We've all come face to face with the stereotypical grumpy old woman: Maybe she was in line behind you at the grocery store pointing out that you and your full cart should've let her go first. Perhaps she called your company complaining about a faulty product she received. She might even live next door, yelling at your kids whenever a stray ball lands in her yard.
It's daily encounters like these that may leave you thinking that grumpiness is inevitable after you hit 60. But despite how many pessimistic women you might meet, you don't ever have to be that way! Plus, being optimistic as you age has proven health benefits. Here's how you can avoid becoming "that mean old lady."
Look at the Benefits of Aging
Standing in front of the mirror, it might be hard to see how on earth aging can be a good thing. But when you think about it, there are plenty of reasons why it's great to be middle-aged.
It's been proven that people are generally happier in their 50s and beyond than in their younger years. A recent survey of more than 340,000 people published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that feelings of stress, worry and anger dropped significantly as people passed middle age, while happiness and enjoyment levels increased.
Similarly, an article in Psychology Today says that research on different age groups in the United Kingdom showed that people over 60 were the happiest age group, with happiness starting to rise after age 50. A recent worldwide survey reported similar results, with people who were in good health in their 70s being as happy and mentally healthy as 20-year-olds.
Why? Psychology Today speculates that it may be partly because older age people face less stress and responsibility. They may no longer be climbing the career ladder or facing the emotional and financial struggles of parenthood. But it's also about "letting go"—learning to accept your strengths and weaknesses and letting go of unrealistic goals, attachments and aspirations. In other words, acceptance. You may think of it as learning to live in the moment.
Some older people—the ones who get grumpy and bitter—may never be able to accept that they're not going to reach the pinnacle of their career or that their looks have faded or their children have grown and left home. But, for those who can let go of these attachments and get in contact with their "core selves," they may find a happiness they've never known, experts say.
So, a good first step toward happiness in old age is to stop looking toward external things for happiness and focus on the contentment of simply being. Don't worry about what you didn't achieve or what happened or didn't happen in the past; think about your life now. If you're having trouble being contented in the moment, you may want to consider classes that will help with inward focus, such as yoga, tai chi or meditation practices.
Thanks to advancements in health care, you may still have many good years ahead of you. Think of the new opportunities you can explore—in your golden years—such as new hobbies, new friends, a new home, new grandchildren, or just a good new book.
Research shows that staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships can help you stay physically and emotionally healthy—and happy. So how can you stay connected when your children have moved away and you've retired from work?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Volunteer in your community. There are many opportunities from churches and synagogues to soup kitchens, shelters and schools.
- Visit a senior center or recreation center and participate in some new activities. You may discover hidden talents and make new friends.
- Join a group focused on activities you enjoy, such as hiking, playing cards, listening to or playing music, reading books or dining.
- Take a class. Many colleges and universities offer free or reduced-tuition classes for older people, whether you want to learn a new language, study the classics or brush up on computer skills.
- Join a gym or fitness center or find a walking or running buddy in your neighborhood. The physical activity, along with the social interaction, will improve your mood and your health.
Embrace Optimism for Its Health Benefits
Believe it or not, simply being optimistic can improve your health. Research has shown that people with better outlooks on life catch fewer colds, have higher levels of "good cholesterol," have a reduced risk for heart attack and might even live longer. With benefits like that, why wouldn't you want to stay positive?
While eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and following the recommendations of your health care providers are crucial for those approaching middle age and beyond, there's no denying that being optimistic is another great way to improve your health.
Next time you feel down or are tempted to lash out at someone like a grumpy old woman would, remind yourself that you have plenty of time left to experience life as you want to live it, and that this is only the beginning of another half-lifetime of happiness.