2009 September / October

September / October 2009, Issue 58




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.
                         “THE BEST IN INSIGHTS IN AGING”
                                                            Wall Street Journal

Issue No 58

COMMENTARY: Traveling Beyond Oneself

We recently returned from a two-week lecturing stint at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. This stay provided some splendid opportunities to visit the ancient temples and shrines that adorn this precious city, stroll the busy shopping streets, explore the forests and riversides, and meet with friends and colleagues to dine on traditional tatami mats. Needless to say, many of these worldly experiences were exquisitely pleasureful.
    However, hovering about these experiences was also a certain sense of unease. We are scarcely alone in our enjoyment of world travel. And indeed, most people list travel somewhere toward the top of their list of post-retirement plans. In effect, the world is filled with thousands of us imbibing the pleasures of the world’s museums, gardens, theaters, forests, monuments, restaurants, and so on. But consider: is it sufficient that the sum effect of these efforts is simply personal pleasure? Are these merely consummatory acts, similar to eating an ice-cream cone or watching a comedy? The question is all the more plaguing, as such travels often leave a heavy footprint of carbon. Do we satisfy our curiosity at the world’s expense?
    A contemplative moment at the Myoshinji temple, a home of Zen Buddhism, prompted a more promising vision: As Buddhists reason, meditation is not an end in itself. Rather, afterwards, one experiences a renewed and compassionate sense of connection with others and the world. Could we not understand our privileged indulgence in the world’s treasures in a parallel way? It is not just the impact of these experiences on the pleasure center of our brains that is important. Rather, it is the capacity of these experiences to continue their flow – through us and into surrounding the world – that grants them special significance. To experience beauty, serenity, wonder, deeper understanding, and a new appreciation of others is to leave us with new capacities to create and share with others. When these experiences add to our support of the arts; hospitality to foreign visitors; sharing the outcomes of  gardening, flower arranging, and cooking; and investments in world peace, the experiences are magnified. When we share these with our children and their families, our gifts are quadrupled as they carry them on. We become the ripple effects of the world’s cultural treasures, and their potential to create a more beneficial future for all.
Ken and Mary Gergen

RESEARCH: The Importance of “We” in Marital Well-being

To paraphrase Shakespeare, what is in a name?  More particularly, what is in a pronoun?  In this study, researchers addressed the significance of using “we-ness” vs. separateness pronouns, such as “I” and “You,” with 154 married couples.  The couples, who were middle aged or older, were requested to have a conversation about their marital conflicts.  In addition, their emotional experiences during this quarrel were evaluated, and later,  each of the partners was asked about how satisfied they were in their marriages. The sample tended to be white, upper middle class and well educated.
    Results indicated that using we-ness pronouns was associated with relatively high levels of positive emotions, low levels of negative emotions, and low levels of cardiovascular arousal.  Interestingly, when one spouse used we-ness words, it proved soothing to the other spouse as much as to the speaker.  This finding suggests that using “we” can be a healthy choice, as well as emotionally comforting.
    Older couples showed greater levels of we-ness usage than did the younger couples. They appeared to have a greater sense of shared identity than the younger ones.  This may be due to their having navigated more adversities, handling disagreements, and celebrating joys.  (It is also the case that they are still married to each other!)  Among older people, the wives were more affected than their partner by the use of separate pronouns by the husband.
    We wonder what would happen if couples and families consciously employed “we-ness” in conversations? Might this turn of phrase create more positive and relaxing moments, and enhance emotional closeness and compatibility?
From: We can work it out: Age differences in relational pronouns, physiology, and behavior in marital conflict.? by Benjamin H. Seider, Gilad Hirschberger, Kristin L. Nelson, and Robert W. Levenson. Psychology and Aging, 2009, 24, 604-613.

RESEARCH: Aging and Scientific Productivity

The belief that science is a young person’s game and that only young scientists can be creative is still widely shared by university administrators and members of the scientific community. Yet the average age of university faculties is growing older. Between 1995 and 2006, the percentage of full-time faculty members age 70 or above has gone up three-fold. If the stereotype is accurate, won’t this mean a decline in scientific productivity? To address this question, Utrecht University professor Wolfgang Stroebe has reviewed research on the association of age and scientific productivity during the last four decades in North America and Europe. Although early research typically showed a small age-related decline, this decline has been absent in more recent research. Rather, there is substantial stability in   individual productivity across the life span, and past performance is by far the   best predictor of future productivity.
    In a recent longitudinal analysis of the association of age and productivity for 112 members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, a select group of eminent scientists in the biological, physical and social sciences – productivity increased rapidly until approximately 20 years into one’s career, then flattened over the next 15 years, and then rose again in the last 5-year interval. Since these individuals started publishing their first paper between 22 and 25 years of age, they would have reached their first peak around age 45. After a 15 years leveling off, their productivity would have increased again after age 60.
    In another study, productivity among professors in Quebec increased to age 50 and then stayed at the same level until age 70. Thus, these professors sustained their productivity at a high level throughout their careers. There is also no decline in quality for the group of active professor. In fact, the average number of papers they published in high impact journals rose steadily to age 70 and so did the average number of papers that are among the top 10% of highly cited papers.
    The findings of the research on age and scientific productivity should help to put to rest the fears that the graying of academia will lower scientific productivity. In general, argues Professor Stroebe, past performance is a much better predictor of scientific productivity than age. Researchers who are highly productive in their thirties, are also much more productive in their sixties and seventies than researchers who are not very productive at young age.  
From: The graying of academia: Will it reduce scientific productivity?
By Wolfgang Stroebe, Utrecht University, Netherlands

