The Art of Aging Gracefully
Age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter - Mark Twain
One gentleman was looking forward to retirement. His professional life was quite hectic and he wanted to rest, relax and read. When he actually retired, he was extremely happy. He enrolled into a nearby library, and soon got into the reading habit. He loved reading fiction, but had not found as much time for this hobby as he would have liked till now. So now he felt he was in Heaven!
Things were fine for a couple of months. But soon all that time on hand started to bother him. He was used to a hectic life, he found too much time on hand to be actually boring. He started to get on his wife’s nerves, by directing her in the kitchen and suddenly discovered housekeeping. He was in fact getting underfoot of all.
Then he decided he needed to work at least part time, and soon got himself a job as a consultant. He would go to work thrice a week, for only half day. He was getting very less money, but the preparation of going to work, and returning from there took his whole day for three days. The rest of the week he read, went on walks, visited temples, and generally relaxed. He felt good, because he retired due to mandatory age rule, not because he was physically or mentally forced to. A vibrant man, in his sixties, found it difficult to rest!
Another senior citizen had planned his retirement. He in fact took early retirement from work. He planned to visit places; spend time with relatives who were scattered all over the country; he planned dinner with his school/ college friends; he enrolled in some volunteer service organization; even started a sort of library at home and encouraged the neighborhood children and youngsters to drop in and borrow books. He in fact encouraged the youngsters to spend time talking to each other. This way his days were filled with a variety of activities. He felt young enough to enjoy and old enough to advice and guide the youngsters.
So different people organize their time differently post retirement. The fact that one will retire from a profession at a particular age, not many people acknowledge. There are people who identify with their work so much that retirement is akin to death. They feel a loss of identity, feel depressed and feel people do not respect them. Especially the family members. As long as they earn, they feel they are worthy. So many of them seek employment after retirement, to keep their sense of self intact.
I happened to attend an interactive workshop for senior citizens. The guest speaker, a Cognitive Behavior Therapist, addressed the audience. He spoke about aging gracefully. During the course of the session, he asked the participants how they spend their time, what their leisure time activities were. Many came up with listening to music, going to places of worship, meeting friends, going for walks, etc. Some spoke of volunteering and helping in organizing group activities.
But majority of them spoke of filling their time, and how they were not dependent on anyone for any support. They spoke of living alone, doing their own cooking and going out in the evenings. One elderly gentleman was especially proud of the fact that he was healthy and was not dependent on anyone, not even his children. His wife had passed away, several years ago.
What the participants were stating was that they had turned their leisure time activities into full time activity. Many spoke of doing things for themselves, and supporting their spouses.
What do they do to grow? What are they learning at this age? Learning does not end, it is an on going process. So have they picked up any new skill, have they joined any class, made any new friends? Not one said so. Many continued being consultants, within their own professions. Many taught in business colleges, but themselves continued to have their rigid beliefs. Many gave the attitude, being older, they were entitled to more time to talk!
The speaker emphasized the need for physical activity, otherwise it will lead to mobility issues. Even if joints creaked or hurt, senior citizens need to move around. Also they need to build on their social skills. Most tend to withdraw and reduce their social contacts. The more people they talk to, interact with, the better is their mental and physical health.
The audience were motivated to take care of their physical health with exercises, learn new skills because the brain does have plasticity, learning makes one feel young, and also make sure their emotional health is not compromised. They need to learn to accommodate young people, be in touch with them. They can learn new things from the younger generation.
One young man said his grandmother took special interest in architecture, since he had graduated to become an architect. She would read articles and had animated conversations with him on various aspects of architecture. It was her sheer interest in wanting to be a part of her grandson’s life that she developed this interest and also went about educating herself. So learning a new skill can happen at any age.
Humor is another way to age gracefully. When you laugh loud, you are working all parts of your body as well as your mind. And when happy hormones flow through your system, you cannot feel old.
One can learn to age gracefully. Slowing down of one’s activity levels, increasing tolerance, being aware of one’s health, if possible earning to keep one’s self worth intact, imparting one’s knowledge/ skills to the younger generation, being part of groups, etc can all enrich the soul. Physical abilities can diminish, but mental/ social/ emotional/ moral/ spiritual abilities need not diminish. In fact these areas can grow and this can benefit the younger generation.
Age is a state of the mind. You are as young as you wish to be. Because the soul does not age, only the physical body. One can keep dementia at bay by involving in stimulating activities, and being surrounded by loving family and friends. People should want to spend time with you, not want you to leave this world!
You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old - George Burns.