One of the many definitions of wisdom is “the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment.” Note that there is no mention of age as a prerequisite! Older does not necessarily mean wiser. Most of us gain insight as we mature, but sometimes we lose track of what we have learned or forget to put some of those valuable lessons into action.
Take a moment to consider these famous quotes and see how they might apply to your life right now. While they may not all be the words of great philosophers, they can provide a little inspiration, motivation and perhaps even a smile.
“Follow your instincts. That‘s where true wisdom manifests itself.”—Oprah Winfrey
Is older truly wiser? Researchers from the University of Alberta and Duke University have identified brain patterns that make it easier for healthy older people to control their emotions compared with their younger counterparts. Past studies showed that older individuals tend to be more positive. They manage the amount of attention they give to negative situations and, consequently, become less upset by them.
This new research actually pointed out two regions of the brain that react to pictures of emotionally challenging situations. When you think you’re “going with your gut instinct,” it’s your brain that’s actually at work. The good news: while experience gives us a wider perspective on life, we are also hardwired to look on the brighter side as we age.
“Use the advantages you have while you have them; when they are gone, don’t sit around wishing you could get them back.”—Cicero
Be an optimist and focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. For example, perhaps bad knees mean you can’t go downhill skiing anymore, but maybe you can cross-country ski, take the grandkids tobogganing or enjoy quiet reading time in the chalet. To keep yourself healthy, get off the sofa and keep walking. If you think it’s too much of an effort, remember those who are less mobile than you and consider how much they would rather be in your sneakers.
If you enjoy travel, take that trip you’ve always dreamed of (if it’s within reason)—don’t wait a minute longer. And if you need help with planning, ask a travel agent to find you accessible rooms and create an easy schedule.
“Life is either a great adventure, or nothing.”—Helen Keller
Doing things in the same way, socializing with the same people and going to the same places can make us feel secure and comfortable in our lives. But it can also be monotonous and hamper personal growth.
Some people laugh at the idea of learning past the age of 55, but closing the door on new adventures robs us of the chance to have additional moments of real joy and a sense of accomplishment. A Stanford University study showed that by the age of 35, we have already determined our taste in music and are unlikely to be interested in new performers. By 39, if you haven’t tried sushi then there’s a 95 per cent chance you won’t, ever! In other words, the “adventure window” has shut.
Keep your window open. Say yes to something completely new, seek out things you’ve never done before and dare to grow as a person. Another study suggests that outdoor adventures such as hiking and camping are perfectly suited for older people because they allow escape from everyday demands and distractions, are mentally and physically challenging, create an opportunity to learn new skills and put us in touch with nature’s beauty.
You may want to choose less physical activities depending on your abilities, but be sure to challenge yourself.
“You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future.”—Unknown
We all worry at times, whether about ourselves, someone we love or even the world at large. You can’t pick up a paper or listen to the news without fretting about environmental degradation, children growing up in the age of the Internet or the chemicals in our foods. It takes a lot of energy to worry, leaving us feeling drained and exhausted.
When you stop to think about it; most of what we worry about doesn’t even come to pass–and not because our worrying prevented it! Worriers need to focus on solutions rather than problems. Learn more about the thing you are worrying about: do some research. Instead of assuming the worst and hoping for the best, visualize the best and find out what you can do to make it happen.
“The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money.”—Thomas Jefferson
Money doesn’t really buy happiness—all you really need is the financial means to keep yourself comfortably housed and cared for. Just look at all the stories of lottery winners who, 10 years down the road, have spent all their money on material things and are miserable. It’s not the objects we buy but the experiences we have that give us lasting joy and memories.
Sometimes, as we grow older, money becomes a bone of contention within the family, especially if financial plans are not carefully laid out with the help of a professional. Older people can also be victimized by scammers or by Ponzi schemes that promise returns too good to be true. Hire a financial advisor from a reputable bank or investment firm to look after your funds and avoid taking advice from friends or family.
“I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”—Buddy Hackett
Can holding a grudge harm your health? Stress certainly does, and holding onto past hurts or betrayals can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. By dwelling on your angry feelings you are not really getting revenge, you are only harming yourself. Forget about the past and try to make amends if you can.
If you have a neutral third party to talk to, such as a counsellor or religious advisor, try to sort out your emotions and figure out why you are dwelling on these issues. Perhaps you can learn to forgive others, make peace with the past and mend some broken relationships. Choose to let go.
“I have no methods; all I do is accept people as they are.”—Dr. Paul Tournier, Swiss writer and physician
Life doesn’t always follow a script. If your child (or sibling or friend) has chosen a spouse, lifestyle or career that you don’t approve of or didn’t wish for them, try to see things from their point of view—especially if they’re happy with their choices.
There’s no use in negatively comparing your loved ones with others (“Your cousin Mike has a beautiful house; you should have continued med school like he did”). The people in our lives want to be loved and accepted. Let them know you are okay with their choices and support their efforts, and resist constantly suggesting ways in which they can change.
“The best advice is this: Don’t take advice and don’t give advice.”—Unknown
Well, that little bit of advice might be extreme, but it does remind us to be cautious when giving or receiving advice. If someone has a dilemma or problem, take the time to listen carefully first, so you really understand what the issue is. And before you start giving your thoughts, ask if they really want your advice. “I think I might have some ideas about this—are you interested in hearing them?” Once you offer the advice, step back and let the recipient take it or leave it. Don’t insist or nag with follow-up questions such as “Did you do what I said?”
Unsolicited advice can cause family arguments; sometimes it implies we are not doing something right (usually to do with the kids!) and it can often feel like meddling. Some “advisors” may be trying to make themselves appear knowledgeable. Before you get mad, step back and try to see the person’s motives—they may genuinely be trying to be helpful. Practice tactful replies such as “That sounds like a good idea, I’ll take it into consideration” or “Thanks, but I already have way of handling this.”
“Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.”—Oscar Wilde
Several studies have linked an optimistic outlook with longevity. One even found that optimistic people live seven and a half years longer than their gloomy counterparts! Further research claims people with a positive attitude have a lower risk of heart disease as they age.
Does happiness cause longevity or are people living healthy lifestyles happier to begin with? Whichever is true, the bottom line is that being positive and looking on the bright side is its own reward. Even if you aren’t naturally the cheeriest person, “fake it ’til you make it.” Putting on a happy face attracts happier people to you, and that happiness is contagious.
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”—Satchel Paige
Let’s give the final words to Satchel Paige, who pitched his last professional baseball game at the age of 60. He certainly didn’t buy into negative stereotypes about aging—and we shouldn’t either!