RESEARCH: Invitation for You to Participate in Wellbeing Research

Researchers have devoted decades to understanding what leads some   people to be healthier than others. However, most people have only studied   disease and disorder and failed to also address strengths and wellbeing. In   this study, we want to look at what is going wrong and what is going right in different people from around the world, and in all age groups. We want to   capture the entire picture of what it means to be healthy and most importantly, track people to understand how they change over time. This is the first study of its kind to look in depth at people’s wellbeing from around the world. If you chose to participate, you’ll be helping us to answer some of the most tantalizing questions that our society faces today!
    If you are interested, please sign up through the study web address: http://www.wellbeingstudy.com  The study is open every third month (the next intake period is the month of December, then March etc). Participation requires completing around 30 minutes of questions every three months for a year (five times in total).
    Many thanks in advance!

Aaron Jarden,  Head of Department – Psychology
School of Information and Social Sciences
The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand
Email: aaron.jarden@openpolytechnic.ac.nz



In 1994, Paul Hogan was keeping his grandmother company in his mother’s house. He wondered what happened when older people did not have a family member close at hand to provide company and a little help at home. His curiosity lead him to imagine a new company, which did just that for older people. The resulting inspiration – Home Instead Senior Care – has now grown to international proportions, and his income along with it, as he has created a franchise system in several countries, including Japan.
    The arrangement involves hiring female caregivers 55 to 65 for a 15-20 hour workweek to visit older people, help them with non-medical tasks, from cooking and laundry to playing games and arranging outings. The host pays about $20 an hour for services, of which the visitor receives about half. Hogan projects that his business will continue to grow as the world’s population over 65 will rise from 7% today to 15% in 2050. The franchise in Japan was taken over by Yoshino Nakajima, who was taking care of her parents in Osaka, and needed some support. She partnered with a local Japanese businessman, who coined the term companionshippu to describe the service. Although Japanese elders seem reluctant to invite a stranger into their homes, over time the idea gained popularity. Each new country involved in the project has a master franchise manager, who tailors the service to the sensitivities of the local culture.
From: Grandma Opportunity by Francine Russo, Time, September 14, 2009,   Global 4.


The Purpose prize is sponsored by Civic Ventures, an organization that is dedicated to helping people develop meaningful lives that involve helping others through their encore careers. Their booklets and guides, such as the Blueprint for the Next Chapter, Life Planning for the 3rd Age, and The Life Planning Toolkit can now be found at www.civicventures.org/booklets.cfm
    With decades of energy and passion ahead of them, the new winners of the $100,000 Purpose Prize have shifted their perspectives and changed their lives. Not one of them is thinking about retirement. They are in their encore careers, using their experience to take on society’s biggest challenges in new and innovative ways. They are shaping a better future for all generations. The winners include:

  • A psychiatrist who now enlists therapists to provide free counseling to returning veterans and their families.
  • A former telecom executive who brings broadband – and profits – to economically distressed farm communities in Appalachia.
  • A professor who now turns toxic waste into safe, “green” bricks.


At the age of 97 years, Shigeaki Hinohara is one of the world’s longest-serving physicians and educators. Hinohara’s magic touch is legendary: Since 1941 he has been healing patients at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo and teaching at St. Luke’s College of Nursing. After World War II, he envisioned a world-class hospital and college springing from the ruins of Tokyo; thanks to his pioneering spirit and business savvy, the doctor turned these institutions into the nation’s top medical facility and nursing school. Today he serves as chairman of the board of trustees at both organizations. Always willing to try new things, he has published some 150 books since his 75th birthday, including one “Living Long, Living Good,” which has sold more than 1.2 million copies. As the founder of the New Elderly Movement, Hinohara encourages others to live a long and happy life, a quest in which no role model is better than he.
From: International Herald Tribune, Asahi News, October 15, 2009, 3.


Congratulations to Beth Ashley and Rowland Fellows!  They were married August 22, 2009 on board the Sea Wife, a boat in the Sheepscot River in Maine.  What is special about this wedding is that, although the bride and groom met each other when they were 12 and 13 during summer vacations, they didn’t commence their courtship until nearly 70 years later.  Despite the decades of separation, when they finally met again, they reconnected almost immediately. They began traveling together, first to Maine and later to more distant places.  Finally in Shanghai, they shared their first kiss, and she said, “I felt as if I had come home. I had found the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
    Author and good friend, Isabel Allende, commented, “Rowland plans to live to be 100, so they have 16 passionate years ahead of them.”  Mr. Fellows commented that they had a lot of catching up to do, “but we better do it quickly.  We can always relax a little more toward the end.”
    From “Beth Ashley and Rowland Fellows” by Vincent M. Mallozzi,  New York Times, September 13, 2009, 16.


