Do you have the courage to make goals for your life–for tomorrow, next month, next year, and years from now–or are you waiting for someone else to do that for you? I am not just talking about financial goals. I am including your health, happiness, and all of those other things that make up life–the many facets of successful aging. Perhaps you are a dreamer and believe that everything will just fall into place for you?
I am here to tell you that if you are waiting for someone else to fulfill all of your needs, you might consider all of the things that are likely to happen to that person. And then consider what might happen to you as a result. Yes, I know that many of you have prepared well, are enjoying your life, and can rely on having the means to age successfully. But, most of us are not in that category. Some of us did all of those things.
Growing Old Successfully Takes Courage
Many studies have been done on this subject with varying viewpoints on what it means. A review study captured data from a number of studies done during the period beginning 1902 through 2015. There were two different formats for determining what successful aging was. The largest number of reports were based on what those who were aging had to say about their successes and what caused them. These results can be significant, but it is important to note that when we are telling our story, we sometimes have a tendency to sugar coat it. A smaller number was based on what researchers measured, using predetermined criteria–the predominant factors of aging.
For those of you who have older adults in your life, ask them what they believe contributes to their successfulness or unsuccessfulness with regard to aging. They are likely to report that overall they feel contented and more accepting of themselves and that they are engaged with life. But they are just as likely to report that their satisfaction is coming from staying fit, maintaining a good diet, and following doctor’s orders. Many now have time to help others, gaining huge satisfaction from their new roles. The wisdom accumulated through their years was proposed as a major theme that became evident through the interviews of older people along with the information that seniors might benefit from assistance with gaining access to opportunities for greater social engagement and learning better ways of coping.
But things can change with the way we look at success. Education, communication such as social media, medical science, cultural support, and other things as well have contributed to the study of successful longevity with significant impact. More of us are living to be over 100 years old. We will examine some of the many facets of successful aging in this article. Why? At 100 years of age, we want to feel that we are successfully aging! We want to know that there is more to come.
“It takes courage to dream, to face our futures and the limiting forces within us. It takes courage to be determined that, as we slow down physically, we are going to grow even more psychologically and spiritually. Courage, the philosopher Aristotle taught us, is the most important of all the virtues, because without it we can’t practice any of the others. Courage is the nearest star that can guide our growth. Maya Angelou said we must be courageous about facing and exploring our personal histories. We must find the courage to care and to create internally, as well as externally, and as she said, we need the courage ‘to create ourselves daily as Christians, as Jews, as Muslims, as thinking, caring, laughing, loving human beings’.”
― Bud Harris
The Many Definitions of Successful Aging
Often used definitions of successful aging are presented in different forms of three criteria: State of health and disability, ability to think clearly, and social engagement with others. Not only do these imply, but others suggest that if you are disabled, have an incurable disease, or have a terminal illness that you are not successfully aging. But, you see folks all the time in wheelchairs, using walkers or canes, or with visible signs of health problems, such as shaking, limping, or features suggestive of Down syndrome, mental retardation, neuromuscular disease, cerebral palsy, etc. Are they aging successfully? Have we eliminated this segment of the population from the definition of successful aging?
For the most part, those in the latter stages of life have learned how to adapt and cope with the things they cannot change to have a successful life. One study examined and recorded the attitudes of a group of men and women age 55 and older from various cultures who were disabled and learned that most of them were content with their lives and believed that they were successfully aging. In addition, they recognized that those who may not be satisfied could be helped by clinicians who would use interventions appropriate to their culture that would promote successful aging.
Successful Aging is Different for Each Person
“Too many people, when they get old, think that they have to live by the calendar.” John Glenn
At a Walmart near me, I often see an extremely crippled, middle-aged man pushing a long line of grocery carts back into the store. He appears to be happy, as evidenced by smiles. He is definitely enjoying his work. And he is not totally dependent on other people if dependent at all. Is he aging successfully? Of course, he would prefer to be made whole, but he is making the best of his life!
Compare his success with that of a man who portrays himself as homeless and unemployed, sitting or standing on the corner where one enters the same Walmart parking lot. I have observed this man, his companions, and their dog on many occasions, with two sitting in their car, taking turns holding the sign which asks for money. Are they aging successfully? Can they change their future? I don’t have the answers, but I can say that while they appear to survive, they do not appear to be happy.
How often have you looked at the people I describe above with sadness or disdain? For most of us, it is one or the other. If so, maybe we need to take a closer and different look. It is likely we will change our attitudes. No one should feel embarrassed about the way they look if they are the victim of an unfortunate birth, mental illness, or accident and lack the ability to smile. On the other hand, those who pretend for the purpose of getting money are to be pitied. They have no sense of personal responsibility for their own happiness.
Look at news stories about those the Tim Tebow Foundation helps. Over 90,000 people worldwide participate in this event, and all that I noticed were happy. Are they happy all of the time? That is doubtful, but neither are we. One thing I am sure of is that they look forward to this annual event, as do the hundreds of thousands who prepare for and assist in its conduct.
Yesterday, I attended a luncheon to celebrate the birthday of my Sunday school class teacher. We started talking about age. Many of us expressed ownership of ancestors who lived to be over 100 along with the hope that we might also live that long. Seated across from me was a woman who spoke up, “I am 90 years old.” We were all surprised because she hardly looked 70. She admitted to taking a baby aspirin a day (a blood thinner to prevent clots) and no other medications. She was not the only healthy looking, aging woman in the room, and I was proud to see so many there who were happy with being who and where they were in life, regardless of evident disability in a few.
Are You Aging Successfully?
“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”
― George Bernard Shaw
Considering the subjective and objective opinions and measurements of the characteristics of successful aging, we can safely say that one can be disabled and be living successfully simultaneously, so the age-old definition as stated above is defunct and certainly out of place.
I have written about many characteristics of successful aging before, such as our appearance, self-image, sleep habits, employment, need for caregivers, mental acuity, education, finance, vacationing, and volunteering; however, I will be adding more to these and talking about new things. Please see my blog for these.
It is important to note that worrying about being successful in your aging is not going to get you there. You need to plan for it, but don’t look at it as planning to be old. Look at it as enjoying being older, as another extension or phase of your life. Learn to accept those limitations that you absolutely cannot overcome. Not doing so is futile. Be the woman you want to be in your own way. Don’t ever stop laughing. That will be your bet for successful aging.
I would like very much to hear if you have any comments on this post including your own experiences and how you are dealing with those.