2005 – January/ February

Jan-Feb, 2005 Issue 30

The Positive Aging Newsletter


January – February, 2005

The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen
Dedicated to productive dialogue between research and practice
Sponsored by the Web-based Health Education Foundation and the Taos Institute
Issue No 30

In this issue:


COMMENTARY: Positive Aging: Renewing the Vision

As the new year gets under way, it is appropriate to review again the central mission of this newsletter, thus clarifying as well what you may anticipate and how you may participate as readers. Since its inception almost four years ago, the readership of the newsletter has expanded at a rapid rate – now thousands of subscribers – primarily gerontologists, health related researchers, therapeutic practitioners, service providers for the elderly, and interested laypersons. Many new readers of the newsletter may be especially curious about the orientation guiding the selection of content.

Our primary aim is to bring to light resources – from research, practice and daily life – that contribute to an appreciation of the aging process. Challenging the longstanding view of aging as decline, we strive to create a vision of life in which aging is an unprecedented period of human enrichment. Such a revolution vitally depends on the communities of research and professional practices that focus on adult populations, especially people over 50. It is within these communities that new ideas, insights, factual support, and practices of growth enhancement can congenially emerge. By focusing on the developmental aspects of aging, and the availability of relevant resources, skills, and resiliencies, research not only brings useful insights into the realm of practice but creates hope and empowers action. By moving beyond practices of repair and prevention, to emphasize growth-enhancing activities, practitioners also contribute to the societal reconstruction of aging.

Another aim of the newsletter is to reduce the distance between scientist and practitioner, and between professionals and the public. Through mutual enlightenment may come more relevant research and more effective practices. And of course, we hope that all of us might benefit personally from the venture.

Reader contributions to the Newsletter are most welcome. If you have writings or practices that you feel would be especially interesting to subscribers of the Newsletter, you are invited to share them in future issues. We also review selected books and films, and carry announcements of relevant conferences and workshops. Please send your suggestions to Mary Gergen at: gv4@psu.edu

All past issues of the Newsletter are archived at: www.positiveaging.net

Regarding subscription to the newsletter, we also invite you to share with your colleagues and friends. Drop a note to Mary Gergen at the above email address, and she can add their email address to future mailings. Further, you may have colleagues whose primary language is Spanish, French or German. They may also receive free subscriptions in these languages, either by contacting Mary or by visiting the website: www.positiveaging.net

To reintroduce ourselves, Kenneth Gergen is the Mustin Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College, and Mary is a Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at Penn State University, Delaware County. Ken and Mary are both on the Executive Board of the Taos Institute, a non-profit organization working at the intersection of social constructionist theory and societal practice. Each has a long history of engagement with gerontological inquiry and therapeutic practice.

We hope you will join us in the present endeavor,

Ken and Mary Gergen

RESEARCH: Strategies for Restoring Harmony

As underscored in earlier issues of the newsletter, a substantial volume of research emphasizes the significance of supportive relationships in maintaining a positive orientation to aging. At the same time, this research also presumes that such relationships are harmonious. As we all know, all relationships confront difficult times. Even in the most supportive relationships we face periods of alienation. And, because such relationships are important to us, we may also become despondent or depressed when we are alienated. The major challenge, then, is not in avoiding all difficulties, but in knowing how to restore harmony in relationships.

The present researchers were interested in just this issue. What kinds of strategies do people in later life use to minimize bad feelings, and restore good will in relationships? In this study of a national, representative sample of over 900 adults were interviewed during a 70 minute session. Among the major findings:


 People who put a lot of effort into making relationships harmonious and enjoyable were more successful than those who did not. They had fewer negative social encounters than those who did not have such a commitment. Effort counts!
 When relationships are not going well, there was no strong advantage in asking others to help out or join in. One might say that it is generally better to treat problems in a relationship with the other person, than calling in outsiders to give an opinion.
   3. When tensions did develop in a relationship, two strategies were generally most effective:
         1. Focus on other areas of life that are going well. Talking only about the problem can make the problem even more burdensome than otherwise. Broaden the conversation to include good things about the relationship.
         2. Find ways to explain the problem that do not place the fault on either party alone. Finding fault in the other may only make the situation worse. Far better to find other ways to explain the problem, such as the external conditions (e.g. stresses, economy, childhood training.)
   4. Two strategies that did not seem as effective in reducing depression were devaluing the relationship, nor comparing oneself to someone even less fortunate.

