2006 – November / December

November – December, 2006, Issue No 41


November – December, 2006

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 41

In this issue:

COMMENTARY Zest: More Than its Own Reward

Having a zest for life is in itself to take energetic pleasure in life’s potentials. Living with zest is, then, simply a rewarding way of life. recent research suggests that there is an additional benefit of considerable significance: living longer. One might say that the body rewards those who use it well.

Researchers in this case studied 320 Swedish octogenarians for 10 years. At the beginning of the study they used measures to distinguish between those who had a high zest for life and a happy and optimistic attitude with those who did not score high on these indicators. Some of the questions used to test for “zest”were: “I am just as happy as when I was younger;” “These are the best years of my life;” and “I have gotten more know. “Their concern was whether the two groups would differ in terms of longevity. The results were dramatic. Those who had the lowest Zest for Life scores had a risk of dying that was twice as high than those in the highest quartile, even when sex, age, number of serious illnesses, and frailty were taken into account. Researchers also ruled out the effects of social class, depressiveness, and social and cognitive functioning. Being a “big shot” when you were younger did not count for much either. Even when people had serious illnesses, their mortality was still more closely related to their zest for life than their diseases.
Clearly having a zest for life seems to make a contribution to a long and satisfying life. Yet, we asked ourselves, what if one doesn’t feel zestful and zingy? Do these results suggest that zest is just built into personality, and by 80 years of age one should just accept one’s fate? Is it possible to create a zest for life? This question is as difficult to answer, as it is important. We invite our readers to comment on the potentials for change in later years oflife. However, from many of the research studies we have described in the newsletter over the past years we do feel there is room for optimism. One of the major contributors to one’s investments in life is lodged in one’s relationships. Most of our motivation, our desire, our joy is generated within relationships with others. Outcomes and events that might otherwise seem trivial (e.g. winning a Monopoly game, growing vegetables, showing in an amateur art exhibit, buying new shoes) can be filled with interest in the company of caring others. Well tended relationships are orchards of zest. An important reminder during this season of giving.
Mary and Ken Gergen
From: Satisfaction with Present Life Predicts Survival in Octogenarians by Tiina-Mari Lyra, Timo M. Tormakangas, Sanna Read, Taina Rantanen, & Stig Berg. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 2006, 61B, P3199-P326.

RESEARCH: Togetherness and Longevity: A Healthy Pair

We have just stressed the significance of nurturing relationships in positive aging. Recent research adds robust support to this position, and extends its implications in important ways. These psychologists believe that people require social interaction to develop normally. People need to have contact with others and nurturance to survive and thrive. Feelings of social connectedness, or lack thereof (loneliness) can be 2) relational connections of friendship and collegiality, and 3) collective connectedness, that is belonging to a community, club, social group or neighborhood. An individual’s self esteem and sense of purpose in life depends importantly in how closely involved with others one is. Unhappiness is commonly triggered by social rejection or the dissolution of social bonds.

Supporting this view are data from the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. The research was begun in 2002 with 230 English-speaking Chicagoans between the ages of 50 and 67, from the African-American, Hispanic and Caucasian populations. Numerous research reports were produced that looked at various ways that social life affects well-being and health. Many of the studies involved assessing biological indicators of the sample, along with measures of how socially connected they were. For example, socially engaged people were more likely to have lower blood pressure and better sleep quality than lonely people Although there were no differences between lonely and non-lonely people in terms of hours of sleep, the lonely people slept more poorly, and their bodies did not have the same opportunities to restore themselves as more sociable sleepers had.

Researchers discovered that in some ways lonely people bring their fates upon themselves. Lonely people are more likely to construe their worlds, including the behavior of others, as threatening or punitive. Thus, they are more l to be socially anxious, expect others to treat them badly, and thus try to keep their guard up when in company. (This defensiveness reduces one’s chance to good connections with others.) Socially connected people are also more likely to actively seek the help and support of others when they are confronted with challenges. They are less likely to try to do it alone.

Interestingly, neighborhood life also made a difference in people’s self-rated health scores. Regardless of age and gender, if one lived in a poor neighborhood, assessed by income and educational levels, self-reported health was negatively affected. However, the impact of neighborhood was also dependent on how people felt about it. If someone felt comfortable and integrated into their surroundings, that person tended to feel more robust, regardless of how poor the area was in economic terms.

If there is one message from this research it is that people need people, as the song says, and however social connectivity can be facilitated, it is a boon to those who are included. These psychologists believe that the notion that to be a healthy person one must be an independent, autonomous individual is highly over-rated. Humans have evolved to be social beings, who thrive by being deeply engaged with one another. Maybe we should feel some sympathy for poor Mr. Scrooge.

