Most research on aging – and the steps we can take to slow or reverse its effects – has focused on physical, tangible measures like genetic differences between healthy and unhealthy populations, and the ways in which living healthfully through regular movement can actually alter our genetic expression. There’s great appeal to focus society’s attention on things that can be purchased and experienced – buy this, eat that, do three set of these – since it provides the sense that health is one resistance band, or one plank, away.
A recent study at Cambridge for example, examined the personality traits of several hundred Italians (they’ve got all of that fabulous food and wine) over the age of 90 and found that they have lots in common, personality-wise. Here’s what we can learn from them – regardless of age or where we live:
BEING POSITIVE LEADS TO LONGER LIFE.
Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. When that’s not possible, they can bring themselves back to positivity quickly. They focus more of their attention on how their past successes can guide them, rather than how their past failures can derail them. They focus on the actionable steps they must take to get them closer to accomplishing goals, rather than on all the distractions and obstacles that get in their way. While some people are simply predisposed to greater levels of optimism than others, just know that optimistic people don’t necessarily experience greater amounts of positive life events – they just do a better job of handling the events in their lives in more optimistic ways.
To become a glass-half-full person, try flipping your “happy switch” in any given moment and see if you can spot the positives: A freezing morning allows you to appreciate the quiet of snow-covered trees on your morning drive to work, a tough run is given an appreciative nod by a fellow runner, a hectic morning is made happier with a hug and kiss from Missy K, arriving home to a gushing leak in your guestroom turns into a remodel you’ve been considering. These positive/creative moments exist; it’s just a matter of taking a minute to get through the upset and see the “happy” in them. Quick and good read: “Stop Worrying and Start Living – what people think of me is none of my business”
WORK ETHIC = GOOD HEALTH
Positive thought pioneer Martin Seligman’s conclusion is that happiness has several dimensions that can be cultivated. In the final stage, “the meaningful life,” he says we find fulfillment by using our strengths for a greater purpose. While business is often synonymous with super long work hours, consistent anxiety and a slew of mental health problems, being busy with meaningful tasks – think both personal and professional projects that are engaging and exciting – has wonderful psychological and physiologic benefits. Our work ethic is naturally strong when we’re doing something that’s challenging – that is, something that requires full concentration and effort to complete. Consider how satisfied – and exhausted – you feel after a long, but productive day at the office, or how much you look forward to workouts at the gym even though they’re immensely difficult. Find ways to integrate more of these.
BEING STUBBORN CAN BE A GOOD THING!
We often associate being stubborn with the aging parent who refuses to give up driving, despite her oblivious lack of good vision, or the spouse who constantly locks himself out of the house yet still chooses not to put a spare key underneath the mat in the garage. But a determination to stay the course and a refusal to change an attitude about something despite what others might say isn’t always a bad thing. The athlete who got cut from the varsity team for two years and then finally made it because he refused to give up is remarkably stubborn. So is the runner who insists on the same trail run each morning in snow and rain and heat and the gloom of night. In these examples, being “hard-headed” turns into inspiration, right? I might even refer to it as “focused” effort. What are your thoughts?
RELATIONSHIPS – MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU THINK.
We are hard-wired for social connection, we know how important it is to live a life with long-term intimate relationships. Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger is the director of the Laboratory of Adult Development at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he’s leading a study on adult happiness that has tracked hundreds of American men for over 75 years. In his TED talk outlining the findings, his main conclusion, beautiful in its simplicity, demonstrated just that: form good relationships and you’ll be all right.
GOOD DECISION MAKING SKILLS – AND NOT CARING ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK IS A GOOD, GOOD THING.
We ARE social beings. And as such, we’re also powerfully invested in others’ judgments of us and the decisions we make. Many of us are challenged to make even the smallest decisions – say, choosing a restaurant for a social gathering or buying a new golf club – because of a fear of what others might think. This type of worry is nothing but a drain……
Instead, try being more committed to the decisions that make you happy than the ones that are “right or acceptable to others.” Imagine the freedom you’d feel if you boldly decide to wear that “dangerous” new outfit to the gym that makes you feel strong, regardless of whether or not it’s been in the latest magazine, or to spend time with the people that make you laugh, regardless of their popularity. The words showered upon our grandkiddos are just as true, and certainly more difficult, for Super Agers to follow: Be true to yourself. As our feisty Italian friends show us, your life won’t only be happier, but also healthier and longer, for it.
What do you think is important to aging well and being happier? Do any of these tips resonate with you? Let me know. I’d love to hear your story.
Live well, Laugh often and Drink wine with great friends!