2013 Sept/Oct

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September/October, 2013

Issue No 82

The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen
Sponsored by the Taos Institute (www.taosinstitute.net)

Wall Street Journal



Respite and Renewal

A close friend recently complained to me about eating Sunday dinner at her mother-in-law’s home. The mother-in-law was in her mid-80s, and as my friend described these Sunday visits, the dishes were not entirely clean, there were moldy foods in the refrigerator, the carpets smelled of cat urine, the furniture was dusty, and the furnishings were depressingly dingy and in disrepair. I must admit, this rang a bell for me. Ken and I have lived in our home for over 30 years. Our surroundings give us tranquility and pleasure. Each stick of furniture, each picture, and every decorative item is safe in its usual place, and a constant contributor to meaningful memories. There is history here, and a sense of place in the world. Meanwhile each piece is gathering dust, disintegrating and absorbing the knocks of many years of use.

I thus decided to play a mental game with myself. I imagined myself as my daughter-in-law, walking through our house. With her eyes I began to see how the refrigerator really does need a thorough cleaning. The living room chair needs repair, as do three dining room chairs. The hall carpet is worn; there is dust on the picture frames, a cobweb in the hall corner, the front door is grimy, and so on. What is it like for family and friends to visit? The result is of this game is that I enlisted Ken’s services in doing some major upgrading. And these efforts have been revealing. We have come to re-appreciate the furnishings, renewed memories, see paintings with fresh eyes, and spot the need for new appliances. We are energized!

In my view there is an important message here. As we grow older our surrounds can increasingly provide nurturing and enriching support – safety, tranquility, and meaning. Yet, these joys must also be balanced with a significant investment in renewal. The renewal of the surrounds is vitalizing and extends our consciousness both into the past and into the future. And perhaps family and friends will be happier too!

Mary Gergen


The Importance of Staying Hopeful

One of the consequences of being hopeful is having a greater sense that life is meaningful. Other psychologists have found that hope is a strong predictor of other positive emotions. Hope and happiness tend to go hand in hand. Researcher Randolph Arnau and his colleagues looked at hope’s connection to depression. Surveying 500 college students, they found those who expressed higher hope at the beginning of the study had lower measures of depression and anxiety one and two months later. In another study more hopeful students also went on to greater academic success. In the workplace, hope seems to have a positive relationship with productivity. Shane Lopez and colleagues analyzed 45 studies in which workers across a variety of industries were evaluated. They concluded that hope accounts for 14% of workplace productivity. “A hopeful person does one day a week more work than a less hopeful person in a seven-day workweek.” Steven Stern, MD, at the University of Texas studied hope and mortality in a sample of older Mexican- and European-Americans. Of the nearly 800 people aged 64-79 studied between 1992-1996, 29% of those classified as hopeless had died by 1999, compared with 11% of the hopeful people. Hope may be a key component to sustaining life.

Dr. Jon Allen of the Menninger Clinic believes that much of our capacity to hope comes from our social relationships. With his patients, the hope they express seems to be an outgrowth of positive social support from others. Support for this idea also comes from studies of people who are more sociable or extraverted. They also tend to have more hope than others. There also steps one can take to increase hope. Getting a good laugh is one. In one study, people who watched a funny video expressed more hopefulness afterwards. Another step is to do something that realizes one’s hopes, such as taking a course, or quitting a dead end job. Having a contingency plan in case Step One doesn’t work out is also a strategy for remaining hopeful. If one thing doesn’t work out, then plan B may work. Sometimes “re-goaling is necessary;” if one goal doesn’t work out, switch to another goal.

To learn more about nurturing hope in life, check out www.hopemonger.com a site from Shane Lopez.

From: Mission Possible by Kirsten Weir, Monitor on Psychology, October, 2013, 42-45.

Aging and Self-Actualization
Abraham Maslow, a famous psychologist of last century, offered interesting ideas on human motivation. Among the most important, he created a ladder of human motives, which went from the most basic (need for food, shelter, safety) to the most advanced: self-actualization. Self-actualization involved the desire to live on the basis of one’s deepest values. In order to reach this level, one had to find ways to achieve satisfactions of more basic drives and needs. Most relevant for the process of aging, they also had to have experience in many aspects of life. Thus, one might conclude, age should lead to greater actualization of one’s values.

