A 12-Step Plan for Aging Gracefully
Age Gracefully With a Positive Attitude
Are you aging gracefully? Is there a smile on your face, a spring in your step, and do you sport a positive attitude? If you can reply with a resounding, "yes," then you probably don't need to read this article. But if you can't truthfully answer positively, then read on.
You may wonder what makes me think I know the answers to these questions. Well, I think you probably already know the answers just as well as I do, but it may be time for us to jog our memories a bit to make sure we're doing this in the best possible way. I'm inviting you to read this senior's plan for graceful aging. After all—we're on this journey together.
Step 1 - An Attitude Adjustment
... if needed.
Have you ever noticed that some 50-year-olds look and act like they're 80; and some 80-year-olds look and act like they are 50? Now, I'm not talking about folks who have serious or crippling illnesses, I'm talking about seniors that seem to think they are supposed to "act" old—you know who you are.
Try this: Put a big smile on your face, stand up tall, and walk around the room two times. I'll bet you already feel better. See, attitude has so much to do with how we feel. Okay, so sometimes we have to fake feeling great—but if we do it, pretty soon we'll actually start believing and feeling it.
We should all try to live by this quote by Charles R. Swindoll:
"We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude."
Another favorite quote of mine is this one by Abe Lincoln:
"People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
We really do have control over our attitude. We may not be able to change a situation, but we can control how to react. Be positive, not negative.
Step 2 - Skip the Complaints
No doubt, you have aches and pains. That's part of aging. I don't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that if all the people in a room could lay their problems out on the table, and then choose among those laying there, most folks would pick up the ones they laid down.
Chances are you've learned how to live with the problems you have, and you wouldn't want to have to learn to live with new ones. Remember the adage, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence? If you cross over to the other side and look back, the grass is greener on the side you came from.
So, now we have to figure out how we are going to go about this aging process gracefully. Well, to start out, there are a few things you can start doing immediately. Put that smile on your face. Make your eyes twinkle and turn up the ends of your mouth. That wasn't so hard, was it? I'm already feeling better. Then sit or stand up as straight as you can. Suck your gut in a little, and imagine you're balancing a wine glass on your head. (We're imagining this, so we might as well imagine wine in the glass and take a sip or two.)
Remember, when someone asks you how you feel, they're just being polite and starting a conversation—they really don't want to hear about your latest sickness or hospital stay. The only time you should talk about your illness is if someone has directly asked about it. For instance, if someone says, "I heard you were in the hospital, how are you feeling today?" This person might actually be interested in your health, but be sure to keep the answer short and then talk about something else. Even the weather is more interesting than sore knees or any other complaints. The last thing we want is to be thought of as grouchy old crabs. No one—absolutely no one—wants to be around a whiner.
Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.— Samuel Ullman
Step 3 - Avoid Controversial Stuff
People say that if you wish to live harmoniously, you should avoid discussing religion and politics. So the following two points are purely my own opinion; you may accept or reject them, as you wish.
Religion: Whether you are religious or not, it's best to avoid this topic unless you know that the people around you are of the same mind as you. Practice whatever you choose, and allow others to do the same.
Politics: There is a time and season for everything. We're now at the age when we can be concerned about something, but choose to let someone else make the waves. Then go out and VOTE.
Step 4 - Keep Busy
... a solution to boredom.
If you are bored and find that you are sticking your nose into other people's business, get a part-time job or become a volunteer.
First and foremost, working and/or volunteering will make you realize that you are still a valuable person. I'm not suggesting doing something strenuous or stressful, but something you feel comfortable doing. Consider what you spent your life doing and then decide what kind of work you would enjoy. You still have a lot to contribute, and there are so many places that would welcome volunteers. Schools, churches, and hospitals all need volunteers.
And many stores welcome part-time employees who are more seasoned. Granted, the pay is usually minimal, but you'll profit by being around people, having something to do, and somewhere to go.
Step 5 - Family Relations and Opinions
... only when asked.