From: Interpersonal control strivings and vulnerability to negative social exchanges in Later Life by Dara H. Sorkin & Karen S. Rook, Psychology and Aging, 2004, 19, 555-564




Experiencing positive emotions is far more than an end in itself. At least this is what a continuously expanding body of research is beginning to demonstrate. Much of this research goes under the name of “broaden-and-build theory,” which posits that positive emotions have expanding consequences that are beneficial to the person. Positive emotions, whether joyful or merely contented, are likely to color ways people respond to others and to their environments. Research has shown, for example, that positive emotions broaden the scope of people’s visual attention, expand their repertoires for action, and increase their capacities to cope in a crisis. Research also suggests that positive emotions produce patterns of thought that are flexible, creative, integrative, and open to information. Positive emotions also increase people’s preferences for variety and broaden their sense of agreeable options for action. If people cultivate these emotions, looking for ways to experience more joy in life, they “may literally transform themselves, becoming more creative, knowledgeable, socially integrated, healthy and resilient individuals.”

As also reported in a previous edition of the newsletter, a study of the life trajectories of a group of nuns indicated that those who had expressed the most positive emotions in early adulthood lived up to 10 years longer than those who expressed the least (Danner, Snowdon & Friesen, 2001).

In recent research by Fredrickson,Tugade, and Waugh (2003) people’s reactions to the 9/11 disaster were followed. After the attack college students were tested for positive emotions (e.g.joy, gratitude, interest, love, contentment, pride, amusement, and awe), and for signs of depression. As the research suggested, students who experienced more positive emotions were less susceptible to post 9/11 depression. Further measures were given of the student’s resources for confronting crises. Such resources included optimism, the ability to relax, and the ability to remain calm in the face of difficulty. As the research indicated, students who experienced many positive emotions also possessed more resources.

The implications of this research for older populations are important. First it appears that positive emotions co-exist with negative emotions in a crisis situation. Efforts to cultivate and nurture these positive emotions, even in the face of traumatic circumstances, is helpful in reducing stress and avoiding depression. It is not clear how positive emotions in a crises may be cultivated. Spiritual practices and philosophical discussions may be helpful. Reminiscing about good times, learning relaxation techniques, and engaging in pleasant activities are also promising possibilities. Needed here is a pathway to grass-roots sharing.

Danner, D. D. , Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, 80, 804-813

From: What good are positive emotions in crises? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Michele M. Tugade,Christian E. Waugh, & Gregory R. Larkin. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003,84, 365-376

RESEARCH: The Positive Side of Care-giving

Research on care giving for the elderly typically emphasizes the negatives: stress, frustration, sadness, and the like. However, such results largely derive from the fact that care givers are asked about the costs. What happens, in contrast, if we ask about the benefits of care giving. Recent research gives us an answer. In this study a sample of 217 people who were responsible for giving care to Alzheimer’s sufferers were queried. The caregivers were on the average 64 years old, mostly women, about half of whom were providing care for their spouses. The care recipients, who were deceased at the time of the research, were on the average 81 years old.

The caregivers were asked whether the extent to which they agreed or disagreed that providing help had:

   1. Made me feel more useful
   2. Made me feel good about myself
   3. Made me feel needed
   4. Made me feel appreciated
   5. Made me feel important
   6. Made me feel strong and confident
   7. Given more meaning to my life
   8. Enabled me to learn new skill
   9. Enabled me to appreciate life more
  10. Enabled me to develop a more positive attitude toward life
  11. Strengthened my relationship with others

As the results showed, on virtually every dimension the respondents tended to agree with the benefits. Their feelings were associated with an increased sense of companionship, personal fulfillment, and the satisfaction of having done the right thing for a loved one. Caregivers who were gratified by their experience were especially likely to feel grief at the loss of their recipient, and this emotion was more frequent than depression. The researchers point out that the ratings of grief occurred soon after the death of the recipient, and seemed highly appropriate given the pleasure the caregiver took in his or her efforts.

