Wouldn't it be nice to think of getting older as exhilarating rather than terrifying? Learning to accept all the aspects of aging — the good, the bad and the ugly — was the goal that inspired former NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty to write one of my favorite books of 2016, "Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife."
Hagerty became deeply interested in all aspects of growing older because she was forced to face a number of physical challenges (a heart attack, a broken collar bone and the loss of her voice — a real hurdle for a radio personality). In addition, like so many of us, she had to cope with issues connected to her aging parents' well-being.
If you'd like to feel better about the increasing number of candles on your birthday cake, this is the book for you. Hagerty wastes no time reminding readers that scientists are confirming what we all instinctively suspected: Chronology can be our friend. She urges us to incorporate three essentials into our lives.
Engage with verve; autopilot equals Death. Choose where to invest your energy, and do so intentionally. The clearest path to a robust older life is purposeful engagement. Engaging in the things that you feel are important will lift your levels of joy and satisfaction, both in the moment as well as over the years.
Choose purpose over happiness. Finding a deeper purpose and pursuing it carries an unexpected bonus: It makes you robust. Researchers know that purpose in life is more important than education or wealth when it comes to long-term health and happiness. According to Hagerty, "It isn't a panacea, but it's awfully close."
Your thinking is your experience. While much of your life is shaped by biology, genetics and life circumstances, how you think can shape how you experience the world. Your thoughts and attitudes today chart your destiny tomorrow, the day after that and the day after that.
When Hagerty's father died (at age 91), she reflected on the full life he enjoyed. She fondly remembered how he studied French every night between 2 and 3 a.m., teaching himself grammar, spelling and vocabulary. She said: "He never progressed beyond terrible at French, but he always insisted that some things are worth doing poorly. I think he meant that some things are so worthwhile that even if you have no talent, even if the results are mediocre, it is still worth your time and effort."
Hagerty advises us to always remember that there are still worthwhile things to be accomplished, regardless of our age. Quoting Howard Stevenson, she advises her readers: "Ask yourself regularly: How will I use these glorious days for the best purpose?" A few more of her suggestions include:
— At every stage of life, you should be a rookie at something.
— It's harder to hurt when you're laughing.
— Take trouble in stride: A few setbacks are just what the doctor ordered.
— If you challenge your brain, you can learn any new trick.
— Redefine success according to your values, not those of the rest of the world.
At the end of "Life Reimagined," Hagerty pays tribute to her 92-year-old mother. She says: "For as long as I have been an adult and conscious of such things, she has swum against the stream of habituated opinion. She possesses the humility of intellect to consider new ideas, yet the confidence of intellect to allow her to settle on a conclusion. She never takes the judgments of other people as gospel ... She is always learning, reading, listening, evaluating. ... It is why she ... will live to be 100." Like Hagerty's mother, there are many possibilities to live a life reimagined.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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