Are you aging gracefully in regard to family relations? As we age, the importance of family is probably one of our top priorities. And because we have a lot of experience and have made all sorts of mistakes during our youth, we think we'll keep our family members from making the same mistakes by counseling them. However, we should only give our opinions when we are asked for them.
Keeping our noses out of our children's business may be hard to do, but it can and must be done. They are the parents of our grandchildren, and unless we want to admit that we did a lousy job raising our own children, it is best to let them raise their children. Chances are they are unconsciously duplicating our methods of child rearing.
So, unless our adult children expressly ask for our opinions about their kids, jobs, politics, finances, religion, or lack thereof—keep out of it. And, it goes without saying, you shouldn't discuss your children's business with anyone else.
Know that you are the perfect age. Each year is special and precious, for you shall only live it once. Be comfortable with growing older.— Louise Hay
Step 6 - Money and Inheritance
... spend it.
On the subject of money, I read once that the best thing a parent can do for their child(ren), in regards to inheritance, is to spend the money. Families have been torn apart when they battle over the fairness of an inheritance. Do your children a favor: go on a cruise, buy a Cadillac, and dine out every chance you get.
Of course, I'm not suggesting you do these things unless you can actually afford it. I won't be going on any cruises, myself. In other words, don't spend money you don't have.
While we're on the subject of money, it's not smart to go into debt to buy your family gifts. You can't buy love—they'll love you without bribery.
Step 7 - Stop the Blame Game
... be the first to forgive.
This is one of the most important ways of aging gracefully. When it comes to your family members and friends, be the first to mend fences. Life is way too short (especially for us) to spend it angry at anyone.
Don't let "saving face" ruin a chance of reconciliation. If you said or did something to cause the riff, admit it and express heartfelt sorrow. If something was said or done to you, admit that your reaction was overly harsh or defensive.
Either way, staying angry isn't an option. What happens may be out of your control, but your reaction to it is in your control.
Step 8 - Entertainment
... is your responsibility.
We can't expect our families or friends to see to it that we are entertained. If you are bored, do something about it. Find fun things to do.
Go out and buy a Wii, have a grandchild set it up for you, and bowl or dance to your heart's content. Your grandchild will love to show you how to set up and use the Wii, and unless they already have one at home, you'll probably have a buddy to bowl or dance with.
Invite friends to go dancing, bowling, out to dinner or to a movie. Ask friends to your home, play cards or get out the Wii and bowl. You'll be surprised at how much fun you'll have. One other thing, when your grandchild or your friends are at your home keep the visit upbeat. No complaining or whining!
Step 9 - Keep It Clean
Do you know how to age gracefully in regards to hygiene? This can be a tough and touchy subject to bring up, but are you bathing or showering daily? I know, some health experts suggest that because our skin is drier as we age, we shouldn't shower every day.
However, I don't believe this excuse "holds water," because there are so many moisturizers we can use. I don't know the reason for this fact, but if older folks don't shower every day, they stink or have an old-people smell. I know, I don't like it, either, but facts are facts—and what we do about it is bathe and moisturize. Your family and friends most likely will not mention that you smell, so please, read this and believe me.
Now, let's talk about teeth. We need to brush or soak our teeth—you know which pertains to you. By this time in our lives, this should be such a deeply ingrained habit that it doesn't have to be brought up. But in terms of our health, it is very important to take care of our teeth and gums. Mouthwash will help prevent bad breath. No one wants to get close to us if we blow bad breath at them. It's also necessary to visit the dentist. I've found that using dental floss (I like the kind with the little handle) really does keep the plaque from building up.
Step 10 - Watch Your Weight
... and exercise.
Is your weight a concern for you? If you are overweight, change your eating habits. I decided to lose weight because my knees were hurting, and I didn't want that to be the reason I wasn't going out and doing things.
My doctor told me that for every pound that I was overweight, it put 7 pounds of pressure on my knees. Well, no wonder they hurt. I've taken about 280 pounds of pressure off my knees. This time I decided I was going to lose weight to be healthy and agile, not for looks. I found that going to Weight Watchers and learning what and how much to eat was the right approach for me. I've lost almost 40 pounds and feel great. I'm 72 years old, so it's not too late for you to lose those extra pounds.