From: Cohen, Positive Aspects of Caregiving and Adaptation to Bereavement. Psychology and Aging, 2004, 19, 668-675


Retirement as “a time to take it easy, enjoy leisure activities and a much deserved rest from work” was invented and marketed in the 1950’s by Del Webb, developer of the Sun City retirement villages. That notion has lost its hold on the American imagination–especially among the 77 million Baby Boomers currently turning 59 at a clip of 10,000 a day.

The generation that launched the civil rights movement, protested the Vietnam War, and supported women’s liberation has a track record of creating social and cultural change. Now Baby Boomers stand poised to redefine the “Third Age.” As Dr. Bill Thomas of the Eden AlternativeTM put it, when boomers were kids, ice cream came in three flavors–chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. Now there are thousands. “What the Boomers did to ice cream, they will do to retirement.”

Experimentation in the coming years will create new paradigms of aging; among these will be new places to grow old. Luxury-edition “Sun Cities” continue to pop up like mushrooms across the Sunbelt states. Scattered among them, however, grow seedlings of new model communities, where sense of place, sustainable design, and intergenerational diversity are hallmarks. Developments like http://www.highcove.com Highcove in western North Carolina combine the physical aspects of traditional neighborhoods with earnest attempts to create new models of community. Developments like http://www.elderspirit.net/ Elderspirit in Abingdon, VA, seek to reweave the web of relationships that sustain personal growth and spiritual deepening in later life.

Inspired by the possibilities of what could be, Second Journey, a non-profit organization based in Chapel Hill, NC, will host a series of Regional Visioning Councils in 2005. Building on the Council work of 2003-04, Second Journey will continue a national conversation about the challenge of creating meaningful community in later life. What makes a “great place” in which to grow old? How can the wisdom that elders have gained from life experience be invested back into the community?

For more information, please call (919) 403-0432 or email mailto:SecondJourney@att.net or visit the Second Journey website at: http://www.secondjourney.org/2005Councils.htm (From a press release from Anthony Bolton, founder of the Second Journey Vision)

Chocolate is beginning to be viewed as a healthy food in the medical industry. Chocolate was long seen as a medicinal product by the ancient people of South and Central America. The flowers and beans were thought to be aphrodisiacs, as well as a treatment for various ailments, including indigestion and hemerroids. The chemical in chocolate, flavanol, is now believed to be more powerful than black tea or red wine in the creation of a heart-healthy diet.

Research by Naomi Fisher, M.D., director of hypertension services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA and Norman Hollenberg, M. D., Ph.D. , Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, on a tribe of Kuna Indians who come from an island near Panama indicated an amazingly low level of hypertension. There also seemed to be no increase in blood pressure as the people aged. If people left the island, their excellent health seemed to deteriorate. The first hypothesis was that the Kuna did not have much salt in their diets, but just the reverse was true. What they did do was drink five or more cups of cocoa each day. The flavanol in the drink produced nitric oxide, which is important for keeping blood vessels open; it also helps reduce cholesterol problems and reduces the risk of blood clots.

The candy company Mars has invested in pro-chocolate research, and it is now selling a snack bar called CocoaVia on the internet. Their Chocolate Information Center is


From: Sweet relief: Eating Chocolate Could be Good for You by Susan J. Landers, American Medical News staff. ThirdAge website at:


As a new indicator of gender equality, the proportion of women in prison has been growing at a faster rate than men in the last decade, and today account for over 7% of prisoners. Among them the number of older women prisoners is also increasing. In 1999 about 2,000 prisoners were between 55 and 74. In 2000 130 in state and federal prisons were over 75. Most are African-Americans. Many of these women have received long sentences, and most are there for nonviolent crimes, including drug offenses, forgery, theft and robbery. Get-tough on crime laws, welfare reform, which has reduced support for women with children, and the greater numbers of older women have helped to produce this increase.

