit more about themselves from which emotional closeness can grow. 

Whether your goal is to reconnect with old friends, maintain ongoing friendships or expand your circle of friends by bringing new and interesting people into your life, the six principles in Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” are still valuable and worth adopting:

  1. Be genuinely interested in others 
  2. Smile
  3. Remember that person’s name—it is the most important sound for that person
  4. Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  6. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely

Q. How do you maintain friendships and/or make new ones? Would love to read your comments below. Also, If you found this article useful, please share with those you care about, and do sign up to follow this site. Mille grazie.

References: 

Blieszner, R (2014). The worth of friendship: Can friends keep us happy and healthy? Journal of the American Society on Aging, vol 38, #1. 

Carnegie, D (1982) How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books

Dumitrache, C.G; Rubio, L; & Rubio-Herrera, R (2018). Extroversion, social support and life satisfaction on old age: a mediation model. Aging & Mental Health, v22, issue 8. 

copyright Raeleen Mautner 2021

RaeleenMautner.com

In his treatise on “How to Grow Old”, Roman Philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed how useless it is to complain about growing old, because “Fighting against Nature is as pointless as the battles of the giants against the gods.”  Yet, despite such a seemingly defeatist attitude, Cicero was anything but depressed about his advancing age. In fact, he was one of the first crusaders against ageist stereotyping, and encouraged people to defend their age, and hold their heads high. 

Cicero wholeheartedly believed that the joys experienced in the older stages of life are unique, and just as rewarding—albeit different– as the joys that are specific to babies, children, and young adults.  So why don’t most people associate aging with happiness? Perhaps because of the common fears associated with growing old; which are evident in those who constantly worry about their age.

According to Cicero, there are 4 age-related fears:

  1. We fear aging takes us away from an active life.
  2. We fear aging weakens the body
  3. We fear aging deprives us of sensual pleasures
  4. We fear aging because we fear getting closer to death.

All of the above, he believed, could be debunked.

First, plenty of older adults live active, vibrant lives well into their 60’s, 70’s and beyond.  We may not seek out the same activities we did when we were 25, but why would we? Says Cicero: When you get older, “it is not by strength or speed, or swiftness of body” that we involve ourselves, but rather, activities that require ‘wisdom, character, and sober judgment”. I might have loved the exhilaration of diving when I was a kid at the beach, but today I much prefer a more relaxing (and less-risky) swim. Or a trip to the museum, or the art gallery—things I wasn’t particularly interested in when I was younger. 

Second, while our level of strength changes throughout the years, we can still use the strengths we have, without feeling we have “lost” anything.  “I don’t long for the strength of youth…any more than when I was a young man I desired the strength of a bull or an elephant.” The message is to accept the nature of who we are, because only then can we live happy. At each stage of life, we have exactly what we need and we must preserve the health we have through moderate exercise and “self-control” when it come stop eating.  The timeless formula that still works. 

Third, to say older adults are deprived of sensual pleasures couldn’t be more false. If we are talking about love and romance, well many older adults are out there dating and having fun, perhaps with a bit more wisdom and less euphoria than years ago. Or perhaps instead they have opted to direct their energies towards hobbies and activities that don’t involve romance at all.  Cicero, for instance, was enamored with agriculture and wrote extensively about the joys of every aspect of planting and the satisfaction of harvesting. The bottom line? All roads lead to Rome; many roads lead to happiness.

Finally, Cicero reassures us there is no reason to fear death, for at the end our lives, there will either be no consciousness at all, or eternal bliss. Personally he believed in the second option. And so do I.

Question: Do YOU fear growing old? If so, does the wisdom of Cicero help you to see the potential for aging happy? I’d love it  if you would “like” and share this article if  you have a moment. And as always I value your comments and your feedback!

© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2021

Reference

 Cicero, Marcus Tullius (translation by Philip Freeman, 2016). How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.

Did you know that research has shown an association between playfulness and resilience in older women? Furthermore, the more often we take time to just have fun, the stronger and stronger our resiliency skills become.

