Years ago, I lived next door to an older man who would spend his days sitting on his front porch complaining about life and yelling at the kids who would go by his Main Street house.
He was not a pleasant fellow and I seldom saw him do anything besides sit on his porch and yell at people and things. His wife would often escape his wrath by spending hours watching TV inside the house.
The few times that I had spoken with him, he would rattle off his complaints about politics, sports, neighbors and animals. I wanted to ask him if anything made him happy, but I think that it was clear that complaining about everything was the only thing that made him happy.
Whatever joy he had once had seemed lost. When I recognized that, I did feel pity for him but honestly, it didn’t lead me to have many other conversations with him.
He was your prototypical grouchy old man. We all know the image and I’d venture to say that most of us have actually spent time with a similar person. For many, that’s the stereotype of the grumpy old retiree; living off his pension and telling any one younger than him how great the world used to be.
However, I’m sure that you also know those people who are experiencing joy and living life to its fullest in retirement. Whether it’s continue to work (now in a job that they enjoy), traveling or volunteering in organizations where their heart is, these modern day retirees have spun that stereotype on its head, which is a good thing.
Retirement now is about evolution and personal growth. Retirement has become a time to use the new found freedom to explore one’s own belief systems to find peace and to live life fully with a positive attitude.
It’s been my belief that one of the keys to living longer, and thriving, in retirement depends upon having a positive attitude. Research has shown that seniors who continue to take an active part in their lives and view life in a positive light — those who don’t see retirement as an end but as a beginning — live longer and are happier. These are the people who have gained the wisdom to enjoy their later years to the fullest, and it will ultimately extend their later years.
A recent article in the New York Times points out that, “Most psychologists agree that if you define wisdom as maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges, it is one of the most important qualities one can possess to age successfully-and to face physical decline and death.”
Retirement and one’s later years brings many challenges. We may lose friends and family. Our bodies don’t work as well as they used to. There are many things that can beat us down and make us into that miserable old neighbor of mine.
In the article, Monika Ardelt, an associate sociology professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, “felt a need to expand on studies of old age because of research showing that satisfaction late in life consists of things like maintaining physical and mental health, volunteering and having positive relationships with others.”
These aspects of life are often the things that can help us to not only survive the challenges of our later years, but to move past them and gain the wisdom to enjoy our later years to the fullest. That wisdom is as, Professor Ardelt finds “the ace in the hole that can help severely impaired people find meaning, contentment and acceptance in later life.”
There is much research out there that correlates a positive attitude to a longer life. Jan Simpson on her blog writes about Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychologist and researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill, who has done much work in this area and has even put together a tool to gauge your positivity ratio. Simpson reports that through her work, “Fredrickson discovered that experiencing positive emotions versus negative emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio leads people to a tipping point beyond which they naturally become more resilient to adversity.”
It’s this resiliency that leads to living longer through challenges and Professor Fredericksen goes on to state that, “this may be the wisdom of old age: a focus on positivity can make late life fulfilling, despite the inevitable aches, pains, and memory loss.”
I often think that things would’ve been different for my old neighbor if he found his way to a positive attitude.
Maybe then he wouldn’t have died on his front porch while his wife was inside watching “Jeopardy.”