“Happiness is a choice you make” is a title of the book written by John Leland who interviewed six of the oldest of the old residents, 85 plus, in Newyork with diverse backgrounds, culture and life experience. His insights are superb to understand on how to age happily! Ageing is a natural process that is part of our lifecycle. We all grow from childhood to youth, become an adult and finally enter senior citizen phase. For some, this is a normal journey but for others it may be a tough call through the life cycle. To say “Happy Ageing” and actually “Ageing Happily” are two different things. For the group of people who have led reasonably normal life “Happy Ageing” is easy to manage but for the other group it may be tougher. For both groups some efforts will be needed to achieve this status.
What is it that can come in the way of happy ageing? What can be the hindrances? Main thing that comes to mind is ourselves. Nowhere it is written that we should behave in a certain way, nor we should make certain utterances after we cross a certain age. People start saying, “Now that I have become old…”! You grow old every day, from child hood. Your age is one day more than the previous day. So, what is the big deal that you become 60 or 70 or 80? Your physically activity, for that matter, any activity is hampered even when you are 15 or 25 or 35 if you are physically unwell or unfit. In the older age this state of being not fit enough, is longer or maybe permanent. But do you ever say at younger age “Now that I am unwell…!”. You will just say, ” Let me get well and then I will do it”! We should keep the same approach at any age. Our mantra should be, “let me see how I can do it or deal with it!” An ageing person is good enough to do things that a younger person can do. There can be some physical limitations but there is no mental limitation. In fact, mental abilities are more mature at old age if not sharper. Regarding mental abilities and agility, the problems will be the same whether you are young or old; your efficiency on that day depends on your body and mental condition. It is the same with creativity; it is not hampered by age but by physical or mental challenges.
There can be curtailed physical activity which does not stop meaningful discussions. In fact, in younger age there can be limitations of availability of time. But one should take care, while ageing, of not becoming a chatter box just because you have more than enough time. Those who have reasonably decent physical abilities should continue to travel. They should also perform whatever activities physical conditions can allow. A painter, if he cannot paint due to old age, can teach painting, explain nuances to others. Sharing knowledge with others is a great way to remain in your field though you may not be physically able to do it.
I will share examples from a cruise we had taken a couple of years back. There was one lady on a wheel chair, whose 99th birthday was celebrated on the cruise. She looked reasonably fit though wheelchair bound. Luckily, her mental abilities were quite sharp. I am sure these things do not happen automatically; she must have been taking efforts to maintain the same, and her body has supported her! Was she happy! There was a person who was just 50 plus. He was required to have 100% oxygen support. He was on the cruise with his family, he took local excursions at the ports. His physical condition, due to need of oxygen all the time, was quite tricky. But he was determined to overcome these limitations. So, your own determination is what helps, and mind you, age has nothing to with it. Recipe for unhappy status of your mind and hence your life, is the same at any age. Unhappy thinking, continuously thinking about age and physical and mental issues lead to vicious circle in your life and you feel as if you are in tailspin all the time!
The other day we walked to the shopping area near our home. I was standing on footpath as Jaya and Rhea went in the shop. I was as usual, observing all species moving around! The shop was located in a condominium. I saw an old man walking out from the complex. He trundled out and sat on a wall which was about more than half a meter tall; then he swung his feet and moved them to change the direction he was facing. I went and said hello to him. He was 97 years of age! We exchanged various things in life for 15 minutes, he was mentally quite sharp. He said that because of physical limitation he cannot move far from home so he sits in the same place watching the world, every day. He looked cheerful. While we were almost done, a friend of his who was my age, came and sat with him and they continued chatting. I felt that he was doing all the things that were possible within his limitations and was cheerful. Friends remaining cheerful or sad is our option. “Retiring” from the Tera Firma is not in our hands but ageing happily is in our hands.
Our happiness index is in our hands. There are bound to be medical issues, physical as well as mental but being happy within the limitation is in our hands. A sportsman is said to be great instead of good when he knows limitations of his game and performs to the best of his abilities within those limitations. In your life there can be regrets. You may feel that you should have got the Nobel Prize for your work. You may feel that you could have been the best sportsman. But regretting this all your life is not going to make you happy! Your achievements in life may be 70 % of your expectations but there is no point in regretting them while you are trying to age beautifully. Forgetting about your regrets and under achievements is another important obstacle that we must overcome to age happily.
Friends, I will share one example of how I handled a situation. I was 65. In Feb 2014, I had completed cancer treatment, radiations and all. Physically, I was tired with reasonable soreness in my throat area. I faced some difficulties in swallowing the food. One day, I was just surfing on the net. I asked Jaya, ” Shall I buy tickets for a Cricket match?” She said, “Come on your treatment is just over; we will think about it after you recover!” I told her that the match I am talking is a year later. She said ok go ahead. I bought the tickets for Cricket World Cup final in Melbourne, Australia. I was physically down, but had a thinking that bygones are bygones. Let us think of future. I did not allow life to stop though I had undergone a major treatment. In fact, I kick started the normalization processes. This my friends is, what we should try to do and then “Happy Ageing” just does not remain only the title of a book, it is what live!