Is it possible to learn to age positively?

Yes, yes, yes! The new handbook and accompanying coursers developed by Positive Ageing Associates set out a well evidenced and practical approach.

But first of all, what do we mean by ‘ageing positively’? Well it is not about denying or avoiding the ageing process. Nor is it about pretending that later life is all fantastic – it clearly isn’t.

Ageing positively is about two key things. Firstly it is about making a conscious decision to adopt a more ‘half full’ approach to thinking about ageing. It is clear that if we believe that things are going to be bad – then probably they will. Expecting the worst does nothing to help us address the challenges of later life – it just makes them worse. On the other hand if we chose to adopt a more positive outlook about ageing then there is strong evidence to suggest that we are much more likely to create a positive self fulfilling prophecy which enhances our experience of later life. We need to look very carefully at our deepest beliefs about ageing and make sure that they are more ‘glass half full’ than ‘glass half empty’.

Secondly, ageing positively is about developing personal skills and techniques which bolster our ability to weather the storms and challenges that often face older people. Things like bereavement, getting a long term health problem, becoming a carer etc. The key ageing positively philosophy here is to recognise that it is not what happens to us in life that affects our wellbeing, but how we respond to it. And there are some very effective and evidence based life skills that we can all learn which can strengthen our resilience.

There is growing body of research evidence which provides a vital underpinning to a positive ageing outlook. The overwhelmingly ageist thinking in mainstream culture about ageing gives most people a very negative view. This has to be challenged. Some of the key myths about ageing include:-

  • Ageing is a steady downward spiral. It is not. Most people live most of their later life in good health. Even those who do get one or more long term health conditions overwhelmingly report that there wellbeing is ‘good’, ‘very good’, or ‘excellent’!
  • Old age is a miserable time. Quite the opposite is the case. The overwhelming majority of older people report that they get much happier and experience greater emotional stability as they get older. It is the middle aged who consistently report being miserable!
  • Physical illness is completely beyond people’s control. It is not. Mind and body are linked and there is a huge body of evidence to suggest that those people with a more optimistic frame of mind live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers.
  • How long people live is determined by their genes. Genes clearly do have an influence- but it is hugely overstated.   There is no gene that programs when we will die and studies of identical twins show what a huge impact mental, social and environmental factors have on how long and how well we live.

So the bottom-line is that it is possible for us to take a good amount of control over our ageing process and increase the chances that we will navigate our later life more positively and successfully. And the scientific evidence supports this claim.

Guy Robertson

Positive Ageing Associates

07923 483587