From: Sociality, Spirituality, and Meaning Making: Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations Study by John T. Cacioppo, Louise C. Hawkley, Edith M. Rickett,and Christopher M. Masi, Review of General Psychology, 2005, 9, 143-155.

RESEARCH: Reasons to Exercise, Or Not

There is broad agreement that exercise contributes to health and longevity, and that we should help to spread the word to those about whom we care. Yet, research continues to sharpen our understanding of this longstanding wisdom. On the one side, there are many questions about exactly what kinds of exercise have exactly what kinds of effects on our lives. In one recent investigation a review was made of all the rigorous studies that could be located relating physical fitness to heart rate recovery and blood pressure scores following various psychological stresses. Some of the studies were longitudinal and followed people into their late adulthoods, while others focused only on younger adults. Overall, the evidence supported the idea that physical fitness is helpful in heart rate recovery from stressful events. However, not all forms of exercise are equal. Weight training, for example, did not seem to be as effective as other aerobic activities in improving cardiac functioning. However, the effects of physical fitness on blood pressure were far from convincing.

One might exercise a great deal without improving blood pressure. (The cardiac arrests found among older long distance runners is relevant.) Nor is it clear exactly what aspect of fitness are helpful in reducing cardiac problems. Speculations range from chemical changes in the body to the social support that comes from going to the gym. One may just find great benefit from taking a quick stroll with a friend.

Further research suggests that exactly how you approach your friend with idea for a walk may be significant. We often try to influence a spouse, close friend, a parent or child in matters of giving up smoking, eating healthier, exercising,losing weight, relaxing, drinking less, changing sleep habits, going to the doctor or dentist, or driving more safely. As this research indicates, if we use a negative approach, such as nagging, threatening, or imposing guilt, there is likely to be little compliance. A positive approach is far moreeffective. Expressing concern, offering help, and stressing positive outcomes are all promising. So, if you want a friend on your walk, don’t point to their indolence, but to the beautiful day for a stroll.

From: Links between physical fitness and cardiovascular reactivity and recovery to psychological stressors: A meta-analysis by Kathleen Forcier and Laura R. Stroud, George Papandonatos, et al. Health Psychology, 25, 723-739.
Affective and behavioral responses to health-related social control by Joan S. Tucker, Maria Orlando, Marc N. Elliott, & David J. Klein. Health Psychology,25, 715-722.

In the News

This news item echoes the research reported above on relationships and longevity. In this case, Professor of marketing Mark Rosenbaum began studying restaurants, coffee shops and other service businesses after he visits to Kappy’s, the local diner in town. Visiting Kappy’s three or four times a week greatly improved her mood, thanks to the other patrons and the staff that she had come to know through her meals there. In his research, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in 2000, Rosenbaum and his colleagues interviewed 83 of Kappy’s regular customers, average age 64. About 60% of them were married, and the rest were single, widowed or divorced. Researchers asked the customers to list people they were close to, and the kinds of relationships they had with them. The support received included social (someone to spend time with); emotional (someone to talk to about personal matters), and instrumental (someone to help out with a task). Interestingly, the bereaved and divorced customers received nearly 60% of their social support from people they met in the restaurant. Those with chronic illnesses received about 40% of their social support from the restaurant clientele and staff. The remainder received about 25% of their social support there. The same trend held for emotional support, and slightly less so for instrumental support. With the importance that the “Kappy’s”, “Alice’s” and “Sam’s” (and all the other diners, cafes, and restaurants) have in the lives of their customers, one wishes that there would be one in every neighborhood. They offer something the drive-throughs at fast food restaurants cannot replace.

From: Restaurants serve social sustenance by L. Winerman. Monitor on Psychology,October, 2006, pg. 20


And, while on the subject of restaurants, Judy Wicks, Founder of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, at 60, is easing her way out of active involvement in this special restaurant in order to prepare for her next adventure as an elder. She is eager to turn her eyes from the stove and the shopping cart to higher things. It is time to take her place on the national scene, educating people about the ethics of eating. Wicks has been practicing what she preaches for over 24 years, since the founding of the White Dog Cafe in 1982. To make her escape she is initiating a plan for the employees to take over ownership of the cafe. She will remain as head of the leadership circle for the present, but will slowly transition in order to pursue other dreams, including writing a book about her views on food, social justice, and the future of the Earth.

