The Seven Elements of Positive Ageing
To feel positive about life, we need to feel a sense of meaning and a sense of purpose. We need reasons to get up in the morning and reasons to feel content when we go to sleep at night. But finding meaning and purpose may not be easy. Where do we begin to look for these qualities?
Our research, tells us that there are seven important elements.
These seven elements are not separate: they are interconnected. Our aim should be to find balance across all seven. Often the choices we make will have a positive impact on more than one of these elements.
We need to communicate with others. We need to connect with people and interact. We need to relate to others by listening and sharing our experiences.
In earlier chapters of our life story, going to school or starting a new job were opportunities to form friendships. In later chapters, we may need to develop relationships in more active ways. For some people this includes reconnecting with family or old friends. For others it means forming new bonds.
If this element is missing, we are likely to feel isolated, lonely and cut-off.
Most of us function better if we have some shape or structure in our daily or weekly life. In earlier phases, our routines may have been shaped by external institutions that provided education and then employment. In the third phase of life, we may need to find ways of creating our own sense of structure so that our daily or weekly activities have a composition that we find familiar and reassuring.
Some people need a lot of structure, while others like to keep a degree of spontaneity and unpredictability in their typical week. But structure gives us a sense of order. Without this, life can seem too random and chaotic.
If this element is missing, we might feel a lack of direction, like a ship without a rudder.
To feel good about ourselves, we need to offer some form of kindness to others. We can enhance someone else’s day just by smiling at them. There are countless ways to show care and consideration. Sometimes we can help in practical ways. Sometimes listening or sharing a moment of tenderness is the perfect way to show kindness.
Our own well-being depends on helping others. This has nothing to do with belief or moral virtue. It’s simply the case that people who feel they have something to give are the people who feel happier.
If this element is missing, we are likely to feel an emptiness or lack of meaning.
For continued life, there must be continued growth. We feel more alive if we are stimulated by new learning and new experiences.
Developing knowledge, skills or interests should characterise all phases of life. When we are younger, our education and our work necessitate growth – but later we must work out for ourselves how to grow. We may develop interests which are completely new. Or we may find ways to deepen the knowledge or skills that we started to acquire in earlier periods.
Growth usually requires effort. But this effort is rewarded by a sense of vitality or freshness.
If this element is missing, we may feel a sense of stagnation, in which nostalgia is our main stimulation.
Direct contact with the natural world brings a sense of constant renewal. To be outside in the fresh air, to see trees and plants, to watch birds fly, to appreciate light reflected on water: these experiences are life affirming.
Depending on our situation and our environment, we may have the opportunity to enjoy a river or a lake, a mountain or a shoreline, a field or park. If our circumstances are more limiting, our challenge is to find the same joy in a planted flower or a cloudy sky.
Contact with nature is a human need which is almost too obvious to mention. But strangely, some people overlook this need and instead they stay indoors.
Nature replenishes us. The natural world restores and rejuvenates.
If this element is missing, we may feel older than we are, like a car that has not been serviced.
We can decide what exercise we take. We can choose what we eat and drink. We can’t make choices about all aspects of our health but we do know that exercise and healthy nutrition will enhance our quality of life.
Positive ageing is partly about the choices we can make. It’s also about accepting the aspects of our lives that we have not chosen.
Growing older usually brings new challenges to our physical and emotional health. These challenges are individual, so we need to work out, at a personal level, how we can adapt to the things we can’t control while making positive choices about the things we can control.
People who grow older more successfully find ways to exercise, irrespective of their physical health. There is now overwhelming evidence that exercise improves and sustains our minds as well as our bodies.
There is also compelling evidence that simple choices about our food and drink will enable us to live well. If we don’t take exercise we can start now. We can change our diet anytime we choose.
If this element is missing, our choices about exercise and nutrition will mean that our health is compromised and our quality of life is diminished.
Most of us would like to have more money. Many of us worry about money. Some of us are truly struggling to make ends meet.
We cannot choose to be rich. But we might be able to find ways to live more positively within the limits or our own resources.
When we were younger, we may have hoped or even believed that we would become wealthy one day. One of the challenges of growing older might be a realisation that this will never happen.
Our challenge is to manage our money in ways that help us to enjoy more and worry less. To do this we may have to adapt our spending so that we focus on things that matter more but cost less.
If this element is missing, we may feel embittered and our enjoyment of the things we have is diminished by our longing for the things we don’t.