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.
Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychologist and researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill, makes a compelling case for “positivity” in her book of the same name (published in 2009 by Three Rivers Press). “Your mild and fleeting pleasant states are far more potent than you think,” Fredrickson writes. “We know now that they alter your mind and body in ways that can literally help you create your best life.”
This positivity can be a particularly potent factor in the aging process. According to Fredrickson’s research, “Scientists have shown that people over seventy attend to and savor positivity more than do those with fewer years and wrinkles. This may be the wisdom of old age: a focus on positivity can make late life fulfilling, despite the inevitable aches, pains, and memory loss.” Indeed, looked at in this light, positivity may be relevant not only to those seniors who actively prefer the circumstances they find themselves in during their later years but to any senior who has weathered life’s bumps and tapped into his or her own fundamental stores of resilience.
Through the use of a test that poses simple questions asking subjects to look over the previous 24 hours and rank themselves in categories regarding emotions such as fear, anxiety, humiliation, self-consciousness, optimism, wonder, gratitude and love, Fredrickson discovered that experiencing positive emotions versus negative emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio leads people to a tipping point beyond which they naturally become more resilient to adversity.
Can you increase your positivity? Absolutely. You can find out your own positivity ratio, or simply understand more about what it measures, at www.Positivityratio.com. Once you understand the basic premise, it will be easy to identify thought patterns, behaviors, and other practices you can alter or expand upon to make your positivity ratio closer to where you’d like it to be.
Is your parents’ or older loved one’s positivity ratio higher than yours?
©Circle of Life Partners™