Aging is seen as mostly negative in our society and there is a high emphasis on staying young. Youth is being portrayed as the be-and-end-all, the prime of our life, a state that needs to be extended as long as possible, and once signs of aging can no longer be denied, it is all downhill from there. However, this totally goes against my experience.
I am now 47, according to our society’s narrative, I am “over the hill” as my youthful appearance is waning and yet I am the happiest, most content and productive I have ever been. I feel like I am actually finally figuring out how to live life well. I love getting older, I love where I am at and I can’t wait to see what is ahead. I actually think the best is yet to come!
This makes me wonder where this anti-aging narrative is coming from? Is this all the product of a marketing machine? Of a beauty industry that is making millions off creating insecurities?
There are cultures where old age is revered, where it is understood that with an increased number of years lived, there is the potential for a person having accumulated great wisdom and insight, of being able to be a guide to others, to share with them the secrets of a life well lived.
My hope for our western culture is to again get in touch with this insight, our society will be better for it.
Here are some concrete tips on how you can learn to embrace your aging process as an adventurous journey that can be embraced and celebrated.
Choose to change your internal story about aging and refuse to be brainwashed by pop culture.
The story you tell yourself about aging and what it means to you, will determine how you see yourself, treat yourself, and engage with the world around you.
And here we are, up against some strong stereotypes. In our culture agism is highly prevalent. Increasing in age seems to be automatically equated to ill health, mental decline, loneliness, loss of productivity, passivity, and loss of relevance in society.
In her research publication entitled “Stereotypes of Aging: Their Effects on the Health of Older Adults” in the Journal of Geriatrics, Rylee E. Dionigi calls those stereotypes “unchallenged beliefs”. I really like that. Let’s start challenging those beliefs!
If you hold a defeatist belief about aging, you won’t be able to explore the full potential of this area of your life. You will have given up – and given in – to those unchallenged beliefs before you ever gave yourself a chance to explore what is possible for you!
For example, if you hold a toxic belief about getting older like, “My best days are over, from now on it’s only downhill. Why even bother trying to stay healthy and fit, it’s only a matter of time before I get sick anyway. Others look down on me because of my age and I can’t compete with young people. I can’t stand how my body is changing, and despise the wrinkles in my face”, then you will most likely become depressed, passive, and resigned.
Instead, if you choose a pro-aging belief like, “The best is yet to come, I am learning and growing every day. I fully embrace and cherish my body and appreciate it as the miracle it is. I do all I can to keep myself healthy and physically strong. It is a privilege to grow old and I will cherish and make the best out of every moment”, then there is a much higher likelihood of you staying positive, and invested in yourself and life.
Choose to love your aging body radically and fiercely, don’t let anybody talk down to it, yourself included!
I think nobody in our society will be able to love their aging body without a good amount of stubbornness and determination. It is a choice to no longer be willing to give into limiting messages, but to take your faith into your own hands, and radically decide that you have a flippin’ awesome body, no matter what age. I invite you to get a bit rebellious and pissed off, have your own back and don’t give anybody else the power to tell you otherwise.
Moving forward, refuse to make any negative comments about your aging body, not to yourself nor anybody else. Also, clearly let others know that it is not ok for them to make any put-down comments regarding your body, and if necessary, put down some boundaries.
Treat your body like the marvel it is and love it fiercely. After all, your body is a miracle! It has a heart that beats over 115 000 times a day, a lung that takes over 17 000 breaths a day, a nose that can detect around one trillion smells, and a brain that has approximately as many neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxies.
Your body is your avatar that allows you to experience life and be an agent in this world: to dance to your favourite song, breath in the scent of fresh air right after it rained, slurp your spaghetti, have hot sex, smell garden flowers, build sandcastles on the beach, bake bread, and put a bandaid on your child’s finger. Show it some gratitude and treat it as the treasure it is!
When negative thoughts arise, practice cognitive defusion, which is an amazing cognitive-behavioral mental health tool from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that will help you to not act on thoughts that are counter-productive. If you want to learn how to do that, check out my blog on “The Power of Cognitive Defusion: How to Let Useless Thoughts Go and Improve Mental Health”.
And, at least once a day, look in the mirror, find your eyes and say out loud, “I love and embrace you fully – you are a marvel!”
Look for positive role models that inspire you and remind you of what is possible
When it comes to aging gracefully, people that inspire me are my mother, who has embraced her grey hair since its arrival and whom I have never heard say anything negative about getting older, but instead has consistently shown gratitude and appreciation for what her body allows her to do. As I write this, I realize how pivotal she has been in modeling a pro-aging attitude for me.
I feel inspired by authors and teachers Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, who until the end of their lives stayed thought leaders, teaching and inspiring generations to come.
I feel inspired by gorgeous Ernestine Shepherd who is now 83 and the world’s oldest female bodybuilder, and by Ida Keeling who at 100-years-old ran the 100-meter dash in 1 minute and 17.33 seconds to set the world record for women age 100 to 104.
