⏳️ Whatever Your Current Age, Getting Older May Be Better Than You Think…
And the ingredients may surprise you!
Whatever season of life you find yourself in, accumulating evidence indicates that you have more influence over your health and well-being than you may think — and the body is not necessarily the limiting factor as we get older.
New research associates a more optimistic outlook with greater wellbeing in life. A study published in the March 2022 Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences studied 233 older men, finding that those with greater optimism reported more positive mood. Their optimism also seemed to change the way they experienced or interpreted stressful situations (Lee, et al, 2022).
And earlier research also pointing to the powerful role attitude plays in our health and wellbeing may surprise you. In the landmark counterclockwise study, Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer, PhD, and colleagues (2009). invited two groups of men to an experiment to turn back the clock. For just a week, one group lived and acted as though it was twenty years earlier. They turned off their electronic devices and were invited to be who they were in 1959, for example talking about the politics and books of that period, sending photos of themselves and writing a brief autobiography as though it was twenty years earlier. The second group simply reminisced about that era.
Notably, Langer’s research found that the process of getting older is less fixed than most of us realize. In only a week the men in both groups showed marked improvements in overall well-being, including posture, weight, vision, joint flexibility, performance on intelligence tests, and other factors. Although both groups showed positive outcomes, the men who actually lived and acted as if they were younger, showed even greater improvement. The counterclockwise data makes the case that by shifting our thinking, language, and behaviors, we can let go of arbitrary limits on health and well-being to live as healthfully as possible at any age.
We are mind, body, and spirit, and our minds can have an important influence on our bodies (Pagnin & colleagues, 2019; Langer, 2002). Another study found that people with a more positive self-concept about getting older lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive stereotypes (Levy & colleagues, 2002).
Human life expectancy, now longer than at any point in recorded history, has increased by almost 40 years since the 1800’s (Staudinger, 2020). Yet in western culture, years of assumptions about aging, influenced by science, media, and pervasive social pressures, have reinforced stereotypes that older is less than younger.
Typically, these negative stereotypes about aging originate long before midlife, when young people accept limiting assumptions about aging without questioning their accuracy (Levy & colleagues, 2002).
Today, these widespread biases continue to push older people to the sidelines of life (Gendron & colleagues, 2016). Consider widely used terms, such as “age spots,” “frail,” “elderly,” “younger-looking,” “unattractive” and “downhill.” This language emphasizes fears, reinforcing negative stereotypes and the idea that declines in health and well-being are inevitable and ugly.
Ultimately, life involves a series of choices – intentional or unintentional. Accurate information and awareness of the power of your choices can help you transform your beliefs about growing older. Whatever season of life you may find yourself in – whether young adulthood, middle adulthood, or older adulthood – how might you shift from a mindset of inevitable, automatic decline toward a sense of greater empowerment, possibilities, and a fuller life?
Here are a few questions to consider as you explore your relationship to wellbeing at any age:
- What negative stereotypes about aging have you been holding?
- At whatever age you find yourself, how can you shift toward more empowering choices and ideas about your health and wellbeing?
- What are your next steps as you rethink possibilities for ongoing health and wellbeing?
*This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.
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- Gendron, T.L., Welleford, E.A., Inker, J., White, J.T. (2016). The language of ageism: Why we need to use words carefully. The Gerontologist, 56(6), 997-1006.
- Langer, E.J., 2009). Langer, E.J. (2009). Counter clockwise: Mindful health and the power of possibility. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
- Lee, L.O., Grodsein, F., Trudel-Fitzgerald, C., James, P., Okuzono, S., Koga, H., Schwartz, J., Spiro, A., Mroczek, D., Kubansky, L. (2022). Optimism, daily stressors, and emotional well-being over two decades in a cohort of aging men. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 20(20), 1-11.
- Levy, B.R., Slade, M.D., Kunkel, S.R., & Kasi, S.V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 261-270.
- Pangnini, F., Cavalera, C. , Volpato, E., Comazzi, B, Vailate Riboni, F., Valota, C., Bercovitz, K, Molinari, E., Banfi, P., Phillips, D., & Langer, E. (2019). Aging as a mindset: A study protocol to rejuvenate older adults with a counterclockwise psychological intervention. BMJ Open, 9(7). E030411.
- Staudinger, U.M. (2020). The positive plasticity of adult development: Potential for the 21st century. American Psychologist, 75(4), 540-553.
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This article was also published at Psychology Today.
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