Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Aging Well

I've been reading a brilliant book:
Vaillant, G (2002) Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a happier life from the landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. Little, Brown and Co. Boston

The reaction and comments from some people when they look at the title is quite illuminating, and follow along the lines of, "so I suppose they recommend against smoking, drinking and high-fat diets?"

Interestingly the author also shares with us that his first submission for a grant to work on this study was rejected - his focus was on researching aging as a process of decay. He was a sprightly 50 and the grant Chair was a curmudgeonly 70. The chair hinted at the fact that 'only arseholes measure spring with a thermometer" (with apologies to paraphrasing e.e. cummings and plagarising this straight from the book).

Vaillant used Eriksons Life Tasks as a model to follow the psychological health of the subjects, so although they may be physically ill they were mentally well (Happy-Sick) - and mind does matter more over the latter. The most pitiful outcomes were experienced by those who were categorised Sad-Well. How terrible to be locked in a strong body when your outlook is so bleak, an extended torture.

So what has all this got to do with Learning and Change? I think it gets to the heart of the matter. Firstly, you need to be adaptable, to change as your context does - as Valliant puts it, " to make Lemonade from Lemons". To embrace the changes you are experiencing and to explore the new situation - to learn, to go to the Mountain, don't wait for it to come to you.

"...successful aging means giving to others joyously whenever one is able, receiving from others gratefully whenever one needs it, and being greedy enough to develop one's own self inbetween"