A recent study explored this idea. Two groups were analyzed, a young group, aged 18-35 and an older group, over 36. For readers of this newsletter, the cut-off of 36 may seem a bit young, but the researchers believed that people who are in their mid-thirties had begun to seek for higher goals to live by. Other research had also discovered this period as one where higher motives became more dominant. The 240 men and women from all walks of life, and many ethnic groups, were given 12 scales the researchers believed to be indicators of self-actualization. These scales measured such things as value commitment, affirmation of self, ability to transcend dichotomies, ability to develop intimate relationships, freedom to be spontaneous, awareness of one’s feelings, and acceptance of others. As the results showed, the older group scored higher on all these measures than the younger ones.

Other research, using much older populations, found that motives such as altruism, family commitment, and honor were more subscribed to by older people than younger ones. Workers who are older also have greater abilities to lead, work in teams, to think flexibly, and to demonstrate a mature outlook on stressful situations. Interestingly, a grandparent who tends to be self-actualized is very valuable to grandchildren. Grandchildren with a close relationship to at least one grandparent are less ageist, sexist, and fearful. The children are also connected deeply to their families and are highly socialized. They are more self-reliant and cope better in social and cognitive contexts. Among world leaders who are classified as self-actualized are Michael Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela.

From: Wellbeing through Self-Fulfilment: Examining Developmental Aspects of Self-Actualization by Itai Ivtzan, Hannah E. Gardner, Izra Bernard, Mandeep Sekhon, & Rona Hart. The Humanistic Psychologist, 2013, 41, 119-132.


Diana Conquers the Seas and Skeptics

Diana Nyad, 64, is a world record long-distance swimmer. She had attempted four times to swim without a shark cage from Havana to Key West, Florida. Now, on the fifth try, she succeeded. Swimming for 53 hours, she is the first person confirmed to have accomplished this feat. Nyad gained national attention in 1975 when she swam around Manhattan (28 miles) and in 1979 when she swam from North Bimini, The Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida (102 miles). This fall, she swam for 48 hours in a specially constructed pool in the middle of New York City as a charitable event to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. She found it more difficult than swimming in the ocean. She described feeling cold, nauseous and a “burning” in her shoulders during the swim. The monotony of the pool lane swim also made her feel a bit crazy during the early morning hours. Other volunteers swam with her, and this was a comfort to her, as they spoke with her about their experiences with “Sandy”. The swim raised $105,000 for the cause.

Again she has accomplished what no other person has done.

Sex after 50, or 75? But of course!
Somehow sex is so often made synonymous with youthful looks, sexy bodies, and enormous libidos. It doesn’t seem appropriate that parents and grandparents might also be “getting it on,” and no one wants to talk about it, if they do. This stereotype does older people no favors, and may discourage many people who have the inkling for intercourse to dampen down their desires. Yet, a 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that more than half of those over age 50 and a quarter of those 75 to 85 were still sexually active. Dr. Betsy Crane, Widener University professor of Human Sexuality, thinks there should be more people exploring their sexuality than there are. “Sex is good for your health. It lowers blood pressure, elevates mood, boosts immunity, burns calories, and helps you sleep better. Men who have sex more often have a lower incidence of heart attacks.”

For couples who have let sex slip away, Dr. Crane recommends that physical intimacy may be rekindled by making time for romance, holding hands, kissing, and setting dates for sex. She recommends that instead of the youthful model of late-night sex, older couples arrange for siesta breaks, morning trysts, and choosing other times of the day when energy is high. She also advocates the use of sex toys, erotic literature and “outercourse”. Creative responses to physical limitations are also often necessary with older people, but pillows, new positions, and props can compensate. People without partners can also find ways to pleasure themselves as well.

Importantly, older people should realize that the hormone-powered drive that signaled the urge for sex in youth tapers off, and sex becomes more of a decision to engage in something ultimately satisfying than a sudden demand. “But once you make a decision, it can be fun. And there’s a lot more fun to be had.”

