A few weeks ago, I chanced upon a new Netflix documentary called “The Blue Zones” by National Geographic Fellow and author Dan Buettner.
Have you seen it yet? It takes an incisive look into what it takes to live a long, healthy life.
Communities made up of centenarians and almost-centenarians (the so-called Blue Zones) shared the habits that keep them thriving – the perfect definition of aging gracefully.
So, what does it take to age gracefully? Well, just as much as it’s about older people’s habits, it’s also about what they never do, such as:
1) Think so much about getting older
When our 40s begin to creep up on us, it’s natural to feel a sense of dread, or at the very least, a sense of nostalgia about our younger days.
We think about the scary stuff like disease, not having enough for retirement, growing lonely, and all that. There’s this pervasive feeling that things can only go downhill from here.
But you know what? Those who age gracefully don’t dwell on these. They’ve certainly thought about it, but they don’t spend so much energy worrying about it.
In fact, on the contrary, they find joy in growing older. After all, it’s a privilege many don’t even get to enjoy.
Psychologist Laura Carstensen even pointed out in her TED talk that older people are happier, more content, and more positive about life.
That may sound surprising, given how it seems to be a misconception that older people must be less happy given all the problems potentially facing them.
It all comes down to emotional wisdom. People who age gracefully are happy to let nature run its course, so to speak.
That said, they also don’t…
2) Deny it
Meaning, they aren’t blind to the fact that they are getting older.
For example, they don’t:
- Push themselves to do physical activities they used to do with ease
- Obsess over looking youthful and covering up every wrinkle
- Constantly reminisce about and insist on reliving their glory days
- Avoid medical check-ups out of fear that they’ll be reminded of their age (and mortality)
Growing old gracefully requires a balanced view of aging – it’s not something to constantly dwell on, nor is it something to deny.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s simply a fact of life. It’s up to us to strike that harmony between acceptance and self-improvement.
Which brings me to my next point…
3) Stop doing their hobbies or learning new things
Folks who age gracefully don’t throw in the towel just because they’re older. In fact, one of the main things that still puts a spring in their steps is a growth mindset.
I once had an elderly neighbor who was the very picture of this. When I met her, she was in her 80s, but you wouldn’t know it because she was constantly excited and joyful over the activities she was engaged in.
To name a few: she was in a gardening club, and she attended workshops and classes about whatever she fancied (e.g. pottery, Spanish language class, scrapbooking, etc.)
And she was an avid reader. I remember holding a garage sale in my yard, and when she passed by, she saw a box of my old books. She pulled up a chair, picked up one of the books, and started reading.
By the time I closed up for the day, she was still there, nose buried in a book. Believe me, it was a real delight to see.
No doubt about it – staying open and engaged is a key element of aging gracefully. The saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” certainly doesn’t apply to those who thrive well into their 90s and even their 100s!
4) Stop moving
Just as people who age gracefully don’t stop learning, neither do they stop moving.
In “The Blue Zones”, this was one of the most noticeable things about the happy centenarians there. They would walk most places, do household chores, tend to their gardens, and such.
Daily physical activity was just a natural part of their lifestyle, not done separately like a rigid exercise routine.
Not only did this keep their bodies agile and flexible, but it also served as a mood-booster. After all, it’s been well-established that movement benefits mental health.
That said, they don’t feel the need to…
5) Fill up every moment with activity
Busyness is an affliction that affects many of us in today’s fast-paced world. There’s this pressure to be constantly busy, and we fill every waking moment with tasks, social events, and what-have-you.
It’s a far cry from those who age gracefully. Because they understand how important it is to have a balanced life.
So, while they may have lots of activities, they still leave room for moments of stillness.
Moments when they can have the luxury of savoring experiences, even if it’s something as simple as sitting out in the garden and watching bees flit from flower to flower.
Is it idleness? No. It’s mindfulness, another important ingredient of aging gracefully.
You know why?
Because it develops gratitude. When you’re more mindful, you have the time and energy to notice just how much beauty there is around you!
6) Stop laughing
Another powerful ingredient for aging gracefully is humor. I mean, how do you deal when it’s getting harder to bend down and tie your shoelaces, right?
Crack a joke along the lines of, “The problem with tying my shoelaces is that by the time I get down there, I’ve forgotten what I’m supposed to do!”
My point is, being able to laugh and find the humor in difficult situations goes a long way in easing the journey.
And science agrees. Studies show that laughter:
- Boosts oxygen level in the blood
- Relieves stress by raising the production of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals
- Lowers anxiety and depression
That’s just a few of its mental and physical health benefits. On top of that, regular doses of humor help them not do this next thing…
7) Sweat the small stuff
This is something I’ve noticed in myself – the older I grow, the less the small stuff matters.
The things I used to worry about, like having a stylish wardrobe, getting into an argument over who walked the dog last time, having my home perfectly coordinated…they all seem so trivial now.
And forget perfectionism – where I used to fuss over every tiny thing, I’ve learned to let go and focus on progress instead.
I like to think it’s because I’m gaining more perspective. I’ve been through so many highs and lows, my life has taken so many unexpected turns, that I know better than to think I’d be in control all the time.
And I now have a better grasp on what matters more in the grand scheme of things.
That’s what I’ve seen in the people I know are aging gracefully and what I try to emulate.
8) Isolate themselves
Remember how that elderly neighbor of mine was in a gardening club and attended classes here and there? That’s also an example of how she wasn’t about to hide away from the world just because she’s gotten older.
See, for people who age gracefully, social connection becomes even more precious. This was also one of the findings in “The Blue Zones”.
A sense of community is important in keeping us joyful in our twilight years. Actually, even long before we get there.
No matter how old you are, if you have strong ties to other people, you’re already aging gracefully.
Your circle isn’t just there for company; they can actually add years to your life!
Here’s how social connection does that, according to the World Health Organization:
- Prevents disease
- Lowers anxiety
- Strengthens the immune system
- Keeps cognitive function sharp
No wonder the folks in The Blue Zones were committed to gathering together, singing, chatting, and just having fun all around!
This leads me to my final point…
9) Focus on negativity
Show me a person who’s pessimistic or loves criticizing others, and I’ll tell you that aging will be an uphill battle for them.
In contrast, people who age gracefully are all about staying positive. They’ve figured out that the best way to walk a long road is to travel light.
That doesn’t mean they’re naive or overly optimistic, though. They do have a good grasp of reality, but they also know that focusing on the bad won’t make it any easier.
They’ve nailed the essence of graceful living, which is to live with compassion, hope, patience, calmness, and yes, grace.
That is traveling light, indeed.
Aging isn’t the scary monster the world makes it out to be. And it’s not a term reserved for old people. All of us are aging by the literal minute.
How it goes for us depends on our mindset, pretty much like with anything else in life.
Personally, I like thinking about it like Abraham Lincoln did – “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
I hope this helps you remember to live each day with grace and purpose, no matter how old you are.