“Aging means a decline in health and happiness.”
“Aging means having to back out of social groups and the things that bring us joy.”
“Aging means being frail and afraid.”
What if I told you these were all fear-based myths and stereotypes? What if I told you I had a conversation with someone who comes from a long line of women who have thrived in their 90’s? And what if I told you – I learned her secrets?
Dr. Andrea Brandt is a renowned psychotherapist, speaker and author who tells all in her latest book, Mindful Aging: Embracing Your Life After 50 to Find Fulfillment, Purpose and Joy. The title of the book intrigued me because I have always been conscious about living purposefully, and more so in my last decade as a mother. I was curious to read how an expert in psychology and aging would carry this philosophy into, what some might consider, challenging years. Chock-full of practical, concrete guidance, this book has a lot to offer anyone who wishes to live more consciously. As someone approaching my 40s, I wasn’t sure how much this book would resonate with me except that I have always thought aging was a privilege. Now that I have read her book, I understand that it can be both a privilege and a joy. After my chat with her today, I have some tips to share with you no matter what stage of life you are in. These will help you grow your happiness now and well into older age!
4 Tips For Mindful Aging
“Most people live in a trance,” Dr. Brandt explained. We go through our daily routines without thinking. Imagine the steps you take every morning to get ready for the day. How aware are you that you are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, applying your makeup? Bringing mindfulness even to mundane jobs such as these can increase the happiness you feel while doing them, simply by noticing the pleasures they give you. Being present in the moment helps you enjoy the fact that you are able to perform these rituals and that you feel good while doing them. So, how can you be more mindful when brushing your teeth? Stand on one leg! It’s like giving your system a jolt by forcing it to be aware of what it’s doing (bonus: you can work on your balance this way, too, which is increasingly important as we age!).
As well, being mindful of your breath can literally calm down your nervous system. With a more calm nervous system, we can “expand our window of tolerance,” which Dr. Brandt noted is helpful “because as you get older more stuff happens that you have to deal with.”
A great way to practice mindfulness is by going on a walk – with the purpose of noticing what is around you. Note the vegetation, the gardens, the smells, the other walkers you come across.
“A mindset of realistic positivity can pave the way for increased happiness, health and deeper healing.” Dr. Andrea Brandt.
Realistic positivity is basically seeing and accepting what is now and wondering what could be – and then putting your focus on what you would love to have in your life. How often do we look ahead and worry about what’s to come? Worrying shrinks our possibilities and kills our motivation. Stay focused on the activities, abilities, and interactions you would like to invite into your life.
Finding Your Joy
Dr. Brandt shares a wonderful exercise in Mindful Aging to help you find your joy. She suggests you think about the things you did that made you joyful when you were 0 to 10 years of age. Write them down. Then think about the decade that followed that, up until you were 20: what brought you joy then? Write that down. How about from ages 21 to 30? Write that down and so forth. Bring yourself to the present this way and ask, What can I do now that will make me feel joyful? Chances are, many of the things you enjoyed doing in your younger years, the simple pleasures, will still have the same effect on you. Be mindful of what makes you happy and you will be one step closer to achieving it.
Another great concept that Dr. Brandt expands on in her book: the longevity bonus. This is simply the fact that we are living longer and are healthier; the senior years when we no longer have young children to care for or perhaps even jobs to go to are the years that are about us. “Why not do what you want to do?” Dr. Brandt asks.
She suggests sitting down and coming up with a bucket list. “What are you waiting for? Get to know yourself. Accept your truth. Free yourself from the things that bring you down. Ask yourself what you want to do with the time you have left.”
As you can imagine, the conversation was a wonderful way to start my day. This material is relevant regardless of your age; perhaps as we grow older it becomes even more important to keep in mind. Aging is a privilege, a joy and a time to enjoy the confidence that can come with getting to that place.
Pick up a copy of Mindful Aging: Embracing Your Life After 50 to Find Fulfillment, Purpose and Joy and learn more about the work of Dr. Andrea Brant.
Connect with her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Psychology Today.