“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over.”

My mother (the avid card-sender) and grandmother

My mother would send a greeting card almost every day. We would even go to a special store where she would get her Italian language cards for someone’s onomastico (name day, which coincided with the Saint everyone (except for me apparently), was named for), birthday cards galore, Holy Day of Obligation cards, holidays and everything in between. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but in my case it must have fallen into the yard in another part of the country. I don’t send greeting cards. Will I call someone, or send an email to wish him or her a Happy Whatever? Yes. I know, I know, it’s not the same, but the good thing about growing older, is that we have earned the right to be who we are; whether we are card senders or not.

The other day, however, I decided to “turn over a new card-sending leaf”. A friend of mine was about to turn 60. Yes, dammit, I will send a card. And so begins the search.

“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over” sounds like it could be a line from the 70’s Sci Fi movie, Logan’s Run, where everyone lived under a pleasure-perfect dome—that is until they turned 30, at which time they were to be annihilated, to keep from growing old.   But No. The above “greeting”, and hence the title of this post comes straight from a greeting card! Ehm…Was that supposed to be an uplifting message?

And so I looked further:

After a certain age, your body is like a garage sale—Some stuff looks old, some stuff doesn’t’ work, and some stuff you can’t identify.

60 year olds like to nap, stay warm, and have things done for them—so basically you turn into a cat. 

(Picture of a donkey with sunglasses)—Your ass looks good—for 60

Psychologists say you go through 7 stages of adjustment when you turn 50—Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial.

Don’t sweat being 50—nobody likes a sweaty senior citizen

Now I have a sense of humor that rivals the best of them, but as I looked at these cards I wondered what vile undercurrent these messages were really sending to older adults in our society. If you substitute any other “ism” for the ageism in those sayings, you would be horrified, I’m sure. Can you image a card that says “Don’t sweat being _______ (a woman, black, Italian, blind, gay, etc.)—-nobody likes a sweaty ———-?

Having spent a good part of my career investigating the effects of stereotyping on both the people being stereotyped and the ways peoples attitudes toward the stereotyped are formed—I say we stop with the “senior moment” jokes, implying that older people can’t remember things (I don’t know about you but I have been losing my car keys from the time I graduated high school), and stop spending our bank accounts on “anti-aging” potions that make aging seem like a dreadful disease to be stomped out. It isn’t. It is a natural privilege that not everyone (certainly not my late husband) gets to enjoy. But you and I do! And that is why the ageist buck must stop with us.

So I bypassed those cards. In fact, I almost decided to go back to my old ways and not send a damn card at all.

Until…

Happy Birthday!

            Here’s to aging

            Here’s to wrinkles

            Here’s to laughing

Till we twinkles (all right, somewhat corny, but so what)

Here’s to the one’s who see us through

            Here’s to birthdays

            Here’s to YOU.

Well hallelujah.  And that is the one I sent.

To all of my Readers, for whatever the occasion– Here’s to YOU!

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

Happiness-Enhancing Activities in 4 Do-It-Yourself Categories

 

Yes, crazy me, happily cleaning my oven with baking soda + a knit cloth made by a very special friend!

“Happiness-enhancing activities” seem to be the other half of the nature-nurture question when it comes to happiness. I won’t kid you: genetics play apart, and so do life circumstances. If you come from parents and grandparents who tended to frame things in a positive light you probably tend do think the same way. Life circumstances also have some effect on happiness, according to the research on happiness. If you win the lottery, for instance you will probably break into a happy dance; jump for joy; do somersaults around your back yard—who wouldn’t? But researchers found that positive life circumstances only go so far in making us happy. Meaning, the effect is short-lived, and then we adapt to that temporary emotional lift, and go back to being our own emotionally disgruntled selves, if that is how we were before hitting the jackpot.

So what’s the deal when it comes to the “nurture” side of the happiness equation? As it turns out, almost 50% of lasting happiness is under our control! I don’t know about you, but to me, THAT is a reason to do a somersault (okay, at least a mental one). Okay, but now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of what we can actually do, to make a happiness plan. Hint: you can start by doing more activities + thinking more thoughts– that make you happy.

Researchers Henricksen and Stephens did an exploratory study in older adults ranging from 56-76 years old to find out what kind of activities enhanced their happiness. Their responses fell into four categories; all of which are pretty attainable and might be useful for the rest of us to plan our days around if we want to get more out life. Here are the categories, when it comes to happiness self-management.

1. Other-focused activities. These might include spending time with family and significant others; meeting with others on a social basis, and helping others (such as in doing volunteer work or even making a meal for a sick neighbor).
2. Personal Recreation & Interests. This would include pursuing hobbies you are passionate about; balancing your life with entertainment and relaxation (going to a movie or curling up with a good book), or “external engagement” like going on a group hike or attending a book club discussion or adult ed class.
3. Thoughts and Attitudes. Happy older people are filled with gratitude for their blessings. They also tend toward constructive thinking; that is choosing to frame things positively. Even after personal trauma or loss, they focus on inner growth, or what they have learned from the hardship. Many times we think that we cannot change our thoughts, but great Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Therapy (who also honored me with his endorsement of my first book “Change Your Mind, Change Your Weight”), devoted his entire life to showing us how to change our thoughts, which in turn would have a positive effect on our emotional landscape.
4. Achievements. Happiness enhancing activities include setting –and achieving small, short-term goals; and also having longer-range goals in progress. Your immediate goal can be a simple as getting your oven clean using only baking soda and vinegar; and if it actually comes out great, you may feel a sense of achievement that starts a snowball effect of feeling good about other things. The oven is my example (as you can see from the photo above). Make a list of some of the short-term goals you want to attain, and then just start in on them, one by one. Your long-term goals might be what you’d like to do after you retire; or what exotic trip you’d like to take next year, or perhaps you’d like to write a book, try out for a play, start your own business or lose some weight so will feel better.

Happiness has too many emotional AND physical benefits to ignore, especially for older adults like us. The good news is, we can intentionally increase our happiness and have it last, by frequently engaging in positive activity and thought.

What do YOU do to feel happier? I’d love to read your feedback (when you’re done cleaning your oven, of course 🙂

Reference:
Henricksen, A., & Stephens, C. (2010) An exploration of he happiness-enhancing activities engaged in by older adults. Aging International (35) 311-326.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC