Gratitude for Getting Old

Portrait of excited senior man in sunglasses smiling at camera while standing under the confetti and holding cake

“It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old.” — Jules Renard

Conversation topics center on the weather or latest ailments. Getting up elicits grunts and groans. Birthday cards poke fun about impending death.  Dinner after 6 p.m. seems tiring.

Face it: you are getting older.

While the adage that age is just a number may be true, 87% of Americans express anxiety about aging, but aging can be a joyous and wonderous experience.  Here are five ways to combat “FOGO” or the “fear of getting old.”

1. Trust that you will get happier with time. Polls of people at different ages in 149 countries show that happiness ratings rise gradually and steadily from age 50 into the 90s. This increase in happiness is due in great part to a shift in what brings happiness; older adults tend to take more pleasure and delight in daily life experiences, like visiting with a friend or having a good meal at a restaurant. So, expect to find more joy in your future.

2. Keep active to stay independent. Decline in physical ability is identified as the biggest fear with aging, followed by dementia and chronic disease. To combat each of these possibilities, research encourages everyone to be physically and mentally active. The United States Surgeon General has reported that physical activity in older adults helps with chronic disabling conditions, reduces anxiety and depression, and can support healthy muscles and joints for independent living. Moving can be as simple as talking nightly walks. Trying new hobbies is a great way to keep the mind engaged.

3. Celebrate your wisdom and lived experience. Those turning 50 this year have seen the end of a cold war with the former Soviet Union, the emergence of the world wide web, the switch from landlines to cell phones, the mapping of the human genome, terrorist attacks on September 11, and the election of the first black president—just to name a few events. Those older than 50 have witnessed so much more. Recognize the potential—and perhaps even profit—in sharing stories and knowledge. Juhee Jhalani, Ph.D., a New York City-based clinical psychologist, encourages journaling and documenting lessons learned. “Maybe you can make it a ritual on your birthday to share your wisdom from the year with your family and friends” or even turn it into a blog or YouTube channel.

4. Create a legacy for symbolic immortality. In thinking about your life, what makes you proud? Is there anything else you want to accomplish? How do you want to be remembered? A legacy can be monetary, but it also can be traditions, inspirations, and opportunities. Research has shown that leaving a legacy can neutralize the negative effects of death anxiety while creating a symbolic immortality. A wonderful way to start is to read this Kiplinger article here about some unique legacy components to include in estate planning.

5. Release the stress of aging by being here now. Much of the fear of getting old is rooted in an unknown future. Try shifting the focus to the present. Mindfulness meditation has been proven to reduce stress. Some research suggests that meditation may slow the rate of cellular aging. Take a seat, pay attention to your breath, and when your attention wanders, return to the breath. Practicing mindfulness can help relieve anxious thoughts, particularly useful when confronting something as inevitable as getting older.

If we are lucky, we get to grow old. So, reframe “FOGO” to “GOGO,” or the “gift of getting old.”

Source: IlluminAge with information from Pfizer, Psychology Today, CDC, Smithsonian Magazine, LiveStrong, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, NIH, APA.

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