Just a Number
When it comes to aging well, attitude is everything.
by Jill Lupine

My father has had a rough go of things. I find it astonishing that he’s nearly 80 years old—not only because so much time has passed so quickly, but also because he has seemed old, or at least older than his chronological age, for decades. Even though he has practiced healthy habits such as exercise since I was young, he’s had to deal with more than his fair share of health problems. Worse, as much as I hate to say this, he seems to find no joy in life.
Conversely, my mother—more or less the same age as my father—seems far younger the number suggested by the DOB on her driver’s license. She laughs freely and often, devotes herself to hobbies and activities that fulfill her, and enjoys connecting with others more than anyone I know. She’s a happy doer. Even she would admit she’s never been the picture of health, forgoing vigorous exercise and indulging her appetites for alcohol and tobacco, she’s holding up pretty well. 
The juxtaposition of Mom and Dad seems to reinforce the findings of a 2022 JAMA Network Open study that posed the following question: “Is aging satisfaction (one’s beliefs about their own aging) associated with physical, behavioral, and psychosocial outcomes?” The results of that study, which focused on more than 13,000 U.S. adults older than age 50, showed that higher aging satisfaction is associated with improved subsequent health and well-being.
In other words, people who possess positive attitudes about growing old tend to lead longer and healthier lives than those who have negative thoughts about aging.
The study I cited is hardly the only one to shine a spotlight on the power of positive thinking. The science so far suggests that people who have a glass-half-full mentality tend to have lower rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Furthermore, good mental health tends to equate to good physical health in the form of reduced risks of suffering life-threatening ailments such as heart attack and stroke.

Periods of duress, conflict, and disruption can make maintaining a positive mindset seem easier said than done. That’s especially true when those disruptions, either global or personal, are paired with the challenges that often accompany aging. As friends and family members pass away, our bodies and minds lose their sharpness, and the world around us looks less and less recognizable, how can one possibly stay positive? 
The Asher Longevity Institute prescribes mindfulness, a practice that involves being present in the moment and focusing on the aspects of our lives that inspire joy and satisfaction. Other ways to boost positivity include staying close with friends and family (preferably those who share a healthy mindset), expressing gratitude, and immersing ourselves in uplifting media. 
When in doubt, reflect on the things for which we are thankful. Rather than “forced positivity”—sticking one’s head in the sand when the world is on fire, proverbially speaking—learn to appreciate blessings, no matter how insignificant. Melinda Ginne, Ph.D., a 74-year-old San Francisco psychologist, put it best in a September 2023 story from The New York Times: “No, I can’t play tennis like I did when I was 50, and I can only play for 10 minutes. But I can still play.”
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, June 2024.