What is unique about the White Dog Cafe is its commitment to sustainability. All the produce used is certified organic, fairly traded, and where possible, purchased locally from independent farmers, whose names appear on the menu. The poultry is free-range; the beef grass-fed, and the seafood from special fisheries. The garbage becomes fertilizer, and the old cooking oil, diesel-fuel. The White Dog cafe was the first business in Pennsylvania to use pollution-free wind power. The Cafe was also known for Wick’s commitment to social justice issues. For example, 20% of the profits go to a foundation that supports locally owned businesses and farms.

To celebrate her gradual retirement, she recently spoke at the anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday in New Delhi, India, then she went to Italy to the annual conference on slow food. Next she is teaching a course at Bryn Mawr College, using her own book as a text. These new activities seems right to her. “That’s the kind of thing I feel is the best use of my time as an elder.”

From: Top Dog Easing Out by Dianna Marder, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 9, 2006, F1, F4.


The “New Retirement” Baby boomers are changing the meaning of retirement, as a time of withdrawal and reserve, to one of dynamic change. A recent report from the Pew foundation indicates that 71% of current workers think they will continue to work after retirement, more from desire than necessity. A 2005 study by Merrill Lynch found that 76% of baby boomers expect to retire around age 64, and then start entirely new jobs or careers. As authors Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners write in Don’t Retire, Rewire, people have wide-ranging aspirations running the gamut from college professor to dog handler.

Art Koff, creator of a website that offers information for older people on retirement: www.retiredbrains.com does caution that investing in a new business can be risky. Having little knowledge and a big investment in a new venture can be dangerous. Yet, Kathy Charlton, an executive who grew tired of business travel at Texas Instruments, ended up owning a winery. For her, living a piece of the American dream.” Clearly her version of retirement is about dealing with the new challenges every day offers in the wine business.

From: Changing directions and finding yourself by Christian L. Wright. New York Times, Nov. 15, 2006, 7.


In her new book, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex after Sixty Price (Seal Press, 2006), Joan Price has interviewed other women, and described her own life history and views on sex. She declares, “I’m in love with the man I’ve been looking for my whole life, whom I met when I was 57 and he was 64. We’re as turned on by each other as a couple of teenagers, but with the juicy addition of decades of life experiences, self-knowledge, communication skills and a sense of humor. We’re also willing to experiment and stretch our boundaries.” She is not alone. A survey conducted by the National Council on Aging indicated that 70% of sexually active women over 60 reported being as satisfied or more satisfied with their sexual lives now as when they were in their 40’s.

She also has a few tips for those of us who have been involved with the same partner for 25 years or more. (Some of these tips have been embellished.) Among them are: Get yourself and your partner in the mood for sex (make a date, dance,snuggle, tickle and tease); decorate your body and your space (jewelry, lingerie, perfume, chocolate, oils, candlelight, incense); slow down and let sex play last for hours (start making love on the telephone or by email); make love during high-energy times, not late at night or after a big meal; probe your desires (sex toys; films; games) and fantasies (make love in the woods; play doctor; try spankings); and laugh a lot.

These helpful hints are aimed at the heterosexual set. However, the advice is equally useful for same sex couples or even if you want to make love to yourself! To join Joan Price’s ongoing discussion on ageless sexuality, visit her blog at http://www.betterthanieverexpected.blogspot.com/

From: Autumn of Love by Mark L.Fuerst. Philadelphia Inquirer, Advertising Supplement, 8-9, Nov. 2006.

Book Reviews and Web Resources

THE MATURE IMAGINATION, by Simon Briggs, Open University Press, 1999

This is a scholarly book, with a strong emphasis on psychodynamic theories contrasting with postmodern views of aging and the development of a mature identity. Clearly written, and heavily documented, the author deals with the topic of identity in maturity, aging, and applications of these various themes to therapy, social policy and the production of social spaces relevant to older people. 
Briggs takes the reader through various channels of theoretical development on the topic of aging and what it means psychologically and practically. His conclusions include a means of combining the psychodynamic interests in a deep personal subjectivity, composed of historical events and memories, with a postmodern surface notion of identity as situated and socially constructed. For Briggs, when the social context is inviting, the expression of one’s identity tends to be harmonious on all levels, and in synch with the social setting. When the external circumstances are hostile, a split occurs, and all one sees of another’s identity is a masquerade, self-consciously presented. For example, if the surrounding environment is steeped in youth culture, and the acceptability of one according to one’s age seems paramount,then an older person becomes self-conscious and ambivalent about how much of one’s “age” one should show, and whether or not to try to pass as someone younger.