From: Sex after 50, or 75? But of Course by Melissa Dribben, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 20, 2013, G1, G7

John Bogle: Advice from Vanguard’s Founder
John Bogle is an entrepreneur, author and worldly wise man, who believes that his highest calling is to “build a better financial world and a better country.” At 84, Bogle remains active in his corporation, The Vanguard Group, a mutual funds company. Bogle has also written several books since his heart transplant in 1996, including his autobiography in 2008, Enough: The True Measures of Money, Business, and Life. Many investors and financial advisors pay close attention to his views, and admire him for his stands against the foibles and faults of various financial institutions in the last decade. He is not keen to retire, and says that “working keeps me alive… you get your tail out of bed in the morning and go out and do something useful.” Some words of wisdom from Bogle:
“Never forget the important role of luck in your life.”
“Never, never say, ‘I did it all myself’. Nobody does it all themselves.”
“Follow your own instincts, try to be yourself and live your own life.”
“Success is a journey and not a destination.”

From: John Bogle’s enduring wisdom by Art Carey, Inquirer, Sept. 15, 2013, D1. D5.


The Other Talk: A Guide to Talking with your Adult Children About the Rest of Your Life.

AARP announces their latest book for older adults who would like to have their children know about their own views on the rest of their lives. How to have this talk is outlined, including tips on how to have honest discussions about medical care, finances, and what you might consider a “good death.” Check it out at aarp.org/OtherTalk

Another source for having important talks with significant others, is found on the Taos Institute site (www.TaosInstitute.net) The book is Healing Conversations Now: Enhance Relationships with Elders and Dying Loved Ones (2011) by Joan Chadbourne and Tony Silbert.

Website Volunteering Opportunities

How to make everyday life more exciting? Join a volunteering activity. It is a great way to meet new people, test out new interests and be engaged in a meaningful way with others. It may also teach you something about yourself. In addition to these specific opportunities, if you Google “Volunteering Opportunities” you will discover a wealth of sites where you can find ways to offer your services in specific ways in special locations of your choice. These are a diverse group that may be of interest:

Protect a National Treasure (work in a national park): www.nps.gov/gettinginvolved

Inspire a Middle Schooler: www.citizenschools.org

Help in a hospice: http://www.evercarehospice.com/who-we-are/volunteer/


From: Ben Strohecker [mailto: [email protected]]

I’d like to accept your invitation, Mary, to share some information which might be of interest to you and The Taos Institute newsletter on Positive Aging.

It’s about a “GATHERING OF ELDERS...Seeking Wisdom and Hope for the World”. It took place on July 18th, Nelson Mandela’s birthday. Blest and applauded by Archbishop Tutu, now Chair of the International Elders group, it brought together a diverse group of twelve elder participants - including a Latina activist, college and university presidents, an activist Roman Catholic Nun, a Rabbi/University Professor, a class action attorney, a philanthropist, the CEO of an international marketing firm and a candy maker. The purpose of the group is to replicate the international group’s goals of making retirement a time of productive engagement in the world, using the resources of one’s own development. They also wish to convey a “counter-cultural image of elders as creative, generative, thriving, brilliant people who are harnessing their individual and collective wisdom for the benefit of the world.” (Taken from the Penguin Hall gathering summary, 2013)

I’m hopeful other Elders will be inspired to use our experience as a model.

From: Laurie Schur ‪‬
I very much enjoy your Positive Aging Newsletter. My film project, The Beauty of Aging Documentary Project, fits in with your views.

There is a lot of free footage on my website under Trailer, The Women and Hedda which I'm happy to share with your readers if you are so inclined to list my website - http://www.beautyofaging.com

I also have a blog on the site with a section called "Share Your Story" where people can write to me about an elder they want to honor.

Thank you for all that you do.


November 20-24, 2013: Gerontological Society of American Annual Scientific Meeting:; Optimal Aging Through Research. New Orleans. Geron.org

February 27-March 2, 2014: Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. 40th Annual Meeting & Educational Leadership Conference. Denver, CO. aaghe.org/am

March 11-15, 2014: American Society on Aging 60th Anniversary. San Diego, CA. www.asaging.org/aia

Information for Readers

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