2007 – January / February

January-February, 2007 Issue 42


January-February, 2007

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 42

In this issue:

Commentary: Positive Aging: Renewing the Vision

In the first issue of each year it is our tradition 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 less than five years ago, the readership of the newsletter has expanded at a rapid rate – now reaching thousands of subscribers in four languages. Subscribers include 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, professional 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 among older people. By moving beyond practices of repair and prevention, to emphasize growth-enhancing activities, practitioners also contribute to the societal reconstruction of aging.

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 .

To reintroduce ourselves, Kenneth Gergen is a Senior Research Professor at Swarthmore College, and Mary is a Professor Emerita at Penn State University. Ken and Mary both serve 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: Ruminating About Bad Times? Forget About It!

With more time on one’s hands it is tempting to go back and think about some of the injustices, disappointments, fears and guilt of earlier years. Sometimes it is almost enjoyable to think about how unfair the world is, how we are victims of mistreatment, or how disloyal friends and family are. Psychologists often call this continuous dwelling on events rumination. Recent research suggests that this kind of rumination on the negatives of life is not a healthy choice. Measures of the saliva of people ruminating in this way yielded increases in their cortisol level. Such increases are an indication of stress, and in many studies stress of this kind has been associated with poor health outcomes. It seems better for one’s health to recognize that people have foibles and move on. One’s skills at finding distractions, meditating, exercising, and laughing may be good antidotes for the inevitable social slights, injustices and disappointments that life deals out. Forgiveness is more helpful to well-being than continuing animosity. If there ever has been a reason to forgive and forget, this is it!

From: Rumination, Fear, and Cortisol: An In Vivo Study of Interpersonal Transgressions by Michael E. McCullough, Paul Orsulak, Anna Brandon, & Linda Akers, Health Psychology, 2007, 26, 126-132.

Research: Daily Activity and Cognitive Ability

An issue of continuing debate in this newsletter is the extent to which there is cognitive decline in aging, In this study, researchers in French speaking Switzerland were interested in whether various everyday activities were important in sustaining cognitive ability. Perhaps no specific training is important, but rather, many normal activities are sustaining. The participants, some 700 people between 80-85, were asked how often they engaged in each of 16 activities, including listening to the radio, playing card games, gardening, walking, visiting friends, and going on trips, to the movies, or to church. They were also tested on 2 quite different cognitive tasks: the Cross Out Test, which assesses perceptual speed at identifying a target in a field of distracting non-targets, and the Category Fruit Test. For this test of linguistic agility, each person must name as many different fruits as possible in two minutes. [Try it!] Researchers were interested in what relationship, if any, the various activities might have on the cognitive tests after one year.

As the results indicated, people who enjoy listening to and watching different media (television, radio, movies, computers) and who play word games did better than their peers in the test of perceptual speed (the cross-out test). Daily activities do make a difference in sustaining cognitive capacities. However, the researchers found no relationship between participation in the various activities and verbal fluency. That is, there was no difference in fruit naming, no matter how active or inactive people were in other ways. Perhaps as long as we keep talking, we do not lose our edge in this department.

From: “Does Activity Engagement Protect Against Cognitive Decline in Old Age? Methodological and Analytical Considerations” by Paolo Ghisletta, Jean-Francois Bickel, & Martin Lovden. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 2006, 61B, P253-P261.

Research: Doubling the Pleasure

Some days things go right. There is a visit from a dear old friend, an unexpected check arrives in the mail, you find an object long given up as lost. Small pleasures, small treasures. Later you tell someone close to you the good news. There are three major ways in which the other may respond. There are constructive responses, those of delight, support, and joy; there are destructive responses, those pointing out the shortcomings, problems, or failures of the occurrence; and then there is passivity, a “ho hum,” nothing new under the sun reaction. According to researchers at UCLA how a partner responds has much to do with the future of the relationship.

In this research, 79 couples discussing positive and negative events in their lives were videotaped. Raters then coded responses as constructive or destructive and as active or passive. A husband who registered pleasure at his wife’s success would be actively constructive; a wife who complained over the work she would have to do when the friend visited, would be actively destructive. A spouse who mildly affirmed or disconfirmed the event would be classified as passive. At the time of the video-taping and eight weeks later, the couples completed a relationship satisfaction evaluation, as well as a survey asking how their partner characteristically responded to positive and negative events.

Results indicated that participants whose partners were actively supportive of their positive events reported the highest levels of relationship satisfaction at the follow-up. For them, not only was their news worth cheering about, but the supportive reaction also paid off for their relationship.

