Looking for the best advice about aging? We asked over 1200 older Americans to offer their lessons on how to be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. Some of the most interesting insights in the book from the project, 30 Lessons for Living, were about aging itself. Of all these lessons (having hit 60 recently myself), there’s one I like the best.
Here is the elders’ secret: Being old is much better than you think it will be.
It’s a bit difficult to believe, perhaps, because of our negative stereotypes about aging as a period of loss and decline. But I found that the Legacy Project elders defied these stereotypes. Over and over, I got the message that being old (and sometimes really old) was much better than people ever expected. Let’s hear from three elders about their surprising experience of aging.
Ursula, 94, is surprised when people comment about her longevity. She told me:
Worry about aging? No. I wake up and I know where I am, I lead a very normal life. I eat, I drink, I like to talk, as you can see! I have an interest in what’s going on in the world. Flexibility, that is important. I don’t have to worry. I get very upset when people complain. You wouldn’t believe the complainers. I tell you, you have to think positively. And if you think positive, physically and mentally, things are all right. So one day I don’t feel so good, so what, you know? I think positive and that is my blessing. I have my mind and my wonderful memories. You need to do things, you see, or there’s no quality of life, sitting home and crying doesn’t help. I have been lucky to be healthy. I have everyday a glass of wine.
Davia,74, discovered her knack for business later in life and runs a successful bed-and-breakfast.
Well, when it comes to aging, it sure as heck not the way I would have thought old age or growing older would be like! I never thought it would be anything like this. I always thought: Oh, I don’t want to think about that or that sounds terrible. That was when I was young and I would be thinking about what old age might be like, if it somehow cam up as a topic of conversation.
But I still feel like I’m on the road of life to somewhere, and there’s so many things I still want to do, that I love to do. I don’t look at old age as something to be pitied or dismissed. Now very young people, they’re going to do that anyway I know, up to certain point in their lives anyway, they will.
But there are so many things I’d like to do. I’d like to do more traveling. I don’t have great funds to do it with, but I’m going to do some more. And I’m happy to have a bed and breakfast to run and it still excites me. It’s tiring when it’s busy, but I can sleep when I need to. I can manage to rest up. My health is pretty good and I make a point of eating healthy foods ands trying to go a little exercise on a regular basis. So I don’t feel like it’s the end of a life, not yet.
The most inspiring elder I spoke with was Edwina, 94: Whenever I worry about getting older, I take a look at her view of the later part of life:
My advice to people about growing old? I’d tell them to find the magic. The world is a magical place in lots of ways. To enjoy getting up in the morning and watching the sun come up. And that’s something that you can do when you are growing older. You can be grateful, happy for the things that have happened. You should enjoy your life. Grow a little. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean that you need to stop growing. I used to think that when you got old you sat back in a rocking chair and let the world go by. Well that’s not for me and that’s not for a lot of people. I can’t dance anymore, but if I could I would.
There’s no reason for anybody in this world to ever be bored. That’s one thing I’ve always said. Well if I died and went to heaven, I’d be bored to death with how they say heaven is. There’s no need for you to be bored in this world. There’s so much out there.
Our society is filled with negative attitudes about growing old. But what if they are all wrong? Based on the elder’s advice, many of us can all look forward to a happier old age than we expect!