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Psychological growth and aging

Bijgewerkt op: 15 mrt.

Yesterday I was visiting my lifelong friend Judith. She had been reading my recently published book ‘Psychology of Positive Aging’. She had turned 51 last year and she told me about the effect this book had on her vision of aging: “Although aging is not yet an issue for me, the book made me realise that I had somewhat of a negative perspective on aging. Unconsciously I have this idea of decline as we grow older. Your book made me realise that this is far from the reality of aging and it is wonderful to gain insight into the positive aspects of aging. The book has transformed my idea of growing older into something that I look forward to”.

The exact same thing happened to me. As a researcher and trainer in the field of positive psychology I already had a sound basis for understanding the power of the mind. In the year that I turned 50, my husband left me for a woman twenty years my junior, and I started to question how I could apply my professional background on the subject of aging. So, I decided to ask twenty women worldwide: “What gets better with aging?” I found all the answers, both as a scientist, and in the heartfelt connection with the women who shared their stories, strength and wisdom. While it is undeniable that certain physical functions start to decline from a certain age, both the life stories of the interviewees and scientific literature show that psychological functioning can become more robust into old age. As the American psychiatrist Gene Cohen once commented: “There is no denying the problems that accompany aging, but what has been universally denied is the potential”

Since the type of questions I asked the women were not defect-focused, but rather growth-focused, I noticed that at the end of the interview women felt empowered and positively reinforced, just by asking questions such as: ‘What advantages has aging brought you so far?’ and ‘What (positive thing) has increased with age?’ I actually think that it is very useful for yourself to reflect on this type of questions, instead of asking yourself constantly what is going downhill with aging. As author and speaker Anthony Robbins once said: “If you ask a terrible question, you’ll get a terrible answer. Your mental computer is ever ready to serve you, and whatever question you give it, it will surely come up with an answer.”

In both government policies and in the media, a lot of emphasis is put on the physical side of aging, and how we can stave of the decline of the body by exercise, dieting and plastic surgery. My statement and mission is that much more attention should be paid to the psychological side of aging. Even our perception of beauty and appearance is defined by our minds. Choosing your role models wisely, boosting your belief system, autonomous thinking, knowing how we can psychologically grow into old age and creating a positive vision on aging can all be helpful in positive aging.

My mission is to make complex and abstract psychological theories accessible to a larger audience so that women can easily apply this knowledge in their own lives and in their aging processes. The stories of the women in the book illustrate and make very lively psychological theories that can normally feel very abstract to understand. In the book, the women make these theories very practical in explaining how you can apply them in your day-to-day life. I believe that basic psychological knowledge, especially from positive psychology, is very helpful in dealing with some of the challenges and fear of aging. As Marie Curie once said: “Nothing in life is to be feared, only to be understood. Now isthe time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

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