One trait many of our nation’s family caregivers share is that we are entering the senior ranks. The 2020 Census Study indicates that 10,000 baby boomers per day will cross the 65-year-old age threshold through 2030, when all will be at least 65! That translates to a baby boomer turning 65 every 8 seconds. Hell, we were always trend setters!
No doubt this factors in to the ongoing emails I receive from family caregivers concerned about feeling older, more isolated, wondering if their best days are behind them and what they can do to find better balance in their lives and honestly have some fun to boot.
First, let me tell you I totally understand. As most of you know, I am a very active family caregiver and proudly 68 years old! Ok, ok, perhaps proudly may be a bit much, but I do feel pretty good about it! The issues senior family caregivers raise with me are very real, as are their desires for living a good, positive life.
Over the years, I have read many science articles and books about healthy aging and addressing the practices seniors can adopt to create a higher quality of life. Between us, many of these reads are dense with information and as dry as the Sahara Desert. And, the last thing a family caregiver wants to do is trudge through pages with the hope of finding a few golden nuggets of actionable information.
With this in mind, I was recently looking through the Amazon Best Sellers book list and saw a book titled Why Did I Come into This Room? Although a catchy title, what really caught my attention is its author, Joan Lunden, who you probably remember as the co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America” from 1980 to 1997. Joan is the real deal who has been a family caregiver, a person receiving care from a loved one, a health advocate and a baby boomer.
After reading the book overview and reader comments, I realized it addressed exactly what I and most of my fellow family caregivers and friends think and talk about…finding the right balance between life priorities, our actions, and our perspectives in an effort to “live” our lives rather than being “observers” of our lives as we age.
What impressed me about Why Did I Come into This Room? is the amount of easy-to-understand scientific research throughout the book. If readers want to take a deeper dive into specific information, they can look into the listed sources. And, rather than a typical dry read, this book contains passages that are plain laugh-out-loud funny. Jill can attest to this from the many times she would hear me laughing in another room and ask, “are you still reading Joan’s book”?
So, my dear fellow seniors, here are my four of the many bedrock takeaways from Why Did I Come into This Room? that I believe will enrich your life going forward.
No. 1: Find a Sense of Purpose
Reading this book, I was introduced to the concept that some seniors feel they have a “shelf life.” Wow! As a businessman, I was used to shelf-life discussions, but always in reference to how long a product was viable before it should be discarded or trashed.
The thought of people thinking about this was very jarring! However, I get it. Really! To avoid sitting on the shelf too long, it is so important to find a sense of purpose. You know, that something that contributes to what makes you get up in the morning with anticipation of beginning your day. With it life can capture a certain bigness, but without it life can feel awfully small.
Ah, but what defines purpose? To some, it may be volunteering as a mentor for young people. To others, it may be learning a new skill, while for someone else it may be helping their child take care of their child. What you can see is that there is no set answer because each of us has different life circumstances and needs. Remember, you may have retired from work but NOT from life. You have the time, so find the activities that are mentally, emotionally, and physically stimulating.
No. 2: Engage Don’t Isolate
When we were kids it was easy to make friends, right? You just walked out into the school yard and started talking to another kid and bing, bang, boom you had a friend and from there just made more. Well, as we get older, especially as a senior who may have health issues or who may be caregiving for a loved one, the ease of engagement we once knew can become a bit of a chore because it takes more effort to reach out and lean in. STOP!
Studies have shown that social engagement is one of the top predictors for longevity and happiness. Conversely, experts have determined that isolation and loneliness can have as negative an impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
Social connections give us something to look forward to. Whether it’s calling or meeting a friend to catch up, being part of a book club, engaging with others at your place of worship, or just knowing there are “go-to” people in your life that you care about and vice versa, with these connections you will see a brighter day and lighter heart. This is NO substitute for this.
No. 3: Let It Go
One issue that will surely usurp your personal joy is living with regrets, especially as we age. The saying “with age comes wisdom” is certainly hopeful, but I know there are many times I do not live up to it. It’s a real shame because this is one of the few situations where we have absolute choice and control to instill an attitude that minimizes your “rearview mirror.” This includes forgiving people who may have offended us in the past and, most importantly, forgiving ourselves for choices, especially those that at the time seemed right but in hindsight were not the best.
The word for all this is baggage. And, there is no better time to drop the baggage than today! It gets in our way, it weighs us down, it stresses us out, and it takes away our personal power! With any of these feelings, do you believe for a moment it is possible to be happy and joyful?…Not a chance. So, please let it go and make today your pivot day for an emotionally healthier life.
No. 4: Embrace the Positive
One thing that drives me a little crazy is when I am talking with friends and before you know it the discussion takes a turn into an aches and pains dialogue. “This and that hurts, I get up during the night to pee 3 times, I don’t have the energy like I use to, my hemorrhoids are killing me,” and on and on. Don’t get me wrong. I care about these folks, but geez, do you think this is the best way to establish a joyful mindset? NOT!
The science of epigenetics tells us only 30% of our longevity is determined by our genetics. The remaining 70% is the influence our mindset and chosen lifestyle have on our genetics. Remember, our beliefs, thoughts and perceptions create our reality. If you think with the mindset of vitality, you have a much greater chance of achieving it. If you have the mindset of seeing the positive in situations, that is where your focus and attitude will most often take you. (If you are interested in the looking into the medical science of this, Dr. Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief, is a wonderful resource).
There are two quotes I would like to leave you with. The first is by Terry Pratchett, “In every old person there is a younger person wondering what happened?” While we may have a few more wrinkles and aches, the key is to keep the fire of curiosity alive and choose the path we want to follow wisely because it is solely YOUR choice!
The second is by Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” I felt refreshed and inspired after reading and digesting the helpful advice Joan passed on. I know you will, too!
Help yourself. Help others.