The New Year is often rung in reminiscing about the past while also looking towards the future. Are you planning to make this year better than the last?
New Year’s Resolutions are often made with good intentions, but sadly, are hard to keep. Did you ring in the New Year with the same promises as last year? And the year before? And even the year before? Most likely you said you would eat healthier. Drink less. Exercise more.
We all make promises like that to ourselves. You want this next year to be better than the last. If you didn’t keep your resolutions, you are in good company. Forbes Magazine reports that only 8% of people will maintain their goals.
The secret to changing your life with a resolution is to keep it simple, be specific and make it tangible. Instead of focusing on healthy eating and exercise, what if you went beyond that? This year, you could plan to age positively.
Everybody ages. Positive aging focuses on your ability to find happiness and finding satisfaction despite the challenges that you might face. Let’s look at these 10 tips for positive aging to help promote healthy longevity as this year's resolution.
10 Strategies for Positive Aging
Change How You Think.
Did you know that how you think will directly impact how satisfied you are with life? The beauty of this idea is that you have control over what you think! Nobody else. This New Year, you can choose to practice a positive mindset towards aging.
Choose to focus on the good things that are coming to you as you get older. The saying “every cloud has a silver lining” is true. But how much you will enjoy today depends on whether you see the cloud or the silver lining. Recent research even shows how a positive attitude can reduce your risk of dementia.
Yes, there will be extra challenges that come up as you age. It might not be your plan to slow down, but you might not want to. But what advantage can you see in having to slow down? When you realize that you are in control of your thoughts, you know that you control your actions. That’s powerful! You can harness that sense of control and live a life that you can be proud of. Find the purpose and meaning you need for your life.
Action Tip: Your first step is to recognize your thoughts. You might think, “life is unfair, I can’t handle this.” Just take a moment and hear that thought. Then focus on relaxing your body. Take a deep breath and imagine the negative thought blowing out with your exhale. Now, find something that is good in your life, small or big, and think on that for a minute. Pay attention to how you felt before and after.
One of the benefits of aging is you get to be selective! You can choose the few things that matter the most to you and focus on them. Aging often gives you space and time to focus on what you excel at and what you value the most.
Arthur Rubenstein was a world-renowned concert pianist. He continued to perform at a high caliber into his 80s. Not because he discovered a fountain of youth, but because he selectively chose pieces he could play well and focused his time on those.
Drop the things that you don’t value and take the time to cultivate the activities that bring you joy. If you have never been good at cooking and you don’t enjoy it, take this opportunity to stop cooking. You could get a meal delivery or make a one-week simple menu of easy foods. Then put your time and effort into what matters to you.
Action tip: Choose one thing in your life that you always disliked doing. Figure out how you can let that activity go so you can focus on what you enjoy.
Positive aging is seen in people who go beyond regret, rigidity, worry and negativity. You can intentionally choose to cultivate habits of gratitude, forgiveness and altruism. Look for the positive in everyday life and you will find it! These positive emotions can be a tonic for your body, improve your mental health and draw more people towards you.
Gratitude is not a form of weakness. Gratitude is not feeling controlled or indebted. Gratitude is simply recognizing the good things, like someone doing something generous for you, and then letting them know. Dr. Martin Seligman is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. He gave a group an assignment to write a letter expressing thanks to someone and deliver it in person. The participants reported feeling a surge of happiness that lasted over a month. Gratitude brings joy to both the giver and the receiver.
Action tip: Set a goal to think of and express gratitude. For example: “I will choose to be thankful by writing down 5 things every day that I appreciate.” You will be amazed at how little action steps can have a huge impact on your life.
Bonus tip: Write a letter or note of gratitude to someone and hand deliver it.
Choose Your Words Carefully.
Your words are just as impactful as your thoughts in changing your life. What you choose to say will impact your physical health, mental health, relationships and your happiness. Words are not just a way to communicate, words are much more than that.
Research from Stanford University has shown the power of optimistic and positive words on improving your physical health and mindset. If you can imagine yourself recovering and what you need to do, you are more likely to recover when faced with a health crisis. This mindset affects your long-term physical strength and endurance.
Of course, you have your own personality. Choosing positive language does not mean becoming Little Miss Sunshine. You may have always considered yourself a staunch realist but you can face reality at the same time as you introduce questions like, “What am I going to do about this?” and “How am I going to respond?” Positive words mean looking for solutions instead of focusing on the problem.
The questions that you ask yourself and others are powerful. They allow you to unleash the power of imagination. The ability to imagine what you are going to do allows you to take control of the outcome.
Action tip: Use your words to choose your response to both big and small challenges. Plan in advance to say “I am going to…” and then figure out what YOU will do.
Build Your Social Network.
Loneliness and isolation are detrimental to positive aging. Spending time with others can protect your brain from early signs of dementia and slow the aging process. Strong relationships also reduce depression.
Research conducted by Harvard University found that social connection protects the brain. Healthy relationships contributed more to healthy aging than money, education, intelligence or genetics.
Having regular conversations can keep your mind sharp. You are forced to think and remember details from the past. Building relationships strengthens your brain power.
Action tip: Cherish the relationships you have with your family, friends and neighbors. If you find yourself lacking these relationships try:
- reaching out into your community
- volunteering to meet with those families who need you
- visiting a community center
- joining an online support group
Spend Time With Multiple Generations.