From: “Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Supportive Responses to Positive Event Disclosures” by Shelly Gable, Gian Gonzaga, and Amy Strachman, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2006, 91, 904-917

In the News


A consistent theme in the Positive Aging newsletter has been that having positive attitudes leads to a longer and more satisfying life. This review article sums up some of the major findings over the past decade treating this relationship. While it is not news to faithful readers, it is heartening to be reminded that certain positive attitudes can help one live longer and better lives.

Becca Levy, Yale University psychologist, sampled 1,100 people over 50 in Oxford, Ohio, thirty years ago when the study began. Levy then related death records to survey answers, and she found that people with more positive views of their own aging lived, on average 7.6 years longer than people with more negative views. Levy also believes that rejecting the stereotypes of old age helps to stave off their effects. Other research has shown, for example, that elderly Chinese living in Asia perform better on memory tasks than do elderly Americans because they have a more positive attitude toward aging. Deaf people also perform better than hearing people on memory tests, apparently for the same reason. In her own research Levy found that participants’ will to live, measured by how hopeful or hopeless they saw their lives, correlates with both their perceptions of aging and their lifespan.

Levy believes that it is a good idea to resist going along with the images of older people prevalent in the society, for example, that older people are prone to “senior moments.” When we are younger we don’t say we have “junior moments,” and yet we also forget names, misplace things, and get distracted from our purpose. We just didn’t take account of these lapses and confusing moments in the same way as we might as older people. The stereotypes are strangulating.

From: A healthy mind, a longer life by Lea Winerman, Monitor on Psychology, Nov. 2006, 42-44.


In November, 2006, older voters in the U. S. got a chance to throw their weight around. For a start, they accounted for over 50% of the voters!. In terms of the issues, voters over 65 were especially responsive to issues of corruption and the economy. Overall these voters expressed their dissatisfaction with President Bush, disapproval of Congress and the direction in which the country is headed. Now that the Democrats are in control of the Congress, the challenge to please the older voters is theirs.

From: “What’s next: How the new congress will push for your priorities” by Elaine Povich and Marie Cocco. AARP Bulletin, December, 2006, pg. 12.


An AARP poll of 930 people 18 and older asking about charitable donations discovered that older people are the most generous. 1 of 10 adults aged 65 or older donated $5,000 or more to charities last year. The next biggest group of large contributors was 35-49 (9%), followed by the 50-64 year olds (7%). In 2005 Americans gave over 260 billion dollars, an increase of almost 3% over 2004. This surge was attributed, in part, to rare and devastating disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami. Religious organizations were most likely to receive contributions, as 2/3 of the respondents gave to them. Next were charities that benefit children, older adults and the needy. Hospitals and other charities for specific diseases, and educational institutions followed on the donor lists. People who have incomes of $75,00 or more were more likely to donate to arts and cultural institutions, while those earning $25,000 to $49,000 tended to give to firefighters and police.

From “With age comes generosity”, AARP Bulletin, December, 2006.


Many of us love coffee so much that we suspect there must be something wrong with it. In the last ten years, over 19,000 studies have been done, trying to figure out what that might be. The conclusion drawn by Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld, author of this article, is that for most people, drinking 2-3 cups of coffee a day is good for you. For some people, coffee can cause irritability and anxiety, but that is not the general rule. What’s especially good about coffee is not the caffeine, although it can help cure a headache and be a great energizer, but other things. For one, the antioxidants seem to be useful in preventing colorectal and breast cancers. Coffee also contains antibacterial compounds that protect against infections. Coffee helps to prevent gallstones, reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, protect against cirrhosis of the liver, enhance physical endurance, and improve the performance of tasks. A recent study of 700 healthy elderly men in Europe indicated that those who drank at least three cups of coffee daily had better brain function than the “tea-totallers”.

From: Yes, Coffee Can Be Good for You by Isadore Rosenfeld. Parade, Oct. 22, 2006, p. 14-15.

Book Reviews and Web Resources


By Angeles Arrien, Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc. 2005 www.soundstrue.com.

A lovely book with a mint green ribbon bookmark, arrived at our doorstep with a note: “With hope that this contributes to your work. Best, Bob Mintz. Bob has been a correspondent and a participant in our workshop in the past, and he has been keeping an eye on the positive aging newsletter, it seems. Thank you, Bob, for your kind gift.

