May 27, 2011

EMIRATES: The older you become, the happier you grow

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates / GulfNews / Friday News / Life & Style / May 27, 2011

Smile, you're getting older

A new study shows that the older you become, the happier you grow, as older people look to the positive, and make the most of every moment

By Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Friday magazine

It was a moment when the world held its breath - Kate Middleton said "I do" to Prince William. It was a high point celebrating everything youthful and romantic. Let's admit it, we live in a youth-centric society and every aspiration we have is somehow linked to beating aging.

But in that grand wedding what people also noticed was the demeanour of Queen Elizabeth as she walked elegantly with Prince Phillip. The couple - he will be 90 next month and she is 85 - were just as impressive a sight as the newly weds. The contrast was, for me, comforting. Just days before I had read about a recent study that said old age is a far happier time in one's life than youth and middle age.

Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Institute of Longevity at Stanford University, who took up the project says, "The biggest myth on the menu is that older people are inevitably unhappy, lonely and dejected. If you've been dreading the passage of time because you worry that your happiest days are behind you, take heart."

The best is yet to come

Carstensen should know. She has spent the past 30 years investigating the psychology of aging. "My research consistently shows that in terms of emotion the best years come late in life. With the exception of dementia-related diseases, which by definition have organic roots, mental health generally improves with age."

"Older people," says Carstensen, "as a group suffer less from depression, anxiety and substance abuse than their younger counterparts. In everyday life, they experience fewer negative emotions than people in their 20s and 30s - the people we stereotypically think of as the most happy. Moreover, older people manage negative emotions better than younger people. When negative feelings arise, they don't linger on them the way the young tend to."

Carstensen says the findings challenge our implicit understanding of happiness, which is that it flows from the esoteric qualities of youth: health, beauty, power. But if these naturally recede with age, why are older people so content? "This has been dubbed the ‘paradox of aging'," she says, "but I maintain there is more logic than paradox." To buttress her findings, Carstensen has come up with the theory of socio-emotional selectivity. The theory is largely about how we perceive the time at hand and that perception affects our responses to life. In her book, A Long Bright Future, she writes: "Socio-emotional selectivity theory maintains that the perception of the future profoundly influences our goals. Time's passage changes our perspective on where we are in our own life span.

"When we are young, and time seems to stretch limitlessly before us, we make choices that we hope will help us expand our social pool, broaden our world view, and give us the experiences and resources we'll need to make a life for ourselves in a complex, crowded society. We go to mixers and parties, we join teams and clubs, and we accept blind dates. We are open to meeting lots of new people, and if it turns out that we don't click with them, well, there's plenty of time to meet others we might find more satisfying."

However, once we hit the half century mark and beyond, a different sort of realisation hits us about the time we have at hand. We want to make the most of it. We begin to prioritise and savour the relationships we already have. Which is not to say that older people don't join clubs and make new friends. Overall, says Carstensen, older people are less motivated to make new social connections and more interested in the upkeep of the ones they already have.

The best thing about aging, Carstensen says, is that it reminds you that you don't have all the time in the world to "get it right". This refocusing doesn't represent "disengaging" from society. On the contrary, it's about engaging in a way that values quality over quantity.

Friday asked people to share the simple truths of their lives.

Colin Nicholas: 80 years old
"Age is purely a statistic and fitness is essential. Physical education and
active sports should filter through your full life span," says Colin Nicholas.
Image Credit: Silvia Baron/ANM

A keen golfer and hockey player, Colin Nicholas lives with his wife in Perth, Australia. He's a stubborn fighter who does not believe in giving up easily. In his younger days, he was the director of a large architectural practice in Australia, a councillor of the Australian hockey federation and he designed the first synthetic hockey stadium in the southern hemisphere.

A father of four and grandfather of six, he travelled to the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona, United States, last month. A few months ago, Nicholas, a diabetic, was on the verge of losing his leg but he changed his lifestyle, ate a raw food diet and saved his leg. Determined to keep up this energising lifestyle, he and his wife have adopted this vegetarian raw food diet into their lives. They love travelling and connecting with the families of their children around the world and think age is just a creation of the mind. Nicholas spoke to Friday on a recent visit to his son in Dubai.

What's your secret to understanding happiness?
An awareness in the world and the love within the family unit.

What are your three tips for beating the odds?
Good education, good health and keeping away from gambling.

Your youth was the time of…
Adventure, discipline and fun. I loved sports and enjoyed my architectural work. In designing the hockey stadium I combined both.

Name one value that has guided you through life
Honesty. There's nothing like a clear conscience.

What is missing in the world today?
Many things, but chief among them are discipline and a healthy lifestyle. Besides that, some core values such as humanity, respect and self-discipline are lacking in our lives today.

Would you have lived life differently if you had had the chance?
Not at all. I have made a lovely family with my wife and wouldn't want to change that for anything.

What values did your parents teach you that you have passed on to your children?
Honesty, integrity, a good and worldly education.

This world would have been a better place to live in…
If people had the core values of mutual respect, self-discipline and humanity.

The real meaning of age according to you is…
Age is purely a statistic and fitness is essential. Physical education and active sports should filter through your full life span. People with degenerate bodies have, in many cases, caused it by self indulgence and abuse.

