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Aging and the Mind

Aging And The Mind

by Randy Hampton

 

No 30-day challenges this month. It’s my birthday month. However, it didn’t mean May was without some changes. I turned 50. For some that seems young. For others, it seems old. For me… it got me thinking.

We seem to place great emphasis on the passages of time in our life. It begins with the gift bonanza celebrations that we survive as a child. Those give way to the mile markers… driving at 16, voting and ‘adulthood’ at 18, drinking at 21. From there on out there are the decades. Are we where we “should be” at 30… 40… 50? These mind-structured, calendar-reinforced dates lead to the human concepts of mid-life crisis and even the new Millennial quarter-life crisis. Are we where we are “supposed to be” at this point in our lives? 

Why does 50 seem to be a bigger deal than 44 - a year that had some pretty significant changes in my life? Looking back, was turning 25 a bigger event than turning 23 the year my son was born? 

According to research by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, we’re actually more optimistic about aging as we get older. While health is a concern across generations, younger people are more focused on financial security than happiness. This all begins to shift as we pass into the 50s. An AARP funded study showed that happiness gets higher every decade and that people in their 70s and 80s are happier overall than others. Researchers at the Stanford Center on Longevity say that might be because we’ve been through tough times before so we’re more optimistic that tough times will pass.

All this research seems to reinforce what the mind already perceives - milestone decade birthdays are gateways that can transform our lives. But was May 19th really any different from May 22nd, just because my birthday was on the 20th? Maybe it was different. And maybe that was just a mental mirage.

For many years, researchers have been seeing something that is a bit more widely known here in Hawaii - Asian culture tends to value aging in more positive ways than Western culture. It is believed that this is because Asian cultures tend to value the wisdom and patience that comes with life experience while Western culture tends to value the physical beauty associated with youth. Hawaiian culture also values aging more than Mainland culture because of the strong roots of Ohana and kupuna - which extends grandparents to ancestors as teachers. At the crossroads of East, West, and Hawaiian culture, we have the wonderful opportunity to take the best parts of all the cultures that are so engrained here. 

If our years are cruising by and we’re focused on the actual aging - aches and pains, hormone shifts, memory changes - we are more likely to feel like we’re getting “older.” If we’re focused on the joys of becoming comfortable in ourselves, we’re more likely to experience aging as an increase in wisdom, stability, and happiness. If our mind can change our perspective, we can change our outcome. If I can view my 50s as a decade of personal growth, then I’m probably going to really like the process and go through it more easily. Then I can focus on helping those who are spiraling out of control because they feel like they haven’t accomplished their life’s mission in their 20s or found their soulmate by 35.

As I turned 50, I realized that I have the option to view my present place in life as one of growing older - my knees do hurt a bit more these days - or one of gaining wisdom each day. I like the idea that my 50s will be furthering my learning and sharing knowledge with others. And suddenly a seemingly big milestone birthday feels pretty good instead of overwhelming. 

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