Flourishing in Older Age

“Grant unto me the seeing eye  that I may see beauty in common things….that I may know that each age from first to last is good in itself and may be lived, not only well but happily.” Edmund Sandford

Psychologists have told us for years that how we see things and think about life’s events will affect our experience of them. We have choices in how to construct the story about our experience. We will be sad in life and face death, illness and grief. We also have the capacity to construct our story so that we can flourish, find happiness in simple things and feel whole.

Is it as simple as that? If we think differently about things will our older age will be less lonely, healthier, happier and more connected to others? If we think about things differently will we feel less invisible, have stronger voices and be more resilient? If we look for four or five different interpretations of an event will we be able to reshape our thinking and feel more content about its occurrence? Well, Yes!

In my work as a business coach, I spent many years working with leaders helping them reframe stories of their experience.  When a manager came to coaching furious about a recalcitrant employee or an unmanageable workload we used the process of reframing until we had sorted through a range of interpretations and a range of options to solve the problem. “There are 45 different interpretations for any story” I’d say….” Let’s find them!”  This is a process used in basic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it’s very effective.

How is this relevant to flourishing – not just surviving in our older age?  It’s central to how we think about ageing and ourselves and each of life’s events as we encounter them.

I recently read a lovely book on ageing by Mary Pipher called Women Rowing North. Here are some of the lessons she teaches us about how to “navigate life’s currents as we age.

  • Ageing is a stage of body change just like adolescence and middle age. Our bones grow fragile, we become tired, our joints wear out, memories fade and our skin thins and our coordination can be less stable. But apart from medical support when needed, we are our healers. “We can write our own prescriptions for health that include nutrition and exercise, relationships, things we enjoy and gratitude.” (p46) These make us feel healthy, calm and happy.
  • Authenticity brings happiness. By our older age we can simply be ourselves. Our image as a professional and our drive to aim higher and impress others are gone, replaced by a personal best. Can I be stronger, a good granny, write well, make a great Christmas cake. “I need not spin anything, deny anything or claim anything.” (p229) Ageing gives us the wisdom and insight to come home to ourselves. To see that all people are both good and bad and that this dualism also exists in us.
  • Bliss, Illumination and awe are all healing for the spirit and essential to feeling good about life. Where do we find this? In nature, our gardens, our friends and partners, music and literature, architecture and family. “Awe gives us a different sense of ourselves. We feel smaller, humbler, and more connected to all others. We don’t feel entitled or narcissistic but rather part of a common humanity.” ( p243)
  • Ageing has an activist dimension and we are all responsible for calling out ageist language and thinking. If we are to age well and our sons and daughters are to age well, then stereotypes need to be challenged. “I don’t like mother-in law jokes.” I won’t say “She looks so young! She doesn’t look 70!” (I will say “She is such a fit and strong 70 year old.” Or “She is so smart and kind.” Positive Imagery.

Ageing is a call to action. Action needs to be intentional. Do you know how to create a good day for yourself? What would it take to go to bed tonight saying…” What a lovely day! I can’t wait for tomorrow!”

Video about her book


Mary Pipher videos




19 April 2019 | Living Well

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