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What getting older has taught me.

I have come to see aging as a privilege. Not everyone gets to do it. My brother died suddenly when he was only 23 years old from a sever asthma attack. My uncle died suddenly in his 50s from a heart attach while gardening in his backyard, with the words “undate my will’ still on his to-do-list. My cousin committed suicide as a teenager. These are just the stories from my own family. I am sure you have at least one person you know who died before growing old too. 

As debilitating grief and loss is, it also teaches us to value the days we have and to make the most of them, no matter what age we are. 

Be happy well not sad sick

Dr. George Vaillant, an American psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School wrote a book, Aging Well. As part of his study of 824 people over six decades, he discovered how we can stay healthy throughout life, and it’s not how you might think. It’s much about our mental state and practicing resilience and forgiveness than regular exercise, stressing less or a healthy diet. Dr. Vaillant said “To be healthy is more than just an absence of disease. It’s also a state of mind. An ability to experience the biological ravages of time without actually feeling unwell. In other words, people can present symptoms of ill health without believing themselves to be unwell.” 

(Ref: George Vaillant, Aging Well, Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 1993)

Dr. Vaillant concluded from his study that there are four human qualities which help older people become “the happy well and not the sad sick”. They are:

1. Future orientation: the ability to anticipate, plan and hope.

2. The capacity for gratitude and forgiveness.

3. Being able to imagine the world as it seems to others, to have the capacity to love, and to have empathy for others.

4. The ability to interact and connect with people, accompanied by a belief that the world is a safe place, and you are not a victim of other people’s circumstances.

Do better, be better

How can we adopt these mental approaches to life now, at whatever age, to ensure we find that happiness and joy now, right this minute? Not only will we personally benefit, but so will our leadership. If you see something that needs improving, be proactive and do what you can to change it. We can ALL do something. Sometimes the little things can make the biggest difference. If there’s someone you need to forgive today, don’t delay. Reach out to them today. If there’s someone you’re in conflict with, take time to consider what life is like for them and why they may be reacting to you the way they are. Can you consider their needs in the situation? Try to put aside your feeling of being wronged for a moment, and give yourself the space to breath, releasing you from the oppression of operating in defence mode. Anger, frustration and hurt are all emotions that steal your joy, peace and emotional balance, and distance us from others.

Finding joy in the ordinary

A study in America revealed that older age was one of the factors that created a greater sense of wellbeing. Researchers conducting The Fragility of Life: The Great American Wellbeing Assessment asked people about their sense of purpose and meaning in life. When asked if their lives have a clear sense of purpose, only one in five people strongly agreed. When asked if they have a good sense of what makes their lives meaningful, only one in three strongly agreed. When asked if they’ve discovered a satisfying life purpose, nearly four in ten reported that they hadn’t. I would suggest the results would be very similar if such a study were to be done in Australia & New Zealand – even with the church!

Why do so many people lack purpose, meaning and satisfaction in their lives? It’s a question worth asking about your own life. You don’t have to wait until you get older to achieve a greater sense of wellbeing. Aging well is more than just physical it is also a state of mind. Let’s aim to keep our bodies strong, but our minds stronger. 

Plan to succeed

Do you need greater meaning and fulfilment in your work? Do you know your unique purpose?

Release Leadership can help you uncover what work will lead to satisfaction and joy, rather than drudgery. Our days are limited. Let's not waste a single one!

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