After spending a day with grandkids have you ever said “they keep me young”? There is truth in that! Adults who develop close intergenerational connections report feeling less depressed, having better physical health and greater life satisfaction. They also reveal more happiness with their current life and retain hope for the future.
Historically, the young and the older were connected naturally. An aging community member who no longer could work the land, build houses or keep house would have hours to spend with the youngest members of the community. They could fill their days with rocking a baby, telling a story or showing a little one a new skill.
Think of a little one who toddles and stops every few steps to inspect a flower. See how they would be able to keep pace with an elderly grandparent who also walks slowly. The slowness, rhythm and simplicity seen in the sheer pleasure of being can be a connecting force between both ends of the life spectrum.
Children need wise and involved adults in their lives who have the time to explore life. At the same time, older adults need the younger generation. Erik Erickson is a renowned psychologist. He describes the final stage of emotional development as occurring after the age of 60. This stage involves a deep connection with the younger generation. This connection gives an older adult a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
The benefits of intergenerational relationships include:
- Learning new skills
- Feeling a sense of purpose
- Feeling invigorated and energized
- Reducing the likelihood of depression
- Reducing the risk of isolation
- Passing on your history and life story
- Continuing to develop stronger cognition
Action tip: There are many opportunities to connect with the younger generation. A few examples include:
- Teaching a woodworking class
- Volunteering at a hospital to cuddle babies
- Taking care of a grandchild once a week (or video chatting if you live far away)
- Reading stories with children at schools or libraries
- Smiling at a child in a restaurant and telling the parents how sweet they are
Charles Reynolds is a geriatric psychiatrist. He states that “successful aging is active aging, meaning socially, intellectually and spiritually.”
A valuable goal for this year would be to learn something new. No matter how old you are, you can still grow new brain cells. Intentionally learning and engaging keeps your brain active because you are processing new information and experiences.
Try learning something that has always sparked your interest, like a new language, how to draw a comic strip or how to play the ukulele. You can choose to learn at home or to take a class. If you take a class you are also building relationships. When you learn with someone you have the added benefit of sharpening your social skills.
Action tip: What is something that interests you? Sign up for a class. Or have a friend, child or grandchild join you to do a YouTube tutorial together. Even if it is as simple as “learn how to draw a self-portrait”. Your artistic skill, or lack thereof, could be entertaining for both of you!
Cultivate an Attitude of Purpose.
Do you find yourself lacking motivation and a sense of purpose since retiring? For many older people, a large amount of one's identity was tied to work or career. Whether that was employment or being a parent.
Retirement often brings you to a place where you no longer must go to work and your children are no longer dependent on you. You may lose a social role when you exit the workplace but this frees up opportunities to engage in other activities instead. Research shows that people who have a purpose to their lives live longer, healthier lives. Your purpose could be seen in volunteer work or family relationships
Leisure time is treasured and needed to recharge our batteries. But leisure can quickly lose its value when it becomes your daily norm instead of a break. Leisure that stretches out for years becomes boredom and decreases your mental, emotional and physical well-being.
Positive aging looks to balance leisure activities with work. Work is a thing you do to contribute your skills, experience and knowledge to society. Work does not mean doing something you hate or heading back into the workforce. Work can be volunteering or helping someone by using your skills and knowledge. It's about being productive in some capacity, whatever that means for you.
Action tip: Take time to think about your life goals. What have you accomplished? What are you proud of? What can you do that shares your skills, experience and knowledge with others? Or even just your time! Volunteering allows you to help others. But the sense of purpose also helps you age better.
Look Out for Others.
A 5-year study found that the lifespan of older adults was increased by those who reported helping and being involved with family, friends and neighbors on a regular basis.
You can contribute in big or small ways to others. By giving to others you leave your legacy, enjoy higher life satisfaction and well-being. Research shows that as we age we have a limited time to achieve personal goals but a greater ability to help others and that showing compassion provides satisfaction and a purpose and meaning in life.
Studies have even found that those who are physically unable to assist others can still maintain an attitude of altruism, a concern for the well-being of others. This attitude of compassion increased positive emotions and happiness late in life.
Action tip: Look for a small way this week that you can show compassion and kindness. Then do it! And repeat. Make it your goal to give to others each day.
Plan for Your Legacy.
A legacy is defined as leaving something from the past for the future. Each of us has a desire to leave something behind. That could be children, buildings or knowledge. Having others remember you is part of leaving your legacy, especially since they can tell your story once you are gone.
As you age, you can think of what you will leave behind. Your life will leave an imprint on future generations. What do you want that mark to look like? It is never too late to make a lasting impact on those around you.
Action tip: Think of how you want to be remembered then start working on that plan. Tell your grandchildren of your struggles. Write down what matters most to you. Let that thought guide your day.
Positive aging allows you to celebrate a life well lived to find a deep level of happiness and satisfaction. Choose to make this New Year the best one yet. Not because of a lack of challenges, but because of who you choose to be. The way that you think. The words you speak. The relationships you nurture. The ability to show compassion and care for others in whatever capacity you can.
The beauty is you can make the world around you better while also benefiting from improved health and longevity.
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