Clinton Seniors' Centre sign, 2017. Photo credit: Barbara Roden

Being kind to yourself is one key to a longer and happier life

Rockin’ and Talkin’ With the Clinton Seniors’ Association

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”

Hal Borland

What the New Year brings to us will depend a great deal on what we bring to the New Year. I think we should hold on to what was good and let go of what was bad, and look to the future with positive anticipation. We cannot control what happens to us and around us, but we can control our reaction.

Fires, flooding, and COVID-19 were major issues in 2021 and a challenge in many parts of the province. The pandemic is not over. We are called to cooperate with the authorities and do our part to stem the transfer of this fast-spreading virus. Stay focused on restrictions and guidelines. Get vaccinated. Stay safe and well.

It is with sadness I report that Ardie, beloved husband of Loretta Pigeon Ferguson, died on Dec. 21. Recently Ardie and Loretta observed two celebratory milestones: their 70th wedding anniversary and Ardie’s 90th birthday. Sincere condolences to Loretta and family on Ardie’s passing.

I have written before that I subscribe to a great magazine called Good Times, whose subtitle is “Canada’s magazine for successful retirement”. The publication’s intended readership is seniors. Every issue has a health feature written by Wendy Haaf, and her most recent article is titled “Secrets of Successful Aging”.

Now that I’ve reached this decade of my life I find myself using that word — aging — more and more in reference to myself and others. I seem to be attributing everything to aging: memory that’s not what it used to be, hearing not as sharp, decreased productivity, sometimes needing a nap in the day. Do I “blame” it on aging because the alternative has little appeal for me?

Wendy Haaf states that we are learning more and more about how personality can affect health in later years. Many studies have been done by reputable researchers in well-known establishments. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin argues that personality plays a major role in maintaining good mental health and living a happy and productive life. He claims that alongside healthy practices, like diet and exercise, the factors that exert the strongest influence on how we age are, in fact, five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, sociability, curiosity, and resilience.

It’s not cut-and-dried says Jennifer Bethell, a scientist at the Tank Rehabilitation Institute, although she concedes that many studies have established statistical links between some personality traits and various health outcomes. She suggests, for example, that if you are conscientious, you’re probably more apt to exercise and eat a healthy diet. It could be that the relationship between personality traits and health are driven by deeper factors, that perhaps our genes predict both personality and our risk for disease.

There’s evidence that we can strengthen some of the traits that are known to help us adapt to the changes that come with aging, such as an increase in health problems or functional limitations. “Self-compassion” allows us to grant ourselves the same kindness and understanding that we would offer a close friend, rather than ignoring things or passing harsh self-judgment. Those possessing a higher degree of self-compassion are also more likely to have a greater capacity for resilience. We’ve discussed that in this column before.

We can look back over past experiences and recall how we coped, and might be surprised to recognize that we actually handled some of life’s challenges quite well. In hindsight we see just how resilient we really were.

Other factors, including financial resources, physical health, and social support, also play key roles in resilience. We can benefit by meeting the challenges of aging in a resilient way and by being a little kinder to ourselves, and in so doing pave the way to a long, happy life.

The next regular meeting of the Clinton Seniors’ Association will be on Jan. 20 following lunch at the Clinton Seniors’ Centre (217 Smith Avenue).

[The Journal wishes a very happy birthday to Zee Chevalier on Jan. 29!]

“Aging is not ‘lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

Betty Friedan

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