Aging Gracefully

Enjoy a Vital, Fulfilling Life Regardless of Age

A quick web search on the term “graceful aging” brings up phrases like:

“Combat the signs of aging…”
“Who said that we have to age…”
“Defy the aging process…”

More often than not, aging is viewed as something to be fought off for as long as possible. Regardless of how liberated we’ve become, many women and men still experience aging as a threat to their sense of self worth and quality of life. It is pretty much expected that middle age will bring a “crisis” and far too often we hear seniors lament that “I thought these were supposed to be the golden years.” Whole industries are built on the attempt to stay young – from hair colors to face lifts to Viagra.

Women come into their greatness after menopause.

There is a place for all of these things, of course, but if your reaction to the aging process has you racing to beat time, I’d like to ask you to take a deep breath, relax, and give yourself some space to shift into a different perspective on aging.

What if aging were equated with getting better rather than worse? What if you lived in a culture which reveres the elderly and views them as a repository of power and wisdom? What if it was understood that women really come into their greatness after menopause? Since how we age has so much to do with our attitudes and beliefs, such a shift in perspective could make a world of difference.

Aging Well in the Culture of Youth

To age “gracefully” in a culture which idolizes youth requires inner strength and wisdom. Hopefully we can ask questions together about our common notions and experiences with aging, so that we can not only do away with some myths about aging which limit our quality of life, but also discover some of the “perks” of aging that we often ignore. There are lots of role models who have led the way for us. Did you know, for example, that:

Martha Graham danced professionally until she was 76?
Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals at the age of 78?
Georgia O’Keefe continued painting well into her 90s?

Vitality in “later life” is not just for the famous. Undoubtedly everyone knows at least one person who is living a vital, fulfilling life “despite” their age. This is really the way it should be – life should become better as we age.

Two Basic Requirements of Graceful Aging

What I’ve discovered is that there are two “basic requirements” of graceful aging. To borrow from the “Serenity Prayer”, graceful aging requires the “serenity to accept the things we cannot change; courage to change the things we can; and wisdom to know the difference.”  Certainly acceptance of aging is a key to aging gracefully – but which of the changes that commonly come with age are the “things we cannot change” and which are the “things we can change?”

What You Can and Cannot Change — Importance of Relaxation

These two major requirements of successful aging – accepting the aging process and not accepting what we can change — may at first seem contradictory.  Sometimes success in life involves the ability embrace the paradox that when we accept life at it is at the moment, it paradoxically opens a doorway for positive change. A common example of this is the couple who finally “get pregnant” when they’ve given up and decide to adopt a child.

The bottom line, as I see it, is the ability to relax with whatever challenges us at any given time and that includes the changes aging brings. When we are relaxed, we are open to different ways of looking at things.

Relaxation brings us out of the “fight or flight” mode that causes us to act impulsively, and gives us more ability to reflect on things. Instead of running out to buy some new anti-aging product, we can spend some time examining our fears and learning whether they are based in reality or on some cultural programming that we’d be better off ignoring. (Read Debunking 5 Common Myths about Aging.)

What We Can Change — The Role of Attitude and Lifestyle

It’s been discovered that attitude has an enormous role in how we age. Much of the decline that people experience with aging comes about due to the belief that decline in function and quality of life is part and parcel of aging. In addition, many of the problems of age are not due to the process of aging itself, but rather due to the effects of a lifetime of stress and poor health habits.

It’s never too late to change the two most important ingredients to graceful aging – attitude and lifestyle.

What We Cannot Change — Coming to Terms with Our Mortality

One thing we absolutely cannot change is the fact that every day brings us closer to death. This one fact alone may account for a great deal of our difficulty with aging.  As soon as we see signs of aging, we are reminded that this body is eventually going to die. As we age, we come face to face with our mortality, and to deal with this we are thrown upon our spiritual resources. Our “spiritual health” may well be measured by how we face the fact of our mortality.

