What Do You Believe About Age?
We’ve all said “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But, do we as easily consider the reverse of that statement – that we see and experience what we believe including what we believe about aging?
Consider Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s sentiment: “Age does not of itself bring degeneration and disability. Rather it is the belief that this is so that brings them about.”
And, Christian writer & Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, who penned over 200 statements about aging wrote this: ”Mortal mind sees what it believes as certainly as it believes what it sees.”
Unpleasant thoughts about age not only affect how we feel about our own maturing, but can color how we see family members, friends,, activities, occupations, the world, etc. What we identify with becomes our experience. But, must we believe every gloomy thought we have about age?
Research suggests not. Professor Rebecca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health examined the results of a study conducted 30 years ago in Oxford, Ohio, on attitudes towards aging. She continued the study and found that these attitudes and beliefs undoubtedly affect one’s longevity. Those with a more wholesome and realistic view of aging live an average of 7.6 years longer than those with negative stereotypes of aging. “Beliefs about aging, which are taken from the culture, have an impact,” she concluded.
Research like this points to a positive change in the ways we as a society are thinking about aging. And, I have found discussions like this are happening not only in clinical testing but in conversations all over the world.
For example, I was invited to speak to a religion class at a local liberal arts university. I had prepared an outline of my talk but from the moment I started speaking, it seemed this dynamic group of students was more interested in discussing/comparing our two different religions. So, I laid the outline aside and just took questions from the floor. That’s a pretty brave thing to do when you are staring at 30 curious and enthusiastic college students just itching to make a bold statement about their religious beliefs.
I found myself out-of-the-blue speaking about age. When I said, “Man is spiritual, eternal and ageless,” I felt a dramatic shift in the atmosphere of the room. And since these students really had no opposing viewpoint on the topic, I was able to talk freely about my perspective on age, from a Christian Science standpoint.
I read them this by Eddy, “Life is eternal. We should find this out, and begin the demonstration thereof. Life and goodness are immortal. Let us then shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight.” (pg. 246)
I went on to explain how Eddy began her great work at age forty-five and was still working hard at eighty-nine. And, I reminded them that Bible stories -a required part of their curriculum – include those of Abraham, Noah, Moses and Sarah who were all successful at an advanced time of life.
I also talked about my mother-in-law, who, convinced that life is spiritual and ageless, played 18 holes of golf at age 80 with friends 30 years her junior – and beat them!
After class, I noticed the teacher had been crying. She could hardly talk when she said my statements about age were something she had never considered before. She said she had recently turned a certain age and her family was insisting she retire. Even though she looked and felt much younger than her chronological years, she had allowed her family to persuade her and just that morning had reluctantly turned in her resignation. She offered to walk me out so she could stop by the office, retrieve that resignation, and tear it up!
Like that professor’s family, many believe that a certain number of trips around the sun are an indicator that health declines, careers either slow down or cease, or that one must give up certain activities. I am grateful to see evidence that people’s attitudes are starting to change.
Interestingly, Eddy also said, “Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise.” And, here’s similar advice from Dr. Peale: “Live your life and forget your age.”