Book Review by Mary Gergen: Who Am I .. Now That I’m Not Who I Was? By Connie Goldman. (2009). Minneapolis: Nodin Press.
    In this highly readable book, Connie Goldman shares a series of conversations with 18 women between 50 and 80, each of whom tells a story about her adventures in growth and discovery in aging. Each story is followed by an Afterthoughts section in which Goldman reflects on the central images and ideas of the stories.
    One of the delicious attractions of the book is the inclusion of quotations concerning the potentials of aging; among them are:
    “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” Henri Bergson;
    “I believe the most important thing beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.” Maya Angelou; and one all-time favorite of mine, “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”  Mary Oliver.
    The general theme of the book is that aging provides the opportunity for one to create a new capacity to live life fully.  As Goldman says,  “I’m convinced that the challenge of aging isn’t to stay young; it’s not only to grow old but to grow whole – to come into your own. It’s your time to embrace that challenge and figure out who you are now that you’re not who you were.”  (pg. 12)
For more information on Connie Goldman, see www.congoldman.org

Website containing blogs from various people on topics related to aging, health, sexuality, and other facets of the Third Age:   http://www.thirdage.com/experts


From Robert F. Benjamin (505-672-1544 -New Mexico)
    Upcoming events of interest to the Positive Aging community are productions of two stage plays I wrote, TIME ENOUGH and PARTED WATERS.  Both of these plays are rich in questions and insights about positive aging: TIME ENOUGH is scheduled for production at the Desert Rose Playhouse, Albuquerque, during the first three weekends of November 2009.  It’s a late-in-life romance about re-connecting, companionship, and moving past grief.  It’s been a big crowd pleaser during its previous two productions.  It will also be performed January 2010 at the Fernandina Little Theatre (Florida).  The story is a rekindled romance of a lonely widow and an adventurous codger, both mid-60s, who reveal their secrets at three in the morning, and are forced to make an excruciating decision.
    PARTED WATERS will be produced at the North Fourth Theater, Albuquerque, during the last two weekends of January 2010 and at Teatro Paraguas Studio, Santa Fe, during March 2010.  It’s a contemporary drama about crypto-Judaism in New Mexico, featuring the elderly Reynaldo, who struggles to pass a secret family tradition to his grandson without alienating the rest of the family.  It was a box office success during its premiere, March 2009 at Phoenix.

 Annie Glasgow writes:
    I’m a 74 year old who speaks on the discovery of LIFE EVERLAUGHING  within our tragedies as well as our triumphs and addresses ways in  which our live can be filled with AM-AGING GRACE as we navigate this  process usually called “living,” but which is truly “aging.”
    Yesterday, I discovered a copy of a “welcome” I had given at the  Memorial Service for my first husband who was a fine and famous person who died at the age of 49.  I was 46 at the time, and as I read the  words which I wrote and spoke at that poignant time, I was both moved  and reassured to realize that my attitude of joy in living and  rejoicing even in the face of great grief was embedded within.
        You can see how the philosophy which you hold and provide through the  Newsletter is so dear to me and how delighted I am to look forward to  my re-subscription on my email inbox.
“Endorphin Annie” Glasgow’s speaking celebrates the wit and wisdom of the ‘wellderly’ and serves as a reminder that “You’re never old until you’ve lost all your marvels.”  annie@acthappy.com


Readers ask if they may reprint or circulate materials published in this newsletter. We are most pleased for any expansion in circulation. You are free to use any or all that you find in the newsletter, but trust that you will acknowledge the Newsletter as the source.


    November 18-22, 2009:  Gerontological Society of America, 62nd Annual Scientific Meeting,  Atlanta, Georgia.  Creative Approaches to Healthy Aging.  For information, visit www.geron.org
December 7-9, 2009:  The Third Annual Positive Aging Conference will be held  at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Conference themes include: Life Transitions, Holistic Health Care, Building Community, and Artistic Creativity. For details about the Positive Aging Conference and how to participate visit: http://msg1svc.net/cjhmw/185269/60/22706/5403/0/T/rvgw.html

    Tower Poetry Society and the McMaster Centre for Gerontological Studies are soliciting poems written after the age of 70.  Selected poems will be published in a jointly sponsored anthology. “Celebrating Poets over 70” will be the tenth volume in the Writing Down Our Years series published by MCGS.  A maximum of four typed poems may be submitted. Send poems and a 50-word biography by email to Ellen Ryan (ryaneb@mcmaster.ca) or by mail to: “Celebrating Poets over 70,” Tower Poetry Society, c/o McMaster University, 1280 Main St. W., Box 1021, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 1C0.  Individuals with poems selected will receive a free copy of the anthology. Due date is November 15, 2009.

Information for Readers

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with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu

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November 17, 2009 12:00 am