While aging & death are unavoidable, do they also have to be scary, pitiable, despondent & miserable?
Even as our physique weakens & mental abilities wither, our emotional & psychological outlooks can keep us in good stead and help us age well. And that’s possible only if we make the conscious effort to learn and incorporate such attitudes into our psyche when we are younger.
Instead of asking ‘what ideas can be adopted’ to age well, it may be worthwhile to invert the question and instead ask ‘what ideas should be avoided’, which may be easier to answer.
1. Losing purpose is not good for any age, even more so for the elderly. Many of us subconsciously define our lives around our work & family which unfortunately is not sufficient, and becomes a limiting factor later on. When we retire and the family thins out, our lives start looking empty, with no purpose or reason to live for. It’s useful to identify or seek a few purposes, in our 20s or 30s or 40s, which can last for a long while. The aging person may still earn an income, run a business, spend time with family and grandchildren, but they may turn out to be ephemeral or unsatisfactory in the long run. A big bold larger than life goal may help us stay active, agile & satisfied as we age. If the goal is ambitious, always looks slightly out of reach but still achievable, not so enormous that it becomes a burden, then that perhaps is the purpose we need in our lives, till our death. The goal can be personal, related to family, social, political, etc., but it must be something we are really interested in, supported by some related knowledge and skills we have acquired through the years.
2. Slipping behind the times happens so smoothly, without us being aware of it, that we are alerted by rude shocks to its impact on us, in our 40s, 50s or later. This predominantly cultural & social generation gap is natural. Uncles & grandmothers find their ideas and comments being labelled old-fashioned. Many aged people are unable to accept new realities, ideas, concepts, traditions, etc., even when some of them are just old wine packaged in new bottles. As we age, we need to make extra effort to learn, unlearn, renew and update our ideas, views & opinions. If we do so, we can avoid being exposed to unnerving rude shocks to our psyche. This may not be easy or convenient, and may even seem unnecessary. We may choose to live a peripheral life, away from the new & modern, but let it be a conscious choice while simultaneously being aware of and accepting the changing times. Nostalgia and memories are fine, but constantly living in the past is inviting danger.
3. Self-pity can be excruciating. It does us no good & is addictive, even as we are pulled deeper into its abyss. Most of us are its victims. It can be more damaging to the vulnerable elderly, when they start pitying themselves about their conditions, relationships, health etc. We need to constantly guard ourselves against falling into the throes of self-pity, which seems to be a natural human response to distress. It wastes time, energy and provides no relief. Why indulge in it?
3. Anger never helps. It’s easy to get angry with ourselves, our family, the society, and so on. Anger makes us loose reason. We can’t think properly. We jump to the wrong conclusion or course of action. Many elderly are angry. It doesn’t help them or the people around them. It’s perhaps easier when young to make the conscious effort to bring the tendency to get angry under control.
4. Ego is the big ‘I, me, & myself’ behind many a ruined life. Thoughts like ‘I am entitled to…’, ‘I can seldom be wrong’, ‘I want, need, desire, seek, so i must…..’, ‘How can I be insulted like that?’, ‘I am more knowledgeable than…, so….’, etc. are sure recipes to a disastrous life. Ego expresses itself as anger, lust, desire, conceit…any extreme emotion which bypasses rational thought. An elderly person with a massive ego is pathetic sight. Ego is perhaps easier brought under control before 40s, providing one makes the effort to recognize it first. Ego raises its head so often, many times a day, subconsciously, and we are blissfully unaware of its machinations. Only conscious effort can help keep it at bay.
6. Self-abuse & self-neglect is common among the elderly. Many neglect their health & finances, give up on relationships & hope, & pity themselves into worser conditions. A sunny and positive attitude, if developed in their younger lives, will help them sail through their later lives in good spirits. Life is never perfect. Most of us never get all that we desire. The best thing to do is to constantly scan for and hold on to the rays of hope & positivity, rather than succumbing to the depths of despair and depression.
Living may not be easy. But aging & dying can be easier and even exhilarating, given that we have had a long runway.
Riding into the happy sunset requires effort, in our younger lives.