Geriatric female prisoners disproportionately require medical attention. In 1999 Florida Corrections Commission opened a new unit for older female inmates, and one of its major goals was to promote health and wellness services for aging female inmates. This seems to be the wave of the future for forward thinking prison administrators.

Prison reforms are in motion that will allow for more reductions in sentences for nonviolent crimes. Eventually the public may decide that paying on average $35,000 a year to keep a 70 year old woman in prison is not a good use of tax-payer money.

From: Older Women Behind Bars by Ronald H. Aday. Aging Today, September-October, 2004, pg. 7


Sue Anderson writes, “I read this in Canada’s Globe and Mail Newspaper today – and could not resist sending it along. Certainly made me go ‘Wow!’”

With heaven outside the window and the din of the city far below, it’s hard to imagine why Kroum Pindoff would have trouble sleeping amid the lofty confines of his Palace Pier condominium in Toronto. Then again, Mr. Pindoff has never drawn much comfort from money, rich as he is. As for heaven, he’s seen too much misery, by the age of 89, to still believe in God. That’s why he tossed and turned after watching the news last Friday night, despite having pledged $500,000 for tsunami relief with his wife, Eva, earlier that day–and why the couple decided, later on that sleepless night, to increase their donation to $5-million.

The Pindoffs’ gift, the largest single donation the Canadian Red Cross has ever received…Large as it is, it comes less than a year after the couple pledged $20-million, spread over 10 years, to War Child Canada, which helps children living in battle zones. In 1998, the Pindoffs gave $5-million to the Red Cross to help people injured by land mines. A few years earlier, they paid to build orphanages and seniors homes in the former Yugoslavia, and to feed 20,000 Bulgarians after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Clearly, the Pindoffs have come to know wealth in the 35 years since they founded the Music World record-store chain. Before that, they knew only hard work and doing without, and if there were sleepless nights, the causes were closer to home…Born in Macedonia in 1915, Mr. Pindoff grew up in Bulgaria, the eldest of four siblings. When he was 15, his father, a builder, died in a fall, so he had to quit school and work to support the family…Eva Pindoff survived the war with her family in Leipzig, Germany, scrambling to the basement two or three times a night during Allied bombardments.

… Every day, Mr. Pindoff …drives to the office and puts in six to eight hours. He’ll be 90 next Christmas, but he and his wife have no plans to stop giving away the family fortune. “We have a nice home; we have a place in Florida where we go no more than two months a year,” Mrs. Pindoff said. “What else do we need?”

“We have each other,” her husband added.

Inspirational words from Sheryl Karas skaras@hpcn.orgthe editor of Caregiver News, who is winding down her newsletter to take up new work. Her farewell gift to readers is about love.”Do your caregiving as a gift of love–waking up every morning with your mission clear and your heart open–or go home. Now. Before the anger and grief and loss of your own sweet life kills you.

How do you go “home” if your home is with your patient? Love yourself. Come home to yourself. Do what makes your heart sing and make it your highest priority. Fill yourself up and caregive from your overflow.”


INTIMACY IN LATER LIFE, edited by Kate Davidson & Graham Fennell. New Brunswick,NJ & London: Transaction Publishers.2004.

A result of a symposium on Repartnering After Late Life Widowhood: The Gendered Perspective at the International Association of Gerontology in 2001, this book investigates various forms of sexual relating, especially among the “young old” – people in their 60’s and 70’s. As one writer described sex, “an under-exploited reservoir of joy,” these experts detail the diverse choices that older people make when they are no longer in marital relations. In Singapore and other Asian cultures, it is considered bad taste to be interested in sex after a certain age, and family life with relatives and children serve as the circle of intimacy; in countries such as Sweden and Holland, a more liberal view prevails, and sexual life, without marriage, can flourish for both women and men.

