People often have various stereotypes and assumptions regarding seniors. Elders may be seen as behind the times, cute, fragile, or stubborn. But, we sometimes fail to remember that their many experiences in life make them quite capable and sharp. Seniors are more often calm, having come to terms with the many issues in life, leaving them wiser, more experienced, better emotionally balanced and skilled.
WISELY WEIGHING OPTIONS FOR THE WIN
To start with I want to share a story from Starts at 60 Writers (2015). A senior man and his wife had gone out to breakfast. The wife wanted to order the senior special, but without the eggs. The waitress told her that she would be charged almost a dollar more for not taking the eggs because that made the order “a la carte” and not the “senior special.” The wife clarified incredulously, that the waitress was saying that she would have to pay more for NOT taking the eggs, which the waitress confirmed. So, the wife calmly ordered the senior special, asking for her eggs to come uncooked and in the shell. She then took the eggs home and baked a cake (Starts at 60 Writers, 2015, p. 1).
This story shows the calm processing and matter of fact solutions that seniors seem to more easily come to when presented with ridiculous predicaments. Korkki (2014) explains that although mental speed of processing slows down with aging, seniors have a wealth of information, which logically takes more time to sort through and retrieve. With age seniors become highly skilled in noticing patterns, even with minute differences. This sharpened cognitive ability lays the foundation for wisdom in decision making and behavior. It takes time to properly assess information, but then it can be used effectively and intelligently for good (Korkki, 2014).
THOUGHT PROVOKING WISDOM
Lowery (2011) records how several university professors noticed how one’s perspective on life begins to change with age. This made them pose the question, asking if there are lessons the elderly have learned that younger people lack. They started “the Legacy Project blog” to share hard-won insights, recommendations and philosophies of living” (p. 1). Here are a few of those pearls of wisdom:
- “Try as much as possible to avoid thinking about yourself. … you should put yourself out of the picture as much as possible in any situation and try to think objectively, almost as if you are a camera (with emotions and feelings) recording what goes on around you and responding to it. I think one will enjoy life to a much greater extent than if thoughts about yourself govern how you react to a problem or situation.”
- “Enjoy and love people.”
- “Enjoy animals.”
- “Take care of yourself physically.”
- “Be open-minded as much as you can.” –Frederick, 68
- “More important when you look back on your life are the unselfish things you have done, the love and support you have given to others, and the sense that you have made the most of your talents and opportunities. I have learned that growing up is the work of a lifetime.” –Maurice, 77
- “Save your money, take care of yourself, play golf.”
- “Choose to be happy. I even wear my Clinique perfume called ‘Happy.'”
- “Don’t wear a miniskirt when you’re 68.”
- “Well, I don’t think my life would have worked without God in my life because my husband is Mexican-Italian and I’m English-Irish, along that line, and if we hadn’t had God in our life, we just wouldn’t have made it.”
- “Stick with your beliefs but listen to other people’s sides. A couple of times I think I even voted for Democrats.”
- “Learn new things, don’t sit back and stagnate.”
- “I’ve learned that it’s much easier to be positive than negative, it’s easier to smile than to frown, and when in doubt, eat chocolate!”
I listed many of those wise sayings because when trying to decide what to cut out, I could not select which saying would go. They are all good! The article goes on to summarize that with age seniors seem to gain a strong “sense of purpose and serenity” (p. 2). Our society has often turned to psychologists and inspirational speakers rather than to the wise elders who are in our families or live next door. Seniors have greater levels of happiness and freedom than youth and younger adults (Lowery, 2011). How can we tap into the happiness, freedom, serenity, wisdom and intelligence of our elders?
Korkki (2014) assessed the complicated concept of wisdom more closely. There are different definitions of wisdom. Many psychologists define wisdom as “maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges.” Having this type of wisdom improves longevity. Wise people are those who can make decisions with strong elements of “cognition, reflection and compassion.” Facts need to be well-considered, thought about with variables and consequences, with a focus on how others will be affected. Wise people are less self-centered, considering how individuals and occurrences fit into the larger context. People who are self-centered and negative are less likely to be wise, even though they may be highly intelligent. Wise people are able to give or serve others without expecting anything back in return. Wisdom helps us to regulate our emotions, accepting weaknesses and imperfections. We can calmly laugh, knowing when it is time to have acceptance and let things go. Other elements of wisdom that many seniors come to are simplifying life and continuing education (Korkki, 2014, p. 1)
SUCCESSFUL SENIOR STORIES
Taking a look at what lifestyle choices seniors choose as wise and worthwhile, Mitchell (2017) was inspired by a retirement group’s celebration to search the world for “super seniors.” These people have found activities that bring them joy and make them strong, even in their older years. I will share a couple of their stories and photos.
These super seniors have found the activities that they love and have continued doing those activities, even if adjustments in speed and time are necessary (Mitchell, 2017, p. 1-5). They know what makes them happy and have refused to follow stereotypes that seniors be less active or retire. We change in life, and with those changes we need to have acceptance and be wise, but those changes do not have to dictate what we can and cannot do. What makes you happy? What makes the seniors you love happy? Could those activities be incorporated into their lives?
COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN SENIORS AND YOUNG PEOPLE
Parker (2016) wrote that Stanford University has called for more collaboration between seniors and young people. Seniors have much to offer society. Research shows that the brains of seniors function better in some areas, like “complex problem solving and emotional skills” (p. 1). There are many disadvantaged children out there who lack mentors. All people need at least one person who believes in them and encourages them with wise guidance. Rather than seeing seniors as merely consumers, why not organize activities for them to give back, helping children, youth, and young adults while being equally benefitted. It is important for seniors to feel needed and valuable, and many youth do not have the resources and opportunities for easy success. Skills seniors have gleaned throughout their lives, like “critical thinking, problem-solving and social interaction, influence social connections and sense of purpose. They are key to success in school and work, and they enable people to contribute meaningfully to society” (Parker, 2016, p. 2).
An example of this type of organized collaboration, Owens (2014) wrote about a program in Murfreesboro, Tennessee called “Wisdom of the Elders” (p. 1). Vanderbilt University established a partnership with the local Parks and Recreation Community Center to help African American seniors share their history, life lessons, and words of wisdom with the community. They help the seniors write autobiographies or poems and create various arts, displaying their creations at the university. This helps seniors to reflect, express and pass on their experiences and wisdom (Ownes, 2014).
In conclusion, a change in attitude or perception regarding the role and value of seniors would benefit many. Rather than seeing someone who could be easily quieted or taken advantage of, see someone who has a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and skill just waiting to be shared. Seniors have so much that they can give back, and they can apply the lessons they have learned into their own lives to find purpose and happiness as they age. Young people can benefit from the lessons seniors share to improve their lives. With these types of partnerships where everyone wins, this should be happening! Is this the reality in your life for the seniors you love?