Today’s shift in thought concerning seniors’ capabilities was pre-empted by spiritual thinker, Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote more than a century ago about “the everlasting grandeur and immortality of development, power, and prestige” which are part of our spiritual being.
These days we hear of Australians in their 80s and older, who compete in major sports events. And many who are still working into their 70s, 80s and 90s, their occupations varying from cloakroom attendant to running a cancer research centre.
It’s almost as if they think they might live forever!
And why not! Laugh if you will, but this idea of the impact of what we expect bears a little more consideration. It was found in a study that “how we think about ageing” has a greater impact on our longevity than do gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness or how healthy we are.
Seniors Week in NSW is the perfect occasion to celebrate the enormous contributions that our more seasoned citizens make in our communities.
It couldn’t be a better time for all generations to think more deeply about how perceptions of ageing can have an impact on their health and longevity. Too many jokes about granny and her walker might just shorten your own life span.
Perhaps we should instead celebrate senior achievers and champion both their accomplishments and the qualities they express. This may lengthen our lives by planting the idea that their victories over age will be just as attainable for ourselves!
A Journal of Physiology study found, “positive self-perceptions can prolong life expectancy. Expectations about the inevitability of physical decline with advancing years may be incorrect and that how we age is, to a large degree, up to us.”
If it’s up to us, why not envisage for your older self a life of volunteering or enthusiastic service, increased tolerance and humour, a wealth of experience and the wisdom to tackle any problem. Cherishing this hope at all ages will tend to lessen any inclination to belittle the elderly.
And understanding why we have grounds for such hope can help avert the wave of panic that might otherwise threaten to wash over us in our 40s or 50s in response to the threat of ageing, or when we come face to face with our own mortality as a result of the loss of a close loved one.
Neurologist Dr Peter Whitehouse, author of the thought-provoking book “The Myth of Alzheimer’s,” adds a frequently overlooked aspect to successful ageing. He describes ageing as our “unique ability to grow spiritually and mentally.”
The way I see it, such spiritual growth is key. I’ve found that a developing consciousness of our present spiritual nature – made in the “image and likeness of God”, as the Bible puts it – helps to extinguish fears about ageing that grow out of a more material sense of ourselves.
I like how the Bible corroborates the scientific approach of needing to change our expectations, but points to a deeper means for doing so than positive thinking. It says, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing.” (John 6:63)
As we understand this, we might be less enticed by the latest body-focussed fads to reverse the ageing process.
Eddy’s summation in Science and Health gives practical advice, “Life and goodness are immortal. Let us then shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight.”
Time to review your expectations for the future?