A new and growing trend in Scandanavia and elsewhere is the LAT couple, that is, the Living Apart Together couple. An increasing number of older people are combining an intimate life style with separate living spaces. In one study of 116 older people who live in LAT relationships in Sweden, all had previously been married and the vast majority had children and grandchildren. Most of the participants in the survey were highly educated and in relatively good health. Although physically separated, these couples usually communicated with each other daily, and most saw each other a few times a week. The major focus of the relationship is on intimate activities and empathic sharing of personal concerns. Mutual trust and fidelity are generally expected, and the enjoyment of the relationship is of paramount concern. Motives for living apart vary, but personal autonomy is an important theme. Women seem to be the partner to most prefer the LAT arrangement. Their major reason for this living arrangement is the difficulty of adjusting to the life style of another person. Often neither one wishes to sell their home, and financial resources remain separate for the most part.

Other chapters focus on re-partnering attitudes and actions among older people in Canada and the United States. Together they provide new models and new ideas for life after marriage.

A well-written and very interesting first look at an area of gerontology that has been hiding “under the covers” for too long.


CREATIVE AGING is an electronic newsletter edited by Renya T.H. Larson from the National Center for Creative Aging. To subscribe, please send an email with “subscribe” as the subject to ncca@creativeaging.org Please include yourname and mailing address in the body of the email.Visit them at their website www.creativeaging.org


The first of the 2005 Visioning Councils for Second Journey, Inc. will be held March 13-16 at the DaySpring Episcopal Conference and Retreat Center in Sarasota, FL. Attendance is limited to 50 participants and will include architects, developers, educators, practitioners, healthcare professionals, writers, visionaries, elders, and catalysts of many types. In selecting participants, emphasis will be given to geographic, economic, and age diversity. Other Councils are planned for May 19-22 in upstate New York and August 4-7 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Attendance is limited to 50 participants and will include architects, developers, educators, practitioners, healthcare professionals, writers, visionaries, elders, and catalysts of many types. In selecting participants, emphasis will be given to geographic, economic, and age diversity.
For more information, please call (919) 403-0432 or email SecondJourney@att.net or visit the Second Journey
website at: http://www.secondjourney.org/2005Councils.htm

is offering five workshops on Becoming a Narrative Practitioner. In 2005. Each workshop is highly interactive and filled with examples and practice. Participants leave with a new appreciation for story along with techniques for harnessing story’s power in the workplace and society.

CALENDAR (with cities noted)

March 22-23, London: Exploring the Story: Narrative Technique to Enhance Appreciative Inquiry

April 24, Washington, DC: The Washington Story: The case of how national story is constructed and deconstructed

May 17, Washington, DC: Introduction to Organizational Storytelling

May 18-19, Washington, DC: Exploring the Story: Narrative Technique to Enhance Appreciative Inquiry

June 23, Washington, DC: Introduction to Organizational Storytelling

For more information about any or all of these offerings, please send inquiries to Madelyn Blair, PhD at pelerei@mac.com or call 301-371-7100

THE CHANGING FACE OF AGING. 2005 Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on the Aging. March 10-13, 2005, Philadelphia,PA

GERGEN HOME WORKSHOP, on social construction and relational practices will take place on the weekend of May 6. This workshop will explore grounding ideas in social construction, including the construction of age, and related practices of personal and social change. For further information see www.taosinstitute.net or contact Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu
Information for Readers

To subscribe to the Positive Aging Newsletter, go to the HealthandAge.com subscription page at: http://www.healthandage.com/Home/gm=22 or if you prefer, write to Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu



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Past issues Past issues of the newsletter are archived at: http://www.positiveaging.net

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See also the further activities of the Taos Institute:

RESEARCH: The Power of Positive EmotionsRESEARCH: The Power of Positive Emotions

January 1, 2005 12:00 am