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ATD Blog

The Joys of Aging


Fri Oct 12 2012


Some years ago you remember counting the birthday candles, or eagerly waiting to be old enough to drive, or any number of milestones of meaning.  Older adults often forget the joys of living another year, because society too often promotes the prejudice of ageism.  The stereotype of dementia and disabled decline often fulfills its own prophecy, as individuals seek to play their assigned roles in family and community life.

Birth and death events were family events before the commercialization of both by the appointed experts, during the 1940s.  Christopher Lasch addressed these blights on society in Haven in a Heartless World (Lasch, 1977/1995) before his untimely death.  Early on, Lasch spoke to the coming disconnect of the societal and family meanings in our culture, fractured by the well-meaning experts and technology.  The high tech solutions to aid living often create fears of aging as personhood irrelevance for both in-group and the out-groups in society.


The youthful in-group promotes a form of action and their understanding of advancement, while they are also distanced from the contributions and wisdom of the aging out-group.  The liberation phase of adult development is the glorious stage of knowing and enjoying the self with wisdom in forgiveness, and reflections on positive and negative events with resiliency.  Liberation is the self-actualization of the creative and humorous self.  The joys of being alive and satisfied with life cannot be imagined by those who seek only physical, youthful beauty defined by others.    The internal locus of control with self -esteem is a measure of eudaimonia as described by Aristotle.  Eudaimonia is the self-actualization of happiness and utilization of one’s talents and self while giving back to others.

Eudaimonia may be missed in the workplace when ageism is rampant.  Workplace training may assume the undocumented prejudices against the productivity, contributions, and wisdom of older adults.  Positive aging promotes effective and meaningful collaboration of wisdom and also has been shown to increase healthy longevity by 7.6 additional years (Levy, Slade, Kunkel, & Kasl, 2002). 

The Problem

The personality is central to understanding why some older adults become defined by stereotypes, and others find aging a positive and satisfying stage of creativity and relationship building for their future and that of others.   Humans are social creatures who need to be found relevant and valued within their cultural context at any age.

Beyond the need to be relevant, matter to themselves, and to others, older adults engaged in holistic health activities age more positively.  The decrease in the number of morbidity years directly affects relationships and economics of the stakeholders.  The decrease in the number of morbidity years during Erikson’s eighth life stage of integrity (Gruhn, Gilet, Studer, & Labouvie-Vief, 2011) potentially holds an important psychosocial and economic impact on the United States health care, Medicare, and Medicaid systems.  Support systems that culturally change a negative, self-fulfilling prophesy of ageism, into positive aging attitudes and activities will change the health care macroeconomics while promoting emotional, generative interdependency, and increased life satisfaction.


On the other hand, it is necessary to appreciate the level of changes in both biological functions and psychological adaptations to contributions and personal centeredness.  Research has indicated that the Narcissistic scales on the MMPI show changes that can be both beneficial and detrimental to the older individual.  Valuing oneself as being unique and relevant is healthy.  Health is more than absence of disease.  It is assuredly a balance of physical, intellectual, social, and creative/spiritual wellbeing.  The developmentally intact, older adult will contribute to a more satisfying, eighth stage of life (Boeree, 2006). The late, psychiatrist, Gene Cohen disclosed that most of developmental studies have been confined to the first half of life, with a paucity of studies and, therefore, understanding of positive aging in the second half of life (Cohen, 2000).

Necessary Training for the Trainers

Ageist stereotypes and prejudicial language slips from conversations without forethought, but are destructive to the workforce wellbeing.  Prevailing negative attitudes must be addressed and replace with positive and healthy attitudes and experiences with older adults.

Public aging success stories such as with actress, Betty White, and Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, are viewed by the American, youth culture as unusual.  Geriatric studies indicate positive aging examples, and are far more common than the media would pretend, or the population would realize (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2011, Harwood, 2012, Patterson & Anunsen, 2012).

Entrepreneurs over age 60 are now calculated as 38% owners of small business, including sole proprietor owners.  People between 55 and 64 have the highest rate of any age group for new business start-ups.  Recently the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the governmental Small Business Association (SBA) have joined in offering national educational seminars which encourage adults over 50 to become entrepreneurs.  They call it Encore Day.  Such entrepreneurs are more common than the stereotypical 20-somethings, who are usually thought of as business ventures.  Older adults are typically not primarily in the business for the money, but for the purpose, the idea, and wanting to make things generally better for others.  In short, older adults seek to live a life of meaning with satisfaction and contributions (Dickson, 2012).


The focus on the positive factors of healthy aging is a balance of Social Inclusion Theory (SIT) (Krauss-Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2001/2011) between optimism and reality.  Optimism and resiliency improve attitudes, and thereby affects positive measures of holistic health.  The reality remains between the balance of holistic wellbeing and stereotypical ageism that promotes disability.


Creativity and Aging Brains

Neurology further examines gray brain tissue associated with creativity.  Recently, scientists acknowledged creativity as essential to human civilization and culture.  A new idea is the essential understanding of gray matter and its neuro-connections with dopamine systems as necessary for expressiveness of creativity.  

Creativity, with its divergent thinking patterns, emotions, playfulness, curiosity and willingness to take risks is increasingly seen with healthy resilience in successful aging.  Resilience is another way to choose a quality of life (QOL).  The QOL is altered by the individual internal and cultural belief system.  During the last half of the 20th century, discussions of QOL were used in marketing as well as health assessments.  In health-related parameters, QOL takes on the integrated, holistic definition of physical, intellectual, social, creative and spiritual, emotional, mental, and environmental health and wellness.  The general assumption is that a positive QOL is equal to happiness and life satisfaction (Fernandez-Ballesteros, 2011).


Integrated personalities, high on extraversion and low on neuroticism scales of the Big-5 personality assessment (Gosling, Rentfrow, & Swann, 2003), demonstrate an internal avoidance of rumination causing chronic stress, practice social humor, and protect self-esteem with resiliency.  It may be that such a personality insulates older adults from perceptions and damages of stress in adversity.  The tendency to avoid either unnecessary conflict or ruminations about conflict may also be a protective form of resiliency (Perls, 2012).  Active brain health with plasticity is a neurological factor excited and encouraged by playfulness and curiosity.  Creative experience in the arts and life challenges builds the hippocampal neurons, protecting and building neurons and memory throughout life (Patterson & Anunson, 2012). 


Any life fully lived, experiences adversity.  The individual personality chooses how to interpret, incorporate, and integrate stories from adverse implications.  Resilience is not the avoidance of adversity, but the ability to recover from it.  Recovery from adversity is often made through humor and the playfulness and curiosity of creativity.  A certain level of intelligence may also be a factor of creativity, as well as the personal ability to find a story or absurdity within the adverse challenge.  A sense of humor is a measure of wellness, and physical laughter promotes optimism and wellbeing (Mahony, Burroughs, & Lippman, 2002, Wild, 2010, Gullickson, 2011).


Professionals who work with health promotion and wellness training designs must comprehensively understand health and positive aging, recognize destructive prejudices, and bring relevance to clients who seek to learn.  Understanding a particular personality may be a key to discerning healthy, older adults.   Non-caustic humor, with universal laughter is an expression of personality.   By understanding and diminishing the fear of an inevitable death, intergenerational activities can feel relevant and healthy.  Decreasing morbidity promotes joyous, longer living, while cutting significant cost burdens for corporations, families and society.  It begins with training for positive aging

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