5 Ways to Nurture Your Emotional Health in Later Life

5 Ways to Nurture Your Emotional Health in Later Life

Working well with your own emotions is key to creating a healthy, happy life. Psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman coined the famous term emotional intelligence in his book by that name. It refers to the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. I believe that emotional intelligence becomes even more important as we age.

Unfortunately, our modern society often projects negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging and older people. Therefore, it becomes very important to nurture our emotional health as the years pass. There are challenges that arise as we grow older, but it can also be one of the most rewarding times of life if we approach it with the right mindset.

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Here are five pieces of advice for nurturing your emotional health in your later years

The good news is that older people are naturally happy people, despite whatever challenges aging may bring. The Los Angeles Times reported on a survey of people in San Diego, CA, about their level of happiness.[1] It showed that people in their 20s were the least happy. And, surprisingly, people in their 90s were the happiest! The older they were, the happier they became through the entire life span, something that brain scientists call“the paradox of aging.”

This does not mean that all older people are as happy as they can be. Nor does it mean that they all have great attitudes about aging. Many people do pick up negative attitudes about aging, and this can negatively affect the aging process. For example, it is well known among older adults that exercise can help reduce the effects of aging [2], but negative attitudes about the aging of the body stop many people from exercising as they get older.[3]

A positive attitude about aging is especially important for the brain. A study published in the scholarly journal Psychology and Aging shows that people with a poor attitude about aging had greater cognitive decline than those who approached aging more positively.[4]

Also, while things like processing speed and memory decline with age, some things, like verbal ability and crystallized intelligence, improve or remain stable with age.[5][6] Further, it is possible to foster brain changes in ways that steadily increase your wisdom.[7]

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I wrote a book called I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality, and Life Transformation. In it, I encourage people to set the goal of living to 120.

I focus on the age of 120 years because that does seem to be the approximate upper limit of human life span [8]. The oldest living person whose age was verified was Jeanne Calment of France, who lived to 122 years of age.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I believe everyone will live to 120 just by setting a goal to do so. Many people will fall short of that even if they live a very healthy lifestyle.

Perceiving that as a goal and a possibility, however, rather than focusing on the average of 70 or 80 years, will help you see a long-range possibility for your life instead of assuming that your older years are all about decline and impending death.

You can imagine how a person who is turning 65 will have a different attitude about their remaining years if they think “I might have 50 or more years left” instead of “I probably only have 15 years left to live.” Remember, at least half of people do live beyond the average. And there is much you can do to make those years happy, healthy, and productive.

This 120-year attitude is important for understanding that you always have time to learn and grow and to set exciting goals for yourself.

A study published in the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues shows that older workers avoid professional growth opportunities because they perceive themselves and being “out of time,” whether that is true or not.[9]

Even if you live a shorter-than-average life span, don’t you want to be active and involved in life for as long as possible? An ambitious young person thinks they can do a lot in five or ten years, and so can you.

I encourage people of any age to set a grand vision for their lives, one that will satisfy them physically, mentally, and spiritually. This might look different at 50 or 70 than it did at 30. Young people have a need to establish their households and their professional status in the world.

One of the blessings of age is that you probably have less concern about material success and social status because you have already established yourself in the world. Further, you most likely have developed the wisdom that allows you to see that these things are not the ultimate source of happiness. This may well be the reason why older people are naturally happier. This allows you much greater freedom to establish a vision for your life that is truly satisfying.

Ultimately, it is you who should establish the parameters of the goals you set for yourself. Ask yourself, “What will help complete my journey here on earth and give true fulfillment to my heart?” The answer, if you are honest with yourself, will probably be something that is of true service to humanity.

The world badly needs the wisdom of its elders, so look for the thing that makes your heart happy while also making the world a better place. It could be working with young people, expressing yourself through the arts, getting involved with civil rights. Do whatever uplifts your heart while also providing challenges that keep your body and mindfully engaged.

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Although older people are overall happier than younger people, it doesn’t mean that there are no emotional struggles. As we get older, many of our friends and family pass away. We may have to face difficult illnesses, we might miss our old careers. Finally, a rapidly changing world might make us feel out of touch and out of sorts.

It’s important to remember, though, that you have a great deal of control over how to respond to these challenges. There will be times of resentment and sadness. However, ultimately you can choose how long you will hang on to those feelings before you replace them with acceptance and gratitude.

In the end, nothing in this life is permanent. Eventually, your life will end and everything you know about this world must be left in the hands of the generations that come after you. Do your best to forgive anyone who has harmed you and relinquish your control over other people, society, and the future. The best thing you can do is to guide them and bless them in whatever way you can without any attachment to the outcome.

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Sometimes, people speak in negative terms about the “graying” of society. This is the trend for people to live longer that results in more older people relative to the number of young people. Studies have found that the negative impact of that is exaggerated and that we can make choices, such as encouraging older people to remain productive, that establish balance.[10]

Most importantly, you can determine that you will be a person that has a positive influence on people around you and on the world as a whole, regardless of your age. Really, leaving the world a better place is the ultimate legacy anyone can leave. We can all do that if we choose.  

[1] Netburn D. The aging paradox: The older we get, the happier we are. Los Angeles Times. Published online August 24, 2016. Accessed February 19, 2021.https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-older-people-happier-20160824-snap-story.html

[2] Sabau E, Niculescu G, Gevat C, Lupu E. The attitude of the elderly persons towards health-related physical activities. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2011;30:1913-1919. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.10.372. Accessed February 19, 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042811021975

[3] Andrews RM, Tan EJ, Varma VR, Rebok GW, Romani WA, Seeman TE, Gruenewald TL, Tanner EK, Carlson MC. Positive aging expectations are associated with physical activity among urban-dwelling older adults.  Accessed February 19, 2021.The Gerontologist. 2017;57(suppl_2):S178–S186. doi:10.1093/geront/gnx060. https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/57/suppl_2/S178/3913377  Accessed February 19, 2021.

[4] Siebert JS, Wahl H-W, Degen C, Schröder J. Attitude toward own aging as a risk factor for cognitive disorder in old age: 12-year evidence from the ILSE study. Psychology and Aging. 2018; Volume 33(3):461–472. doi:10.1037/pag0000252. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-21485-007 Accessed February 19, 2021.

[5] Trafton A. The rise and fall of cognitive skills. MIT News. Published online March 6, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2021. https://news.mit.edu/2015/brain-peaks-at-different-ages-0306

[7] Ananthaswamy A. The wisdom of the aging brain. Nautilus. Published online May 12, 2016. Accessed February 19, 2021. https://nautil.us/issue/36/aging/the-wisdom-of-the-aging-brain

[8] Ruiz-Torres A, Beier W. On maximum human life span: interdisciplinary approach about its limits. Adv Gerontol. 2005;16:14-20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16075672/ Accessed February 19, 2021.

[9] Kooij D, Zacher H. Why and when do learning goal orientation and attitude decrease with aging? The role of perceived remaining time and work centrality. Journal of Social Issues. 2016;72(1):146-168. doi:10.1111/josi.12160. https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/josi.12160 Accessed February 19, 2021.

[10] International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Effects of population aging have been exaggerated, new analysis suggests: More appropriate retirement ages?. ScienceDaily. Published online September 10, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100909141523.htm

Financial Disclosure: Contents of this post are related to, but not quoted from, Ilchi Lee’s book, I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality, and Life Transformation***.This book also served as the basis of a prior post on TDWI, These 8 Life-Changing Tips Will Help You Age Well.

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