Optimism, aging, and creating your ideal life

Jeff Bernier |
By Jeff Bernier

Optimism. Just saying the word itself can make you feel better. When it comes to aging—and aging well—optimism is key, impacting how you feel in the moment, and even adding years to your life. And while aging optimistically may be easier said than done, it can be done.

Our client Joe is a great example of someone choosing to age with optimism. When Joe came into the office about three years ago, he was in his mid-50s and he had some very clear goals for his future. “My number-one goal is to negotiate a way to work less and live more,” he told me. He loved his work, so it wasn’t an earlier retirement he was seeking—it was simply a better, more fulfilling life. Why the newfound enthusiasm? Joe had just read the inspirational Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy - Until You're 80 and Beyond. The book, which is co-written by internist Dr. Henry "Harry" Lodge and his star patient Chris Crowley, lays out 7 basic rules for aging well that seem surprisingly simple, including eating well and exercising six days a week, spending less than you make, and fostering connected relationships.

“What nailed me about the book,” Joe told me, “was how important relationships are to enjoying my second half of life—but outside of work and my family, I simply didn’t have any.” The great part was that Joe had already begun to take action to design his second half of life. He had joined a country club and started playing in a regular golf game every Saturday, and he was actively rethinking how he wanted to spend the remainder of his working years. Our role was to help him reevaluate his financial plan to ensure he had the resources to be able to work less and enjoy the long, healthy life he was now building with specific intention.

It seems following Joe’s example would be a smart move for us all—even according to science. A few weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting for the National Association of Personal Financial Planners (NAPFA) where I heard a great presentation by Margit Cox Henderson, Ph.D. where she shared the results of research on the factors that influence each person’s ability to age well. What she found was that genetics account for only about 30% of aging health beyond the age of 65. The remaining 70% of aging was directly affected by what she calls “health investments.” According to the research, here are the four things that can help us all age healthier and happier:

  1. Expect to age well.
    If someone has a family history of short life spans and health problems, he or she is more likely to be pessimistic about aging well. If that’s you, find a way to change your perspective! Like Joe, be intentional about creating a healthier, happier life today to ensure a healthier, happier life in your later years.
  2. Attend to relationships.
    This can be a challenge—especially if you’re someone who, like many of us, puts a lot of energy into a successful career. I’m fortunate because my work naturally fosters close, supportive relationships. (While my mission is to help my clients, they often add as much value to my own life as I do to theirs!) If you don’t have a close circle of friends that is supportive of each other in hard times and celebrates each other’s successes, be intentional about building that circle. Find ways to connect socially beyond work, and seek out people that bring optimism into your life.
  3. Exercise.
    Stimulating your circulatory system with consistent cardio exercise nourishes and cleanses the body’s organs. Strength training and balance exercises are also crucial—especially if you hope to “age in place” in your own home and continue driving later in life. Remember that fitness and activity level matters more than weight loss (though if you’re working out, the weight loss may come for free).
  4. Lifelong learning.
    This has always been a passion of mine, and now it’s easier than ever. Joe decided to improve his golf game to combine physical and mental learning. I have another client who took up bridge for the same reason. Anything that gives your brain a workout by teaching it something new activates your brain’s neuroplasticity to help keep you sharp. Learn an instrument. Study a new language. Take a dance class. And if you can, find a way to learn along with others to help build those important close relationships.

In our Money & Meaning Workshops and on the Money & Meaning Podcast we explore the importance of finding your own life purpose and building the resources and capacity to support that purpose. Of course, fulfilling your long-term plan hinges largely on your ability to stay healthy and happy. Take a look at Younger Next Year. Follow Dr. Henderson’s guidance. Watch this great TED Talk, The Secret to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life. Then make a plan and start taking action today. The good news is that even if your genes thwart you and you don’t get to live to be 102, you’re bound to have a greater quality of life—no matter how long you live. That’s a goal worth pursuing at any age.

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