With the rest of the things we cannot change, there is more of a gray area, as we are only now starting to make scientific discoveries about the aging process. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that aging will bring change.  With menopause, both male and female, we begin to live with a different hormonal environment. The appearance and function of our body changes and requires that we adapt. Our roles change dramatically as our children grow older and leave home, and we become grandparents rather than parents. At some point, many of us become parents to our parents as they enter their final years.

Growing older also brings more loss. Not only is there loss of many aspects of being young, more people we know die. This may be one of the most difficult aspects of aging.  If we haven’t learned to grieve earlier in life, the all important task of learning to live with loss must be learned to avoid psychological and health problems.  (Read Living with Grief.)

Finding a Balance

Finally, graceful aging means finding a balance between acceptance of the inevitability of aging and doing what we can to remain vital and healthy as long as possible. Once again, we emphasize the importance of relaxing. Acceptance involves relaxation into life and the ability to flow with change. When we are relaxed, we stop fighting the inevitable. At the same time, relaxation is a key to better health and greater vitality.

Read Debunking 5 Common Myths about Aging.

Visit our Relaxation Room for a Relaxation Break now!

 

Comments

Aging Gracefully — 20 Comments

  1. Can I use the article for publishing it on our web site meant for seniors? Your web site name will be displayed. In India, now the major problem is increased life span, so a 60 years person is not old, as he/she has 80+ parents alive and has to look after them. In my own example, i have two daughter in laws and grand son, but I myself am still daughter in law of 80 years mother in law, who needs my attention, so at this age also I can not enjoy rather live my life as i want it. Thanks for good web site. – smita

  2. I’m glad you’re enjoying the website, smita. You are very welcome to use the article on your website (with our site name as you stated). You bring up an important challenge that we have with people living longer. Thank you for adding your comment.

  3. This is really an excellent article, giving the positive side of ageing.Most people do look upon aging as a curse but we need not let it be so.

  4. Harpreet, there are so many positive sides to aging and it’s very sad that older people are not appreciated and honored in the way they once were. It’s only in recent years that we have become so “youth-oriented” and it’s really a great loss to all of us! Thank you for your comment.

  5. i am 77 yrs old and keep my business open, part time only, because of a decrease in energy. i simply cannot work a full day any longer. i would like to know if i am missing something i can do for my physical/mental well being and found your web site very informative. i am coping with the changes aging brings as best i can, some days better than others. i fear being left alone most of all. My clients fill a big part of my connection with the world, and i have a few new friends (to replace the old friends as they die or move)
    perhaps this subject could be covered as well. I get depressed about once a week and wor hard to be positive.

  6. georgia, certainly the fear of being left alone is very common as we age. We’ll give some thought to addressing this. Continuing to cultivate friendships and perhaps becoming involved in a group activity with others with a similar interest can help. The most important relationship, of course, is the one with ourselves. The more intimate we become with ourselves, the more we can love and cherish ourselves, the better!

  7. Google is amazing. I typed in “acceptance of aging” and was transported to your site. Pretty powerful stuff. I’m on a quest to accept what I cannot change, stall, or avoid. I suspect I am not alone. Thanks so much for this post.

  8. You are welcome, Bobbi. I’m continually amazed at how much we can still change as we advance in age, and yet I do think it’s the acceptance of what we can’t change that brings the most peace of mind…

  9. I recently went with a group to Japan. I was the oldest person and it was hard to overcome the alienation I felt from most of my trip mates who were younger than myself. I am finding alot of people seem uncomfortable with older people, even though I feel I keep myself as fit, and healthy as I can.

  10. Kathy, I think it’s true that there is a certain amount of “ageism” in our culture, but I suspect that your discomfort mostly came from your expectation that younger people will be uncomfortable with you. If you possibly can, let go of thoughts about your age and what others might think!

