“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
To me, age is more a state of mind than anything else. It’s perception that comes into play, what we think about when we consider who’s old, or what it means to be old, or even what age makes someone old. Frankly, centenarians are lauded and celebrated for good reason: They’ve lived through many experiences and deserve to be honored. Thus, since through my research and personal experience I’ve found many potential mental health benefits of living to age 100, I wanted to share them.
Taking Things in Stride
The older I get, the less likely I am to be bothered by the little things. There are complex problems in the world, granted, yet I’m blessed with the ability to recognize that I will do what I can and make a positive contribution without falling into a negative state over that which I have no control. By the same token, the trivial upsets that may have caused me distress when I was younger don’t even register. They’re just not important to how I live each day and how I interact with others.
Wisdom in Perspective
Older adults have the unique ability to see different options, approaches and solutions to problems. This is based, in large part, on the breadth and depth of the experiences in live they draw upon in being able to recognize and respond to situations. Older and wiser, those approaching 100 have lived many years and experienced much. They’re often in a better position to share their accumulated wisdom with family, friends and others than the peers of those seeking answers. As such, seniors are often approached and asked to give advice on how to handle any number of situations. It’s quite a compliment, actually, and I welcome each opportunity to help.
Better Able to Focus on What Matters
Having been through a number life-altering experiences myself, I feel qualified to relate that I’ve learned to see through the chaos, pain and uncertainty and emerge on the other side better able to focus on what matters. It’s much easier to let go of anything that doesn’t matter, for example, striving for a better job, bigger house, more money. Instead, I focus on smaller circles of family and friends. I look more positively at life and actively search for meaningful emotional opportunities with others.
As a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) found, seniors approaching the age of 85 were more satisfied with their lives and themselves than when they were 18. Furthermore, researchers found that emotions, such as fear, anger and sadness tend to become less pronounced in older years than the turbulent emotions in younger years.
Personally, I’ve found that when I feel comfortable performing a task or successfully completing a project or activity, my sense of self-esteem grows. It’s like getting a gold star in kindergarten or receiving praise from your parents: You feel good knowing you’ve done well. The more you succeed, the better you feel. As I’ve gotten older, it’s amazing how the reservoir of self-esteem continues to increase. That continues to feel good and tells me I have vast resources to draw on that aids my resilience during times of doubt and stress.
Brain Continues to Grow
Called plasticity, researchers now know that the brain continues to grow as people age. This can be demonstrated in activities such as learning a language, how to play an instrument and juggling, where the actions increase brain changes governing memory, hearing and hand movements. A study published in Neural Plasticity highlights the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle for better brain health later in life. These authors point to recommendations to maintain levels of physical, mental and social activity while also eating an antioxidant-rich diet, along with engaging in lifetime learning. It is significant that large-scale, randomized, controlled trials involving physical activity, dietary intake and mental engagement to increase neural plasticity and brain resilience are only now beginning to emerge.
I’ve always enjoyed mental challenges, puzzles, unscrambling words, board games and the like. Now that there are many such mind-game opportunities available online, it’s easier than ever to spend a few minutes challenging myself and increasing my mental capacity. Learning that this is appears to be highly recommended as a way to boost neural plasticity means I’m on the right track.
Higher Emotional Stability
In a 2009 study, researchers Laura L. Carstensen and Susanne Scheibe at Stanford University found that over a period of 15 years, study subjects related improving levels of well-being and better emotional stability as they got older. This was regardless of their age when they began the study. Researchers said their review of research found higher levels of “affective well-being and emotional stability into their 70s and 80s,” in contrast to cognitive and physical decline.
I remember feeling insecure, vulnerable, hypersensitive to criticism and afraid of being alone when I was a young girl and well into my 30s. While it took several years of psychotherapy to overcome some of my underlying depression and anxiety, I’ve been emotionally stable and thriving for decades. With a high resilience factor and accumulated years of experience dealing with many of life’s challenges, I feel strong and capable enough to withstand whatever comes along. This doesn’t diminish as I get older, just the opposite.
When we are children, we think our parents are old. As we grow up and have children of our own, we may still think of our parents as old, yet not ourselves. The older we get, however, less likely we are to consider ourselves old. As poet Robert Browning said, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…”