Do you ever think about the future? I mean the L O N G term future and what your life will be like in your dotage (depending on how old you are this may be way off or for some a little closer)? It’s something that’s been on my mind quite a lot lately, partly due to my Great Age and partly because I’ve got elderly relatives who are struggling with the different issues being older brings.
Earlier this year I spent 3 months working with a national voluntary organisation that supports ‘older’ people. Funnily enough I now qualify for their services since I turned 55 on my recent birthday!
Don’t mention the ‘D’ word …
Perhaps it’s not something you like to think about – after all, at the end of ‘old age’ comes death and we’re not very keen on thinking about that. Also we don’t live in a culture that helps us deal with the end of life until it’s right there staring us in the face.
In my experience if we actually do any thinking about getting old it tends to be full of fears – fear about getting ill, ending up in a home, getting dementia, being lonely, possibly living in poverty.
But it doesn’t have to be like that, does it?
There’s a lot of awareness and plenty of information available about keeping fit and active as we age. The trouble is not much of it is about our overall well-being, including our mental well-being. For me I think it’s part of the shift we need to make in our focus so that we can find a different, more positive identity for ourselves as older people.
While we’re healthy and well (and young) we may not want to plan for the future, but why not? Like putting aside savings to build up our pension, perhaps we should also be nurturing the relationships that will sustain us in the future and investing in the activities that bring us joy.
Doing things that you’re passionate about and that are important to you, plus having strong social connections, are two key elements of happiness. Professor Barbara Fredrickson, who has a special interest in social and positive psychology, believes we can build a more positive outlook that will help sustain us through the changes life brings us.
“You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis
Part of creating that more positive outlook is setting yourself challenges – short and long term goals that you’re working towards – and celebrating each goal as you achieve it.
I’ve read some amazing stories recently about people in their 80s and 90s (or even over 100) doing incredibly physical feats, like Doris breaking her own abseiling record, but it doesn’t mean we all have to aim for something as spectacular as that!
This could be the time for me to finally learn French properly or get back to drawing, and there are so many things on my ‘wish’ list once I get started; do you say things like ‘I wish I knew about astronomy’ or ‘I could have played the piano’? No? Just me then ….
But what’s to stop me (or you) doing those things in the future? There’s no reason to put away our dreams for ever, perhaps we should just put them aside to be dusted off again when we’ve got some more time on our hands.
Here are some other ways to keep yourself mentally healthy:
- Get outside at least once a day and take some exercise outdoors
- Spend time with friends and family to strengthen your relationships, and always put people before things (recent research shows how the quality of our friendships matter more than quantity as we age)
- Focus on doing what you really believe in, whether it’s a hobby or a project, or what you do to earn your living
- Volunteering is one of the best ways to improve your psychological wellbeing, especially if it’s a cause you’re passionate about, but it can also be about small acts of kindness to people around you
- Be self-compassionate – treat yourself with the same care you’d show to a friend or loved one when things don’t go quite right for you.
Lastly (and I know I’ve said this before):
- get in the habit of practising gratitude. At the end of each day write down at least one thing that you’re grateful for or that’s gone well.
But why wait?
Why indeed! These are practices that I share all the time with women of all ages; simple things that can work for you RIGHT NOW to bring more happiness and resilience into your life.
And building these habits now will stand you in good stead for the future so that you can look forward to your Golden Years with anticipation instead of dread!
Over to you – use the comments area below to respond: How do you feel about growing older – and do you feel prepared?