I am thinking about a passage I once read in a book by Italian psychiatrist Raffaele Morelli, called: “La Felicita’ e’ Qui” (happiness is here). He described the qualities of a real “maestro”, or teacher. A master of agriculture, for example, is not necessarily one who has studied for a degree in the field, but rather someone who has been a lifelong farmer—one who knows the soil, the climate, the seed, the fertilizer, and the conditions that help and hinder the crops. Moreover, a real master has no expectations, after doing all of the groundwork. For example he/she can hope that the crops will grow and flourish, but unforeseen conditions could arise that foil even the best of preparations. Thus, a real master is prepared to accept the reality of the outcome, knowing that there are always elements we have no control over. A real master exudes serenity and inner strength. We can all be “masters” of our own life and here are three suggestions for doing that:
Work hard for your desired outcome; then
Accept whatever happens with grace and dignity, knowing you did all you can.
If the outcome was desirable, give thanks. If undesirable, learn to distinguish if you could improve your efforts, or if it makes more sense to let go and move on.
Baby boomers; let’s think back for a moment, to the days of our long-haired, love-beaded youth. Picture our “anti-establishment” hippie days, when we took a strong stand against war, and demonstrated for peace and love. Perhaps you were one of the ½ million young visionaries who gathered in solidarity at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival to groove to the music of Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, and The Who. Back then our generation was sure we could change the world… for the better. Then we grew up and realized that although we had some impact; the world was not so easily changed. Many of us were disillusioned. We had no choice but to get back to reality and trade our free-love drawstring bell-bottoms and gauze kurtas for more responsible pinstriped business suits and shorter hairdos.
Needless to say, I was hardly surprised when I came across two Pew Research Center Reports about Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964) going “Glumly” into old age. On overall life satisfaction, 80% of the boomer respondents said they were dissatisfied with the way things were going; as compared to much lower rates of dissatisfaction in the other age categories. Most of us feel we did not do as well as our parents did and that our standard of living is lower. Many boomers feel uneasy financially. Some of us are drained from being sandwiched between the caregiving needs of our children and our aging parents. In short—baby boomers may have legitimate reasons to feel anxious, worried, depressed or disappointed when it comes to facing our transition into old age.
But Are There Ways to Make Ourselves Happier, Despite Our Challenges?
The short answer to that is YES.
Research from the School of Psychiatry at the University of new South Wales in Sidney conducted a 30-year longitudinal study that measured life satisfaction, using Personality, Depression, and Self-Esteem inventories, as well as a Satisfaction with Life Scale. Participants were also sent a semi-structured interview in which they were asked to outline their future plans and strategies to maintain health and well-being. The data was gathered at baseline and then every 5 years over the course of 30 years.
Here are the 5 Habits of the most satisfied older adults, according to the data.
They are habits that you can easily adopt, too.
Proactive planning. Happy baby boomers don’t let life happen to them. Instead, they pre-planned (financially, mentally, and physically), for situations they may be facing, such as retirement. They tended to set goals actively worked toward achieving them.
Maintenance. The happiest participants in the study were conscious of what strategies worked for them in terms of maintaining their relationships, health, and creative interests—and so they made sure they continued to use those strategies that were most effective.
Social Connectedness. The happier older adults were those that spent more and better quality time with friends, family and partners. For many of us, with our limited allotment of earthly time, that may mean cutting out relationships that don’t add to your well-being. Who needs friends who make plans and then stand you up last minute, with nary an excuse? Who needs to date a leech who seems to care more about what he/she can get from you than how you both can enrich each other’s’ lives together. Who needs to spend every day with a family member who insults you and disrespects your boundaries? In other words, surround yourself with people who care about you and nurture those relationships with an investment of your time.
Passing the baton. Just as Erik Erikson theorized in his psychosocial development approach in Psychology, guiding the next generation (children, grandchildren) enhances our sense of happiness and well-being as we grow older. It’s actually kind of cool to take the spotlight off of ourselves at this stage and sit back and enjoy a supportive role as we root for the next generation as they realize their dreams.
Smelling the Roses. The most satisfied older adults in this study were those with a great sense of awareness of the clock continuing to tick. Thus, they made sure to fill their lives with appreciation, gratitude and an intention to savor the simple pleasures in a day.
Let’s start a conversation: What do you find helps you maintain your well-being at this stage in life? What are some strategies you use to make and keep positive relationships? How to you stay in touch with your creative side and stay engaged with activities you are passionate about? Do leave your comments below, and feel free to share (citing the source) with whomever might find this article useful.
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:
We fear aging takes us away from an active life.
We fear aging weakens the body
We fear aging deprives us of sensual pleasures
We fear aging because we fear getting closer to death.
And all of them, 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!
Cicero, Marcus Tullius (translation by Philip Freeman, 2016). How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.