After blogging about aging for over two years now I challenged myself to come up with guidelines for thoughtful aging. I’ve distilled into 14 principles what I’ve learned from life experience, reading, talking with close friends and interviews with wise women.
Embrace Your Failures
During the 1970’s when I was studying family therapy, I received this advice from Virginia Satir, a California-based family therapist: “Every time you fail, throw a party for yourself.” I would add: treat your failures as a learning experience.
Compassion is our better nature. It ushers us into the light. Compassion involves not just compassion for others, but for the self as well. Practice self-care. Periodically treat yourself to a massage, fresh flowers, or spend a day in your pj’s.
Tend to Your Soul
Find a spiritual practice that enlarges your soul. Join a church, synagogue or spiritual community. Meditate daily, if only for 10 minutes to start. Unplug from your electronic gadgets for an hour every day.
At the end of each day, journal or tell yourself what you’re grateful for in the preceding day. It can be as small as appreciating a morning’s full sun streaming into your living room.
Ask for Help
This practice will become more important the older we get and the more incapacitated. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need a ride or someone to bring you chicken soup when you have a cold.
Every single study I’ve read on leading a meaningful life attests to the importance of volunteering to help others. Volunteering generates positive feelings in those who volunteer, which can run the gamut from helping-out at a soup kitchen or reaching out to a friend who’s suffered a loss. As communal bonds disappear, volunteering is a great way to help restore community.
Laugh and Smile More
When feeling down try to see the humor in a situation. It can help to laugh at yourself. Greet strangers with a big smile. Awaken your inner Dalai Lama.
Cultivate Your Friendships
Spend time with close friends. Welcome them into your home for tea or a potluck. Befriend that lonely women you may have noticed at church or in a class you attend. Send Thank You notes.
I love my 25-minute power naps. As a friend once remarked, quoting Shakespeare: “Naps are nature’s nurse.”
Get Outside as Much as Possible
If you live in the country, walk in the woods. If you live in a city, walk around your neighborhood or make a city park your destination. Talk to the trees.
Be a Citizen of the World
Be an agent of change in whatever way you can: join a local protest action or political study group; give money to progressive causes; speak up when you see injustice, especially around racism.
Shake off the ageist and sexist cultural stereotypes that define aging as a disease or a state of decay, rather than one of continuing growth. Embrace role models like Diana Athill who at 98 still writes and publishes.
Don’t be Paralyzed by Fears of Death
It’s natural to fear death but don’t let this eventuality overcome you. Prepare for your death. Have a do-not-resuscitate order in place. Talk to loved ones about how you want to be treated when you are dying. Educate yourself about the services of Hospice and of death doulas, nurses who offer caring, spiritual guidance at the end of life.
Above All, Have Fun!
Just because your body is slowing down doesn’t preclude you from a full enjoyment of life. Be silly with your grandkids. My father loved practical jokes and played them on his family up until the end of his life.