Photo: Best Running
Another year and we’re another year older. But the inevitable march of time has a bright side — we’re all getting older, and older people have higher emotional well-being than teenagers and young adults. Our happiest days don’t have to be behind us.
An anecdotal illustration of that trend came in this update to a New York Times series that profiled six New Yorkers above the age of 85. Checking in with them now, two years later, two of the elders have passed away, but reporter John Leland’s interviews with the remaining four deliver some potent lessons for happiness.
Resilience is a running theme, alongside perspective about life’s ups and downs. Fred Jones, who died in April 2016, offered illustrated his view of this:
It’s like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel… The span is too long just to have a bridge, so they had to have a bridge and an underpass. So part of it you’re up here, and part of it you’re down here, and finally you get to the Eastern Shore. Good days, bad days. But over all it’s good days.
You don’t have to have lived for almost a century to take that long-view approach to your life. Some other wisdom the under-80 set can steal:
Take time to adapt to big changes. Ping Wong, who “gave her age variously as 90, 92, 98 and almost 100,” reflected on the importance of adapting to change. She spent 2017 adjusting to life in a nursing home — at her age you could see a year of adjustment as just a drop in the bucket of a long life, or as precious time with little left, but she took the time she needed to find the perspective that allows her to enjoy her new circumstances, acclimating to a new wheelchair and making friends in a new mah-jongg group.
Don’t catastrophize. Ruth Willig is 94. This summer she broke a bone in her foot; wearing an unwieldy boot for that to heal, she fell and hurt herself again. Her commitment to physical therapy and recovery is a lesson, but her mindset it a bigger one: after the second injury, she remembers being frightened, not of the pain or the injury itself, but that it was “the beginning of the end.”
Ruth Finkelstein, associate director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Ageing Center at Columbia University, told the Times, “People have a premature sense of when the end begins. And it’s harmful in terms of what care they seek. The truth is, people get better. An acute accident doesn’t have to be the end.
Don’t wait to appreciate what you have. When Helen Moses, 93, was asked what she was looking forward to, she said, “Just a nice old age.”
What did that mean to her?
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know.”
Was she living one now?
Ms. Moses did not hesitate.
“Yeah,” she said.
She also said, of her longtime companion, Howie Zeimer, “His kisses are getting better.” Never stop trying to better yourself and grow.
Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person [The New York Times]