On what it means to age gracefully
Recently, one of my best friend's turned 40 & I got together with her and some of her close friends to celebrate the milestone.
Most of us were either nearing 40 or already in 40's & we got talking about how we felt about growing old. Some of the things we commonly experienced were:
A. Greater clarity on what made us happy
B. Willingness to try new things without worrying too much about failure
C. Less concern with what others thought of our life
D. An evolving journey of learning to set boundaries
All this conversation inspired me to write this article. I will cover popularly held misconceptions around ageing, the curse & the blessings of ageing. And finally ways to add grace into your journey.
I will also be sharing some resources for you to peruse on your own & open out a discussion prompt for more conversations on this topic.
So let's get started.
Misconceptions surrounding growing old
A. Every limitation is attributed to age
Do you know of people who associate every setback of theirs from low energy to lack of enthusiasm to growing old?
They often claim to not be able to function optimally due to ageing.
- They can't walk too much without feeling tired
- They have all kinds of aches, pains and discomfort
And all of this, because they are growing old.
Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Ellisa Epel in her book, ‘The Telomere Effect', talks about how our conception of ageing can have a bearing on how we feel & age in reality. According to a study, if you think of ageing in a positive way, odds are you’ll live seven and a half years longer than someone who doesn’t.
Take a moment to examine your own beliefs. Do you think aches, pains, discomfort and an overall low quality of life are the norms of growing old?
B. Calling 40 the new 20
40 is not the new 20. Neither is it the new 60.
40 is 40. And so is 50 or 60.
And we can embrace it.
In its fullness.
The more we embrace the reality of who we are - age & otherwise, the freer we are from all kinds of pretention.
The Curse of ageing
Some things that I find challenging about growing old are:
A. Parents growing old
Your parents (if you are lucky to have them around) are growing old too. Some may require more care & attention. That you may or may not be able to provide, depending on your life situation. This makes it a tough aspect to deal with.
B. The emotional baggage you need to carry
The severed relationships, past mistakes, failures, bad decisions are something you carry with you. Sometimes the skeletons from the past may appear to haunt you when you are least expecting.
It's just the way it is. When you have lived this long, there are ‘not so great things’ that pile up.
Things that come with age to be proud of:
Growing old brings with it the blessings of accumulated life experiences. The many life lessons help us grow wiser and become more compassionate.
B. Respect & gratitude
Respect to our bodies for serving us and gratitude to the people in our lives who have played a role in helping us come this far into our journey.
When we acknowledge these blessings, we feel proud of the number of years we have lived.
Ageing gracefully - way forward
To me ageing gracefully means accepting ourselves fully, with all of our physiological & psychological changes and doing everything in our capacity to support ourselves, as we move forward.
5 Ways to add grace to your journey
1. Learn something new every year:
When you learn something new, you are exercising your brain which can help improve your cognitive functions like concentration, memory & problem solving.
I just gave my level 1 Music Exam yesterday. I loved learning how to read music, write music, create a composition etc.
Learning is something I truly enjoy doing and I find that it keeps my brain sharp.
My friend Violet Monis, who is my role model when it comes to ageing gracefully, turned 56 this year and just learnt to skateboard. She travels, teaches, practices yoga and is fabulous fit. Just how I would envision my own life.
Am I learning something new this year?
If not, can I explore a new skill I haven't tried?
Who is my role model? And how are they ageing?
2. Stay active:
Movement is medicine. Staying physically active will have you feeling great in your body as you age.
I have been having an active lifestyle for the last several years and it's serving me very well, today.
How active is my lifestyle?
If inactive, what can I do to add more activity that I will enjoy?
3. Be open to meeting new people & having newer experiences:
Although I open up to only a few, I do like to meet people from different walks of life.
Listening to other people's life stories, perspectives and experiences helps me to think beyond my own limited perceptions, compels me to challenge my erroneous assumptions about how things should be and opens me up to look at life freshly.
Staying open to interactions with individuals of different backgrounds will help you see better & expand your mental horizons.
And who knows, you might just come across someone who connects with you deeply or helps you grow into a better person.
When was the last time I met someone new? How was my interaction with this person? Did I learn something?
How open am I to meeting new people?
If not, what are my beliefs around meeting people with different backgrounds?
4. Strength train:
As we age we lose lean muscle mass and strength, which can impact our ability to function independently.
Strength training / resistance training or weight training can help maintain muscle tissue and strength, contribute to better balance and coordination, and reduce the risk of falls, helping us stay active and independent for life.
My recommendation would be to work with a qualified fitness professional/ personal trainer or a Strength Coach to learn proper technique for lifting weights & get started.
Am I strength training atleast twice a week?
If not, what are some of my ideas around strength training and how can I get started?
5. Accept yourself fully:
As Thich Naht Hanh simply puts,
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
And there is another quote I love by George R. R. Martin:
"Once you've accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you”
Honour your journey no matter how unsatisfactory. And get into the habit of asking yourself often, “Am I happy?” And if the answer is no, then ask yourself, “what can I do to claim my right to be happy?” Allow the answers to come from within.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is external validation for me?
If the score is high, then what could be the reason? And is there something I can do to minimise my need for validation?
✨ Which part of the article did you resonate with the most?
✨ Do you see ageing as a blessing or a curse?
✨ How are you adding grace into your journey?
Do share your thoughts in comments. I would love to hear & learn from your journey.
Reference reading & recommendations:
📖 The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel
📖 When Breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi. This book has nothing to do with ageing. But is a great example of how to handle difficulties with grace. It's heavy. But read it, reflect on it and imbibe the lessons into your own life.