Earlier this month I wrote about one important finding to emerge from long-term studies of how humans age. The finding: Bad things that happen to us do not doom us, but good people who enter our lives at any age help facilitate enjoyable old age.
Because of the enthusiastic responses I received here, on Facebook and at Scribd.com/luddit, I’ve decided to share some of the other findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development and the Terman Study of Gifted Children’s Women’s Sample. These two studies followed about 2,270 people over 70 years. They are among the longest studies of adult life ever conducted.
Here are two other fascinating findings from these studies:
- Healing relationships (those that do us good) are facilitated by a sense of gratitude, forgiveness and by loving a particular person.
I’ve known for years the positive benefits of gratitude. Some friends of mine actually make gratitude lists, which help them stay content during life’s rugged spots. One of my favorite websites is Gratefulness.org (a network for grateful living).
Forgiveness, however, is more difficult. At least for me. But, obviously, it is necessary for a full and happy old age. Holding on to resentment and bitterness festers like a boil, spreading its poison to all aspects of life.
And "loving a particular person" was a fascinating finding. Abstractions don’t work --loving "people" or "animals" -- is not what enriches old age. It’s loving a particular person. How about that?
I know that Sweetheart Al enriches my life immeasurably. And we met rather late in life. But having him as a partner on the journey keeps me laughing and engaged. And having him in the house and in the car and in the bedroom gives me ample opportunity to show my love for him. I don’t know about you, but I find that showing love to someone really makes me happy. Giving love makes me feel loved. Isn’t that an amazing side-benefit?
- In a love-related finding, the studies showed that a good marriage at age 50 predicted positive aging at 80. But, surprisingly, low cholesterol levels at age 50 did not.
In other words, a good relationship does more for your old-age-happiness than low cholesterol levels. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. Emotional connection is vital for humans. In fact, the ability to form attachments is an essential part of healthy emotional development
What’s more, those who spend their lives studying the human brain say our brain is designed to promote relationships. They draw that conclusion from the fact that our brain’s pleasure centers are stimulated when we have positive human interactions. Positive human interactions make us feel good.
Interactions as simple as a smile, sharing a funny joke, a kind word, or a hug can make us feel good for hours. More complex interactions – going out to dinner together, getting together with other friends for a movie or a picnic or just to visit, reading aloud to each other, taking care of each other when we’re sick, raising children together – can build a life rich enough to keep us feeling secure, safe and happy well into old age.
Even if our spouse dies, we carry the pleasure of our time together with us, and that pleasure eases some of the burdens we encounter in old age.
So, want a happy old age? Lay the foundation for happy old age by cultivating a sense of gratitude and forgiveness and by finding one particular person with whom to share love.
Sounds good to me. How about you?
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