Briggs reports on the growing skepticism to life stage developmental theories and to the notion that transitions are periods of struggle and crisis. Rather, the boundaries are dissolving and blurring, and the way one ages becomes full ofchoice. Identity is performed within the social spaces provide. The more diverse the types of spaces, the more performances are called for. Discontinuity and multiple identities are favored, and even the shifts in the body are not ultimately informative of one’s life style choices. While Briggs is sanguine about many aspects of the postmodern shift in notions of identity,he is also deeply concerned about the lack of preparedness of professional people and aging others to deal with the times of collapse, when the resources necessary to live the gay retiree life become scant.

There are useful portions of this book for therapists working with older clients, social service providers, and policy planners, as well as for everyone who is interested in gerontology studies. The coverage is immense, and the writing style is as congenial as possible, given the complexity of the integration he strives to produce.

* AGING ARTFULLY, by Amy Gorman, PAL Publishing, 2006

Amy Gorman was feeling stuck in her work as a sculptor and felt that inspiration may be found in the lives of older women who are very zestful in their pursuit of their art. Amy, then in her early sixties, began interview viewing women from 85 to 105 about their work. She was eager to hear their stories of how they continued to be creative into their nineties and beyond. One of the women was Dorothy Takahashi Toy, a dancer, who has been performing for the last 75 years. With her dance partner, Paul Wing, they were once known as the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. (We recall the old joke, that Ginger did everything Fred did, only she had to do it backwards.) Other i were actresses, painters, musicians, and writers. The key to the success of these artists seemed to be that they loved what they were doing and didn’t want to give it up. As Toy said, “It doesn’t matter how old you are as long as you feel well enough to keep going and not to give it up.” At 98 Frances Catlett, a painter, said, “Try to have something going that you have always loved to do and keep doing it.” She also cautioned against having a rocking chair in your room. Aging Artfully is inspiring to artists and ordinary folks of all ages. The book presents the lives of 12 visual and performing women artists, and is accompanied by a DVD and a CD of songs about the women.

Aging Artfully was brought to our attention by Jon Klimo, a professor at Argosy University, who often refers to this newsletter in his lifespan development course, and Jane Vanderveer, his artist-teacher-wife, who just returned from a trip to Australia with a group called “Creativity and Madness.”Thanks, Jon and Jane

* Free email newsletter and other resources provided by Compassion & Choices.A national organization with over 60 chapters and 30,000 members, its mission is to calmly help patients and their loved ones face the end of life with facts and choices of action during a difficult time. They also aggressively pursue legal reform to promote pain care, support strong protection of advance directives and legalize physician aid in dying. www.compassionandchoices.org

* Websites for creating positive possibilities for those with arthritis www.arthritis.org: programs for reducing pain and expanding possibilities for flexible and active living.

* http://patienteducationlstanford.edu/organ lists organizations around the country that offer self-management programs for arthritis and other chronic diseases. Stanford University has been a leader in developing programs that greatly increase the quality of life for those with arthritis. One suggestion:replacing negative thoughts, such as “I can’t..” with positive ones, “I enjoy..”reduces pain, depression and eliminates a fatalistic mindset.

Announcements and Upcoming Events

* JUNE 24-29, 2007: TRANSFORMATIVE DIAOGUE: Special Senior Rates for readers of the Positive Aging Newsletter. Taos Institute Summer Workshop Series, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.

The Taos Institute, one of the sponsors of this newsletter, is a non-profit educational organization that works at the interface between social constructionist ideas and diverse professional practices and everyday life. This newsletter, in its dedication to constructing positive images of aging is an example of a core project of the Institute.

This summer the members of the institute are giving a series of workshops for the general public on various topics ranging from education to leadership to positive living. We offer a discounted rate for registration to readers whoare at least 65 year old. This is a $100 saving off the regular early bird rate.

For more information, check out the website:

Let them know you are a reader of the Positive Aging Newsletter and claim your discount.
* The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education will hold its 33rd Annual meeting and Educational Leadership Conference, March 1-4, 2007. Hilton Portland and Executive Tower, Portland, Oregon. See: www.aghe.org

* March 7-10, 2007: Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on Aging. Chicago, IL www.agingconference.org

*Careers in Aging Week, April 10-14. 2007. This is an annual venture between the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE). The goal is to increase awareness and visibility of the wide-ranging career opportunities that exist in aging and aging research.

*The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, University of North Carolina, at Ashville. The university offers Life Long Learning Community Service. They have three day seminars and weekend retreats to help people plan their retirements. The next “Paths to a Creative Retirement Workshop” is April 20-22, 2007. The “Creative Retirement Exploration Weekend” is May 25-27, 2007.www.UNCA.edu/ncccr/

Information for Readers

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November 1, 2006 12:00 am