Horne: Adapting to life’s challenges determines our happiness
“We all need models for how to live from our retirement to past 80—with joy,” says Dr. George Vaillant director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
In his book Aging Well, Vaillant reviews information gathered from three separate longevity studies that, beginning in their teens, followed 824 individuals for more than 50 years.
What did he learn from his many interviews with people as they reached their 70s and 80s?
Well, that health is not determined by low cholesterol or ancestral longevity, but rather by a stable marriage, the ability to make lemonade out of lemons and regular exercise.
He states: “Owning an old brain, you see, is rather like owning an old car…Careful driving and maintenance are everything.”
What none of us can avoid in the process of living is change.
How adaptable we allow ourselves to be is a strong determinant of our state of happiness.
A great mentor once told me, “What we focus on expands.”
I recognize that the days I get up hanging on tightly to what I am comfortable with, trying to control my life and my day, the more constraint and limitation I feel.
What Dr. Vaillant’s research also found is that friendships with younger persons enhance the enjoyment of advancing age.
These successful friendships are not relationships in which the elderly are coddled by the young, but rather where the aging adult is able to give more than they receive.
Four building blocks that might help you take a personal “checkup” of how to move through the process of advancing maturity successfully are:
Part 1: Planning ahead and making important decisions.
Have you gathered the facts on what legal arrangements you need to have in place, should you not be able to make financial or medical decisions for yourself?
Enduring powers of attorney, advanced directives, wills and representation agreements are all important documents to have, along with an accessible personal information record so that family members can easily be aware of all important information pertaining to your medical history.
There is a fantastic website available at www.nidus.ca that provides simple and concise information and forms for you to easily learn about what is needed.
Nidus is a non-profit Personal Planning Resource Centre and Registry in Vancouver.
If you prefer to call them to ask questions you may do so at 1-877-267-5552.
Part 2: Staying physically active.
Do you make staying physically active a priority in your life?
Getting aerobic activity and exercise to strengthen muscles, promote joint flexibility and help with balance has been shown in many studies to be a key factor in successful aging.
I spoke with a beautiful woman this week who was celebrating her 100th birthday.
Staying active certainly looked good on her, dressed to the nine’s and walking unassisted without so much as a cane needed for balance.
It was the glint in her eye and the engaging smile she immediately gave me, a complete stranger that showed me why she has became a centenarian.
Part 3: Activities and social connections.
Do you look for ways to combine physical activity and social interaction such as exercise with a friend or in a group?
One great program to do this here in Kelowna is called Move It and Mingle.
Call the Westside Health Network for more information at 250-768-3305.
There are many other programs available in our area. Check out the www.kelowna.ca website or call their information line at 250-469-8800 to see what you can get involved in.
Part 4: Spiritual and mental well-being.
We all develop fears, questions, or dilemmas as we go through life.
Do you try to go it alone, rather than feel like you are burdening someone else with your troubles?
Choosing to make the effort to find support and guidance is always worth it.
Other ways to foster a sense of inner positive well-being are:
• Honour your own strengths and weaknesses
• Look for the good in other people and situations
• Accept with grace the things in life you might like to change but can’t
• Manage the stresses in your life
• Know the value of positive thinking.
When it comes to getting older, we all have some common uncertainties.
Talking about them and sharing our concerns with another person always lightens the load.
Call a friend, share a smile with a stranger.
Giving and continuing to do little acts of kindness for someone when they least expect it is the best medicine for living well, no matter where you are on the aging spectrum.