At 7:36 a.m., I sat in a comfortable chair at the medical lab awaiting my turn to feel the sting of the needle entering my left arm to fill three viles of blood for tests my doctor had ordered. Sitting in the room with me were 14 other people, all of whom had fasted for at least 12 hours ("nothing except water" the intake person asked everyone as we cued up to the check-in counter). By my best guess, only one of us is younger than 60 years of age -- four men and ten women.
Among my many thoughts at that hour of the morning were: "how long will this take before I can have breakfast?", "will I finish in time to get to my 8:15 a.m. meeting ... and have breakfast too?", and "what does this random group of people getting blood tests say to me about aging?" Not just aging, but aging creatively and positively in the face of life changes that come to most of us the older we get.
With more people living longer than ever before, a growing number of women and men are dealing with issues of their physical health, memory, and daily functioning while living at home alone or with spouses and other family members needing caregiving. As we live into our 80's, Alzheimer's and other diseases become greater threats to our well-being, not to mention the probability of deaths of our loved ones.
Even so, most people I know and elders I've read about view growing old as a meaningful time of life, filled with creative possibilities and enjoyment in spite of the physical and mental challenges of our aging bodies. That positive frame of mind about aging and the practice of life-enhancing activities seem to be the best measures of whether or not we'll live a creative, contented life in our elderhood.
Robert Hill, Ph.D., author of Positive Aging: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals and Consumers, posits that learning four basic actions are vital to growing old with a positive frame of mind:
1. Mobilize your resources: Be selective -- adapt to your aging process -- and optimize choices in use of resources. Regularly practice behaviors you want to remain intact and get support you require to continue them. Find ways to compensate so you can continue doing what you most enjoy doing.
2. Make affirmative lifestyle choices: Understand your values and life goals -- what really matters to you -- then make decisions each day to do whatever affirms who you are and what brings you joy and contentment. Know your best (and blessed) self well and choose to contribute your unique gifts to the world.
3. Cultivate flexibility: Move beyond your habitual patterns of thinking and doing. Recognize that older people are actually better at "thinking outside the box" than younger people! Learn new things and have new experiences. Practice gratitude, forgiveness, and service to others.
4. Emphasize the positives: Discipline yourself to cultivate the positive in your life. Positive thoughts create positive emotions, no matter what physical or mental conditions you may face. Know that growing old is meaningful and worthwhile, regardless of your life circumstances.
I've had an opportunity to meet many people who are living these actions each day. Last month, I started a project consisting of interviewing 50 artists -- one per week over the 50 weeks -- and writing an article for the Springfield Beacon as well as a weekly blog posting about my experience (see: www.emeraldartcenter.blogspot.com). So far, I've met some of the most creative and contented people I've ever met. And most have been people as old or older than myself!
I invite readers to comment on your experiences of aging and ways of growing older creatively ... and with contentment. What are you doing to make each day of your life even more wonderful than it is today?