It is a beautiful and quiet book, addressing important developmental tasks for people in their second half of life. The author, Angeles Arrien, weaves together paths of wisdom from many spiritual traditions, in an eclectic blend of enlightenment wisdoms. Each chapter focuses on one of the eight gateways for change in adulthood. The Silver Gate is “Facing New Experiences and the Unknown; the Bone Gate is about “Authenticity, Character, and Wisdom.” For each gate there is a small photograph and a quotation, followed by sections called “The Task,” and “The Challenge” which describe the particular gate and what is expected of one passing through it. “The Gift” follows, which describes the joys of engaging in this challenge. Sections on “Reflections” and “Practices” conclude each chapter, with suggestions for achieving the goals of the gate. Rich resources for other readings and websites for each chapter are included at the end of the volume. The mission of the book is to help people achieve a more rewarding style of living that is in harmony with the earth, with other people and with oneself as an aging person. As Arrien writes, “My hope for us is that our journey through the mysteries of the second half of life will provide a meaningful retrospective and compelling incentive to embrace elderhood with dignity, grace, wisdom, and unlimited generativity.” (pg. 184).

Readers Respond

Our colleague, Bella DePaulo alerted us to her new book:

SINGLED OUT: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After

The author is a social psychologist who decided to check out the science behind the headlines claiming (for example) that getting married makes people happier and healthier. She found that most such claims are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. As for the stereotypes about older single people, DePaulo is having none of them! Growing old alone, not having anyone, dying alone, being eaten by your cats — DePaulo roasts them all to a crisp. With side dishes from popular culture and with generous servings of humor, DePaulo will fill you up with truth and hope. May you never again swallow whole the myths about singlehood in old age!

The book is published by St. Martins Press, and Bella DePaulo can be reached at: (805) 565-9582, or

P. O. Box 487

Summerland, CA 93067 
Second Journey Resource Guide

Our colleague, Anthony Bolton sent us this message regarding a Resource Guide created by Second Journey, the grass roots movement to develop creative living arrangements with older people, of which he is a founder.

Second Journey has just published an online — and “participatory” — RESOURCE GUIDE. Since October 1993, Second Journey has been conducting regional VISIONING COUNCILS at venues across the country. The GUIDE distills many of the innovative ideas about “aging in community” which have surfaced in these sessions…..the entire document is a “work in progress” whose every page solicits suggestions and involvement from its readers. Further, it creates opportunities for volunteers to serve as a Contributing Editor — … and thus become active colleagues and partners in the national network Second Journey is helping to birth. The GUIDE may be accessed at this URL: www.SecondJourney.org/RESOURCES.htm.

Second Journey, Inc. 

P. O. Box 16671 
Chapel Hill, NC 
Aging Artfully

As the author of Aging Artfully I was delighted to read about my book in your newsletter. Thank you for your wonderful newsletter which I had included in my new website’s list of resources, www.agingartfully.com.

If your readers are interested, I thought I would give just a bit more information about how to obtain the book and/or DVD. For clarification, the CD is included with the book, but the DVD, “Still Kicking,” is sold separately. The DVD follows 6 of the 12 women in my book, all over 90. It was selected to be shown at the ASA/Gero meeting in Chicago March 7, 2007

PAL Publishing is at

1563 Solano Ave.

Berkeley, CA. 
Readers can catch a glimpse of the film and learn more about the project at filmmaker Greg Young’s website: >www.goldenbearcasting.com. The book/CD and the DVD are each $20. Together they are $35. They can also be found at www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com. Readers can finally also be part of an arts and aging discussion on my new website.

Amy Gorman, authorAging ArtfullyBerkeley, CA510-527-4977www.agingartfully.com


From Carolyn Ellis, a friend and colleague in Florida:
“Thought you’d all like to see this one. I wish we could all be this amazing at her age.”


Editorial comment: We’ve watched this, and occasionally experienced action delays in the transmission. Despite the technical difficulties it is mind blowing to see her do the “splits” and other acrobatic spins. Thanks Carolyn


Our friend and colleague, Dr. Margaret Stroebe, and her colleagues at the Centre for Bereavement Research at Utrecht University in Holland are seeking older people who have lost someone close to them to participate in a study on grieving and whether an online program can be helpful to them. The program is based on interventions that have been successfully used with people who have experienced a wide range of stressful life events and on up-to-date scientific bereavement research. Participants receive one homework assignment per week for five weeks. Assignments will take approximately 30 minutes to complete. For further information on participation see:


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 who are at least 65 year old. This is a $100 saving off the regular early bird rate.

For more information, check out the website: http://www.taosinstitute.com/upcoming/c200706.html

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

– Questions & Feedback
If you have any questions, or material you’d like to share with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu

– Past issues
Past issues of the newsletter are archived at:

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January 1, 2007 12:00 am