Growing old is a beautiful experience because…
I am surrounded by a wonderful family of 13 members and a multitude of fine friends.

Yuriko Mathrani: 64 years old
"Be thankful for today. You have today because you had a yesterday,"
says Yuriko Mathrani. Image Credit: Silvia Baron/ANM

A Dubai resident for the past 12 years, Yuriko Mathrani is not ready to hang up her boots yet. Heading the financial operations as the CFO of her husband's electronic business, she is at work each day and has been for the past 23 years. A doting mother and grandmother, she has been married for 30 years and thinks life is what you make of it.

What's your secret to understanding happiness?
Be thankful for today. You have today because you had a yesterday.

What are your three tips for beating the odds?
Open heart, appreciation, gratitude.

Your youth was the time of…
Bliss, as I didn't know the real world out there.

Name one value that has guided you through life
Gratitude. It humbles you.

What is missing in the world today?
Time! Everybody is too busy. I say, look around you and enjoy nature, feel it, listen to the wind…

Would you have lived life differently if you had had the chance?
I am pretty sure given the chance I would have lived life in exactly the same way I have been living.

What values did your parents teach you that you have passed on to your children?
Love, gratitude, appreciation.

This world would have been a better place to live in…
if we have an open mind. Be more appreciative and be more thankful for everything.

Growing old is a beautiful experience because…
You can do anything you want at your own pace.

Ishu Rupani: 59 years old
"I think I have lived a wonderful life so far by balancing all important values
such as physical-mental-spiritual-social and financial," says Ishu Rupani.
Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM

Every week Ishu Rupani loves communing with nature on the golf course because he believes a good tee time makes him feel happier and youthful. He has been married for 30 years, and has three grown up children. He has travelled to more than 100 countries, loves bungee jumping, skydiving and trekking and is fond of meeting new people each day.

What's your secret to understanding happiness?
I count my blessings and am always thankful for what I have and this makes me always happy!

What are your three tips for beating the odds?
I think it's important to be positive; once you have a positive attitude you can challenge any difficulty and accomplish any difficult task.

Your youth was a time of…
Simplicity and small pleasures. My youth was spent in a small town in India with no TV, no mobile phones, no computer games but more of sports at school as well as outdoor games played in alleyways. More hands-on learning!

Name one value that has guided you through life
I have always believed that whatever you want to achieve, first and foremost you need to be committed. For me, commitment is a very strong value and has always guided my decisions.

What is missing in the world today?
In our generation I think there was always more time for family and friends. Relationships were valued. Nowadays I think this is missing to some extent.

Would you have lived life any differently if you had had the chance?
Not really. I think I have lived a wonderful life so far by balancing all important values such as physical-mental-spiritual-social and financial. With a great family and so many friends around, life has been a greatly fulfilling journey.

What values did your parents teach you that you have passed on to your children?
My parents always guided me to work hard, study hard and be helpful within the family and to society. I have tried to pass on the same values to my children. However, I have also made efforts to give them the freedom of choice to live their life the way they want to.

This world would have been a better place to live in…
If you give whatever you can. If you can make anyone's life better, go ahead and do it. If all of us could do this, it would be a better place.

Growing old is a beautiful experience because…
I'd much rather prefer to grow young and continue to enjoy the satisfying life I have lived so far with no regrets. And I look forward to the future knowing fully well that whatever I make of my life is up to me.

Eileen Cochrane: 61 years old
"I don't think growing old is a 'beautiful' experience. It's something we cannot do anything
about and we have to accept it and make the best of it," says Eileen Cochrane. 
Image Credit: Silvia Baron/ANM
Eileen Cochrane is really living it up. A former psychiatric nurse and senior social work practitioner from Dundee, Scotland, Eileen came to Dubai and enrolled at university to learn to teach English as a second language and is now living life at her pace. She has been married for 35 years, and has two children and six grandchildren. She has enrolled as a member of a worldwide organisation, The Red Hat Society, which encourages women after a certain age to grow old ‘disgracefully'. In other words, break the rules and have fun. Members believe in the Red Hat poem, which begins:

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."

What's your secret to understanding happiness?
I don't think there is any secret. Everyone has their own idea of what happiness is. For me it's when everything is OK in my world.

What are your three tips for beating the odds?
Have faith in yourself, be optimistic and persevere.

Your youth was the time of…
Too much worry and responsibilities!

Name one value that has guided you through life
Treat others the way I would like to be treated.

What is missing in the world today?
Compassion and tolerance is less apparent nowadays. People are too busy thinking of themselves.

Would you have lived life differently if you had had the chance?
There are certain bits of my life which I regret but I don't think I would change because good things have come out of the bad. The only thing I may have done differently was work harder at school. I had a brain but did not realise it until I was in my 20's and 30's.

What values did your parents teach you that you have passed on to your children?
My parents instilled in me a work ethic which I have tried to pass on to my kids.

This world would have been a better place to live in…
If everyone could set aside differences and accept each other.

Growing old is a beautiful experience because…
I don't think growing old is a ‘beautiful' experience. It's something we cannot do anything about and we have to accept it and make the best of it. The only consolation we have is that perhaps things get easier and responsibilities get less. I may have more time for myself and can ‘spoil' my grandchildren. I think it's fine so long as you have your health.

© Al Nisr Publishing LLC 2011