I feel inspired by attorney Gloria Allred, although a controversial figure to some, she keeps giving it her all, fighting for women’s rights at age 78.
I feel inspired by Desmond Tutu, who at 88 years old keeps being an agent of peace, promoting forgiveness and reconciliation worldwide.
Who are your role models? Who inspires you to embrace age with gusto and determination, to stay engaged and squeeze every last drop out of each moment you have the privilege to live? Find them, and allow them to encourage you and to help you remember that age is just a number, your attitude determines every moment how engaged and vibrant you are, no matter your biological age.
Celebrate and focus on the advantages of aging
I just love the internal transformation that is taking place as I advance in age, as life experiences keep teaching me about what truly matters to me, refine my character, and smooth my edges.
Today, I feel at ease with myself, I have learned to appreciate and like myself, and am expressing more authentically than ever before the essence of who I am. With each year lived, my inner clarity and strength expand, my heart increasingly softens, and my capacity to love and accept others grow.
Another precious advantage of aging, as your body and your physical strength diminish, is that your awareness might increase that your time on this gorgeous planet is finite.
For me, that has led to a sense of urgency and determination, to want to make each moment count, and a great appreciation for each day I get to live. I want to leave this world “empty”, with no regrets, having given and done all I could to make this world a better place. That to me is a life well lived.
What is your definition of a life well lived? If you want to explore that a bit further, being in touch with your own mortality can be a very helpful tool.
A good exercise can be to imagine yourself at the end of your life and what questions you would ask yourself that would tell you that you have lived your life well. For me, that would be questions like, “Do I have any regrets?”, “Have I followed the guidance of my heart?”, “Have I loved those I love hard, do my choices reflect that and do they know it?”, “Have I lived a life I can be content with, do I respect my choices?” What are yours?
If you want to figure that out, these two books can be helpful in that process: “The 5 Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die” by John Izzo and “The Top 5 Regrets of The Dying” by Bonnie Ware.What I also really like about the process of getting older, is that it invites me to move away from all that is fleeting to what will last. No more BS.
In my life, I have come to the conclusion that the only thing that stands the test of time is love. Am I loving – and that includes respecting, encouraging, forgiving, understanding – myself and others to the best of my abilities. That is what I want to focus on.
Be unapologetic about your age and own it
Next time you are asked about your age, stand up straight, look that person in the eyes, and name your age proudly. Say, “Thanks for asking, I am 47”. Aging is a privilege! Many people will never make it to your age, but you have and you can choose to celebrate that and be grateful for it.
Hiding your age, or anything else, can be a sign of shame. Shame’s underlying toxic message is that, “You are not ok”, and in this case, “Your age is not ok”. Shame is a very painful emotion to experience, I actually believe it is the most painful emotion of all.
Dr. Brene Brown, who has researched shame extensively, says in her TED talk, “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive”.
As you choose to let go of secrecy around your age and self-judgment, and meet yourself with empathy, self-acceptance, and self-appreciation, the shame connected to your age will disappear and you will feel empowered and liberated, and, the cherry on top, you will be a pro-aging model to others!
Stay engaged: We desperately need the wisdom of our elders, we need you!
I observe an often unspoken expectation in our society that at a certain age – around retirement mostly – people check out of being actively involved in shaping our society, and the focus shifts to playing golf, knitting sweaters, living down South and travelling. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with any of those activities per se, they are all fun, however, what I find alarming is that underlying assumption that as a person ages they have no longer a meaningful and essential contribution to make in our society.
When I look at people who stayed involved and engaged into high age, which are to me, some of most inspiring people I mentioned earlier, like Maya Angelou or Desmond Tutu, I marvel at their depths of insight and wisdom and the guidance they can provide to me.
That kind of knowledge can only be grown through many decades lived, and our world needs it more than ever as wars ravage our planet, socio-economic injustice increases, and humankind’s future existence stands in question as we have pushed our planet to the brink.
Stay engaged as you grow older! Our world needs your wisdom that you have accumulated throughout your life, you play an essential role in making positive change possible. Part of this conviction is motivating me to write this blog, I want to share what I have learned
As you implement these steps and learn to embrace your aging process with gusto and curiosity, my wish for you is that your self-love and self-acceptance increase, your inner clarity and strength expand, you arrive at a renewed appreciation of aging, and you can say with architect and writer Frank Lloyd Wright, “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes”.
Stereotypes of Aging: Their Effects on the Health of Older Adults, Journal of Geriatrics, by Rylee E. Dionigi, 2015
The 5 Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo (2007)The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departed by Bonnie Ware (2012)
This post is part of the blog series "Creating Happiness", your inspiration to promote positive change in your life.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ms Daniela Beer-Becker, Psychologist
Daniela is a regular contributor to the Blake Psychology blog and author of the "Creating Happiness" series.
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