My father always said that getting older is much better than the alternative. To rephrase the sentiment, when my patients bemoan their advancing age (and this often starts in their thirties) I tell them that we all have a turn at being a particular age -- unless we don't, which is not a terrific option. One of my favorite axioms is from a good friend who opined that "old" is always 15 years older than your present age. Since my patients range in age from their mid-twenties to their mid-nineties, I can attest to the truth of that.
What most people are really concerned about are all the associations we have with aging, and usually that would be a slow decline into feebleness and drooling insensibility. The good news is that our whole paradigm around that picture has changed radically over the past few decades. There has been a shift even in the past 10 or 15 years. As I've often advised my patients, anyone who is a toddler right now may very well grow up thinking grandmothers can be a blast to spend time with -- not to mention, really hot-looking. I surely have a bunch of those in my practice and they are an inspiration to us all!
Here in Sarasota where people more often than not come to have a ball rather than to fade away as they get older, we have a perfect observatory for examining what is at work in aging fabulously versus not so fabulously. Let's start to take a look.
This is not a Pollyanna-ish thing, but acknowledging its importance is absolutely fundamental. On a physiologic level, things work a bit like this: If you routinely see the glass as half empty, not only are the endorphins ("happy" peptides that are secreted in the brain) not being secreted, but there's something else going on as well. Negative thoughts actually can place the body in a state of inflammation. This in turn causes aging of the cells in the body. Life is full of stressors for all of us. This can be anything from a careless remark that hurts to an entire range of family problems, a health issue or someone trying to destroy our life and/or our career. Remember that there are always things over which we have no control. We certainly have no control over what other people do. What we absolutely do have control over is how we respond to it. And this is where we have to be completely honest with ourselves and decide what that response is going to be. Given a perfectly normal period of anger or hurt, ultimately we have a choice between crawling under the bed and sucking our thumb, being mad at the world or dusting ourselves off and moving forward. Moving forward generally involves either attempting to rectify the situation or accepting it. Books are written on this, professionals are trained to help people with it and there is always at least someone who will be on your side. But ultimately, it's just really your call.
I remember during a particularly devastating time in my own life (I'm writing a book about it), I decided to take stock of it all. I bought one of those little journals with the blank pages. It had a muted pink linen cover with a beautiful botanical drawing on the front. This was to be my "grateful book". I began listing all the things for which I was grateful, even though I was feeling crushed by life at the time. Each entry was numbered: 1.I have a 3-digit IQ 2.I have the use of both arms 3.I have the use of both legs 4. There is a ceiling over my head 5.It is attached to a ceiling over a kitchen 6.In which there is a refrigerator 7.With food in it….You get the picture. Before I knew it, there were over a hundred items on that list. I just made it an exercise to review that list every morning. I pass this on because it was immensely helpful and so healing that it compelled one friend to say, "You're just like one of those Bozo the Clown toys. You get punched and then just pop up again." "Gee, Bozo the Clown," I replied, "I haven't had a compliment like that from a man in ages!"
That exercise was difficult at the time, but it was good medicine. More later.