Positive Attitude Extends Life
by Nancy Shohet West
One day after taking my two children to visit an elderly neighbor, I asked them to imagine what it must be like to be his age.
“Frustrating,” said my son. “He can’t walk fast or ride a bike or do sports. So he’s probably not having much fun.”
“Lonely,” said my daughter. “He doesn’t have any children in his house.”
Well, it’s possible they were both right. But it’s also possible they were both wrong – or that even if they correctly identified the man’s circumstances – limited mobility, solitary household – they miscalculated his feelings about it.
Stanford University professor Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center of Longevity, notes that for many adults, contentment and pleasure in life actually increase as they age.
The possible reasons for this are manifold. As my children surmised, elderly people face circumstances that may look to the rest of us like obstacles: increasing levels of physical disability, a decrease in energy, less human interaction than younger people often have in their lives. But as today’s population ages, many members are also reporting some surprising “up sides” to the experience. Some who attacked the career climb with a vengeance in their earlier adulthood are finally finding the time for hobbies, interests and intellectual enrichment. Seniors who opt to sell family homes and downsize often enjoy freedom from home maintenance and yard work. And while having close family for support would certainly be considered a benefit in most circumstances, older people find it enormously liberating to be done with all the anxieties and uncertainties that accompany parenting.
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