We can’t stop aging – it’s something everyone who draws breath is doing every minute – but we can disrupt how we think about it. And it seems well worth the effort. In fact, Author Becca Levy, Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and How Well You Live claims that a positive attitude toward one’s own aging can add 7-1/2 years to life! (Listen to or read the transcript of her NPR interview here.)
Negative assumptions about aging (“ageism”) permeate our thinking because they’re embedded in our social structures – employment, advertising, health care leap to mind. We elders often buy into it ourselves. I know I do. And I want to quit!
For some of us, “I’m too old to …” thoughts come up in a yoga class. Or trying to keep up with a pre-school grandchild. Or working out a kink in your computer.
Negativity pops up most for me when I look in the mirror. The 35-year-old competent and attractive woman who dwells within is shocked to see an old woman staring back. Every time.
She doesn’t look ugly. But the wrinkles! And blotches! Aiii!
My problem isn’t the wrinkles. It’s the meaning I invest in them. I had a colleague who ran marathons. One day he blew out his knees. Hugely swollen. He switched to biking. But he said, “My knees are battle scars. I’m proud of them.”
My wrinkles are battle ribbons. I earned every one! That woman in the mirror isn’t ugly. In fact, the man she married thinks she’s kinda cute. And she’s still competent. And giving back. And having fun!
Old age also brings gifts: freedom to be yourself. To wear red. To speak your mind. To go and come when and where you choose. To read junk or classics. If you have money, reasonable health, and your mind is clear you can have a lot of fun. And even if you’re limited there are still things you can enjoy.
Realistically, our days are numbered. But that was as true at 20 as it is at 80. We can’t physically do everything we might wish. But we can do more than we might imagine. Creativity and service have no age limit. I love the story in the interview about the grandmothers’ project in Zimbabwe.
Listen and let me know what you think.