Now, exercise is not my strong point. I do my walking by parking farther away from the store, walking around in the store, and then walking back to my car. And on Fridays I'm on my feet most of the day because that's when I volunteer in art classes at the elementary school. I do agree with the experts that we all need to get off our behinds, but I sometimes wonder if all that walking and running isn't the precursor to the knee and hip replacements we hear about.
I feel that getting rid of excess weight through good eating habits is a better solution to knee and hip health. If you want to exercise, then you can dance, bowl, golf, or buy exercise equipment.
I will never be an old man. To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am.— Bernard M. Baruch
Step 11 - Dress for Comfort
... but neatly.
Do you dress to impress, or do you choose your clothes style for comfort alone? Be aware that there are styles that are both comfortable and stylish. If you find that you are still wearing clothes that you purchased five years or more ago, it's time to ditch them. They've done their duty and no doubt look awful. They aren't even suitable for everyday or at-home wear. Go through your closets and drawers, and pitch all the old and worn-out stuff.
Double knits have been out for years—you deserve better. Buy just a few new pieces that make you look and feel terrific.
Shoes: How many pair of shoes do you have that you haven't worn for years? First of all, trash any that are old and worn out. You don't need them, and no one else wants them. Then take all the shoes that you haven't worn for a long time, but are too good to throw away, and give them to a charity or the Goodwill. Someone will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Then polish and clean up the shoes you love to wear. Maybe you'll even want to buy a new pair or two.
Accessories: So many comfortable, attractive outfits are accessorized for public wear. I'm not too crazy about seeing gobs of rings on my wrinkled hands, but if that turns your crank, do it. We're old enough now to do our own thing when accessorizing. As Sandra Martz says in her book, When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple, "I love long, ankle length skirts—now I shall wear them!"
Step 11a - It's Easy to Dress With Grace
... and style.
I have found a great fashion website for mature women that I think you will thoroughly enjoy. It's a must-read for all the beautiful, mature women out there, and that means you! It's called Fashion After 50, and it has tips for how to wear what you have in your closet for a fashionable look. There is a quiz that helps you determine your body type so you can learn which clothes best suit you. This site isn't just about sales; I have found a lot of great information there.
“You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”— George Bernard Shaw
Step 11b - Fashion for Men
There seems to be two categories of men's fashions: clothes for guys in their 20s and clothes for guys who are 40 and over. I found a website called Ask Men that has great suggestions for the mature man.
Here is a quote from this website: "Don't fall for today's fashion-marketing ploys. By now you should maintain a style that's timeless, not timely; you should avoid the latest trends at all costs."
Step 12 - Change With the Times
... hair styles have changed.
Are you still wearing the same hair style that you wore when you were 30 years old? Maybe now is a good time to change it. You'll feel like a new woman. To color or not to color; that's a choice you need to make. If you do choose to color your hair, make sure you do the touch-up when needed. Gray roots are not attractive, and there are products to use between colorings. I went natural when I got tired of trying to keep the gray roots covered.
Makeup: This may come as a surprise, but some make-up is necessary for the older lady. A little lipstick and a touch of rouge will make you look alive and vibrant. As young girls, we may have been able to get by on our natural beauty; but with age, nature needs a little help.
Men: Shave. Only young guys look good with a day-or-two-old shadow. Older guys look distinguished clean-shaven, and they look scuzzy with whiskers. Of course that's just my opinion, so if your wife or friend thinks you look grand when you haven't shaved, go ahead and enjoy.
God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.
Plan of Action
... decide to be positive.
As I get older I become more aware and concerned about how I'm going to do my own "graceful aging." There is nothing graceful about complaining and expressing discontent about anything and everything. As a younger person I used to admire the elderly folks who were busy and upbeat—and I promised myself that when I became older I would pattern my advancing years after those folks.
These are some of the actions I have admired and want to integrate into my own life: Take care of your health and that of your spouse, have a positive attitude, keep busy, forgive, spend wisely, and be responsible for your own happiness.
© 2011 Loraine Brummer