     Researchers investigated this phenomenon in 167 women over 50 who participated in the Red Hat Society (RHS), which is a leisure group for older women. They gave them a survey that measured playfulness through leisure activities, such as the activities that RHS members often participated in. They controlled for (i.e. cancelled out) the effects of age, education, marital status, years of RHS membership, and physical and mental health statuses. Results showed that playfulness contributed to the growth of resilience in older women over time.

     Sometimes we seem to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The horrors we witness through the nightly news; the personal traumas that we or the people we care about are facing, the losses that grow in number alongside our years. These situations are real, and in many cases frightening—BUT—we need to break away every once in a while to restore balance and calm in our life. Skip a night of news. Put the technique of “Stop Thought” into action and replace negative thoughts with happy ones, whenever you catch yourself feeling stressed. Most of all—we need to take more play-breaks. Here are some suggestions:

  • Call for a get-together with old friends or new. Instead of sitting at a table eating and drinking for hours (although that is fun too) go play a game of mini-golf, pickle ball or tennis, take a flamenco class together, go bowling or play volleyball, basketball, badminton—just move and have a ton of laughs!
  • Play with your dog. Teach it to fetch a ball, hide and seek the treat—or YOU. Believe me, Fido will be up to the task any time of day or night.
  • Go out dancing. Nowadays there are no hard and fast rules that you must only dance when you have a partner. Many a time, I have just gotten lost amongst a dance floor crowd and danced the night way solo—and had a blast doing so.
  • Have a game night with friends or family. I have never played “Left Right Center” but hear that many a circle of friends are enjoying that dice game.  I personally favor Monopoly and will stop at nothing to obtain Broadway and Park Place!
  • Get silly with your grandkids. Have sleepovers, camp outs, put on a musical together or teach them how to play bocce in your backyard.

Playing seems to strengthen our emotional muscles for getting through the tougher times. So make time for fun as you would for exercise or meditation. It is that important, especially in this tract of our lives.  What do YOU like to do for fun? Comment below and let us know! And don’t forget to share this website with those you know could use a lift.

Reference:

Chang, P; Yarnal,C; & Chick, G (2016). The longitudinal association between playfulness and resilience in older women engaged in the Red Hat Society. Journal of Leisure Research (48) pp 210-227.

  1. Take notes on your life. Leonardo da Vinci not only left us the gift of insight into his genius through his notebooks, but he developed his own intellectual, scientific, and artistic skills by writing down everything that came to mind. He started in his 30’s and unfortunately most of what he wrote has disappeared. What remains shows architectural drawings, practical military designs, memos, sketches, personal notes, and a developing philosophy of the world through simple observation, the basis of our scientific method today.. 
  2. Be curious about everything you observe
  3.  Diversify Your Interests.  Leonardo’s notebooks provide evidence in his interest in drawing , painting, sculpture, anatomy, optics, engineering, astronomy and more. In our short lifetime most of us tend to narrow our fields of learning. Charles Krauthammer, a political commentator and Pulitzer prize winning writer, attributes his great accomplishments (and their were many, not the least of which was his father’s advice to “learn everything” he could. It served him well. 
  4. Learn reality from nature. Leonardo unlike many of his illustrious contemporaries, did not have the luxury of a formal education. No one can refute his genius, however.  From the time he began to explore the countryside as a little boy, his love of nature taught him how to look scientifically and objectively a the world around him.  We spend the majority of our time indoors. We go from home to work, back to home or to indoor meetings and events. Make it a point to step out more into the outdoors.
  5. Develop Skills that will both help others and yourself. . When Leonardo wrote a letter to the  ruler of Milano seeking employment he promoted his skills in the order in which they would be most useful in that zeitgeist, starting with his military engineer capabilities. Many college students are misguided in taking courses that upon graduation will leave them with mountains of debt and no employable skills that would help pay back that debt. 
  6. Think for yourself. It was no secret that Leonardo was not able to read latin, and therefore, despite his efforts to teach himself the language that all men of letters and science used, his was a struggle. He reasoned that “experience” was even more important in bringing about wisdom. 
  7. Emulate the Masters. We might call it apprenticeship, a process that has been all but lost over the centuries. Leonardo advised young painters to first learn perspective, then proportions, then copy from a good master.
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