What being an aged care pioneer taught me about the joys of growing older
When they imagine getting older most young and middle-aged people do so with dread and apprehension. Growing old is synonymous with disease, decay, aches, pains and loneliness. Certainly, there are some downsides to aging but there are also very many upsides.
Spending more than 20 years innovating in the aged care sector while being the greatest privilege in my life has also given me insights into the joys and advantages of growing older for which I am deeply grateful.
Daily I am seeing what has been termed the paradox of aging, namely the older people get the happier they become. Recognising that they don’t have all the time in the world means the focus shifts toward making the most out of life and the things that matter. In so doing, life continues to be exciting and full of opportunities. As Abraham Lincoln said: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Below are some of the key lessons I have learned about the benefits of aging:
You are comfortable in your own skin: You have self-confidence and no longer really care what people think. That is not meant to sound cantankerous only that it is a wonderful feeling to reach an age where you are sure of yourself. Too many people during the course of their life worry too much about what other people think which is limiting and debilitating. It causes anxiety and stress and engenders a feeling of incompleteness. As we grow older, we are less likely to succumb to the negativity of others.
You can be happier: Without a doubt, there are grumpy old people, but they were also grumpy young people. Aging doesn’t transform someone into a misery. During most of our adult life there are a lot of unknowns and what-ifs that stress us out. What do I do if my potential soul mate isn’t interested in me? Will I get that promotion?
When you are older these issues have been resolved so you can take your foot off the gas pedal, relax and do what you want. Also, older people tend not to sweat the small stuff, the little things don’t get to them anymore. All of this makes for a happier disposition in general.
And contrary to what some people think those who are living with Alzheimer’s can also be happy and enjoy life. Although it is a terrible disease, they can derive great joy from the same sorts of pleasures as everyone else, be it music, family, friends and pets.
You become a source of wisdom: Whether working, raising a family or both older people have done a lot of living and seen it all. They have a lifetime accumulation of stories that hold within them many lessons that can be shared. Having great stories to tell is also an excellent way to bond with younger generations.
You don’t stop learning: Sure, there is a lot you have to pass on, but you can also learn plenty from your children and grandchildren. They’re growing up in a world that is different from the one you grew up in and they’ll be able to show you new things that fill in information gaps.
You are more concerned about living well: Older people are more conscious than younger people that the clock is ticking but that doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for time’s inevitable march. Many of the senior citizens I have had the honour to help are more appreciative of each day and of ensuring they get the most from them.
You can pursue your dreams: I have come across many elderly people who are relishing the latter stage of their life because they now, at last, have the time to pursue their dreams and passions, things that they had put on hold because of career and family.
You can make great contributions to society: As well as following their own personal dreams and ambitions seniors also have more time to volunteer and get involved with their local community, diving into causes they are passionate about to make a positive impact on society. Some people work with charity groups others dedicate some of their time to mentoring people.
Growing older is not a choice, but we can choose how we spend our twilight years. They can be just as fulfilling and exciting as those of your youth. And as the saying goes: “Growing old is great – when you consider the alternative”.