“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” —Mark Twain
As I discussed in my last article, aging in our culture can be challenging not only due to the inevitable losses associated with changes in our bodies, minds, and lifestyles, but also because we are taught to fight it and defy it. This is a losing battle, and it fritters away our most precious resource—our energy. How can we age gracefully, accept the changes that occur, and even embrace the process?
My first suggestion would be to accept that aging is a necessary part of the human condition. When we spend our energy fighting something—especially when it can’t be changed—we exhaust ourselves and dwell in a pretty negative place. The Buddha has been quoted as saying, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” In other words, accepting the loss and pain that accompany older age is healthy and necessary. But don’t avoid it or dwell on it, either—use your energy to enjoy the moment at hand, and appreciate what you have. Think for a moment how much energy (and time and money!) you’ll save when you aren’t trying to fight gravity, apply the latest anti-aging serum, or force yourself to live on tofu. Stay active, but choose activities that feed you in and of themselves rather than dutifully plodding through those reps at the gym (unless you truly love them).
Another thing I suggest is to cultivate a habit of observing the good things in your life. As a matter of practice, I invite my psychotherapy clients to start our sessions by bringing attention to the things they feel good about (most of the session will not be dedicated to what’s “bad” or wrong). Taking the time to appreciate those positives—from the tiny to the huge—creates a counterbalance to the negativity that fills our heads most of the time and can even shake up our brain chemistry. But don’t be surprised if it’s difficult at first. It takes time to develop a new habit.
And truly … aren’t there good things about growing older? For instance, you don’t really care as much about what people think, so you feel freer to speak your mind. You have often learned to pick your battles and recognize when to let go. Though the excitement of young love and infatuation may seem a distant memory, you no longer have to be a slave to adolescent urges; instead, you can enjoy a quiet evening with a good book without feeling the world is passing you by. And so much more.
One of the best ways to embrace aging is to do what you love. If age prevents you from engaging in the activities you’ve enjoyed in the past, find a new one. And ideally be with other people at least some of the time. Whether you join a religious group, volunteer organization, or babysit your grandkids, you are continuing to experience life—not simply look back at the past. No one ever said that aging is easy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable.
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