  11. I also typed in “accepting aging” and found this site. While I agree that as a society, our collective attitudes about aging could stand some revision, I’m still having trouble with the undeniable “down side” of aging: your body DOES steadily deteriorate over time. You increasingly DO have far less time in front of you than behind you. etc. I feel that I “accept” these things, in the sense that I know them to be true, but that is not the same thing as being at peace with them. I think that is the major obstacle to most people coming to grips with this subject (whatever age they may be)

  12. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, steve. Yes, I agree, there is so much we lose as we age — time ahead and possibilities become less, and the body does decline. There’s a lot to come to grips with! I feel part of coming to grips is allowing ourselves to grieve these losses. I do think finding peace with aging is a challenge and I’d love to hear how different people have managed to do this.

  13. I wonder if trying to be what we are not just becomes very focused as we age….accepting it and working with what we truly have, experiences, history, wisdom would be such a relief…. I’ve lost people I’ve cared for throughout my life including my beloved dad as a youngster and it’s taught me to live it and not expect it to last. Then again I seem to spend most of my time with youngsters! There’s so much out there always!

  14. I was searching for something positive about the aging process when I came across your site. I am trying to accept the fact that I am getting older, the fact that I was always able to get by on my looks is not an option anymore..I kind of feel lost, I am in college with a lot of young people, and I just so wish I wasn’t turning into the old hag I see in the mirror everyday. It’s so depressing,

  15. vanita, It is so sad that so many women feel this way. Older people can have a beauty a younger person can’t. It comes from making peace with oneself, and hopefully you can take this stage in your life as a challenge to find that peace. Best wishes.

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  17. Like Vanita, I also got by on my looks but now, over 70 the sagging, bagging has taken over. I have become fixated on a once attractive, but asymetrical face which now, because of the difference in facial supportive structure and therefore more sagging on one side, and shifting of lower teeth, has exacerbated the unequal appearance. I am ashamed to say that this has taken over my life and sent me into a deep depression/anxiety. I realize that there are so many more important things in life, but I don’t seem to be able to get past this — and I am afraid of surgery. How do I make peace with this?

  18. Phyllis, It’s all about self-love — true self-love which is unconditional. Maybe a good counsellor can help you learn this. That would probably be a good idea, especially as you say you are in a deep depression. Surgery isn’t the answer! Best wishes.

  19. What a great website! I’ve been struggling with aging and “kicking and screaming” at each new wrinkle and sagging skin. I want to “age gracefully” as I admire those who do. I think having a good sense of humor must help too!

  20. Hello. I’m twenty years old, so my comment might seem a little ‘out of place’, but I’d just like to say that I really admire the message that this site is putting out there. I’ve had a fear of aging and of dying ever since I was small, and my fears have been increasing over the past couple of years, as people my own age seem to be purposefully ignoring the fact that they one day (with any luck!) will themselves be old, and, even though they hide it with jokes, always seem repulsed about anything that has to do with people over fifty.
    Ageism is one form of discrimination I find particularly repulsive: I can’t stand the way most ‘young’ people talk of older people as a sub group, as though they were animals in a zoo, nor can I stand the taboo, condescendance and political correctness that surrounds sexuality and intellect past 60.
    However, even though I completely agree that life is short enough as it is without society doing its best to convice us that the last 10 or 20 years or so of it are barely worth living, I can’t deny that getting old is something that frightens me immensely, not least because I’m very worried about how people will consider and treat people my age, especially in these times when youth is worshipped more than ever. It’s also a bit embarassing to admit that, even though I completely condemn the image of beauty that advertising is giving, I get very worried at times about the loss of my looks, and even more about the looks of my partner. Its just so painful to imagine that someone I consider to be so amazingly beautiful might one day look differently. I really hope that as I get older, I can manage to apply the messages of well-being that are transmitted on this site, and be as wise as all those oldies out there who know how to live life to da full a thousand time better than any young people I know! If anyone has any advice, or any personal anecdoctes to share about how they dealt with these same fears, I’d be really grateful.

    Thanks for listening :)

    Christie