American society values beauty and youth. It’s a fact of life. Look at any movie—Hollywood or independent, it doesn’t matter—magazine (aside from AARP), or television show (Golden Girls went off the air a long time ago, people) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a gray hair or wrinkled brow among them. And the portrayals you do see of older people are often hackneyed stereotypes of asexual, grouchy killjoys or someone having a midlife crisis.
Change the script about getting older
“Let’s change the conversation about what getting older means,” says women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup in her book Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. “Our culture tries to tell us how to move through time and tell us we only have so much time left,” she writes. She suggests rewriting the script by realizing chronological age just measures time, and by calling it getting older, not aging. “Getting older is inevitable, but aging is optional,” she writes.
Let’s look at how we can challenge what we are told about age in our culture to have a more positive mindset about getting older.
1. Stop calling it a midlife crisis
We should probably save the word “crisis” for the real deal and not for another pass around the sun. Plus, the bulk of research shows that there may be a shifting of gears in the 40s or 50s, but it’s often one of renewal and exhilaration, not crisis, writes Barbara Bradley Hagerty in her book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.
2. Break routines
3. You don’t have to do (or not do) something based on your age
Christiane says you don’t have to cut off your hair at a certain age, wear dowdy clothes or stop thinking of yourself as a useful, contributing member of society. She suggests looking for ageless role models like actress Helen Mirren, writer Margaret Atwood or singer Mavis Staples.
Companies sometimes take for granted the contributions of older workers—especially women. But some research suggests that people who continue to work into their golden years can experience a greater sense of happiness, meaning and well-being than those who fully retire. Websites such as LifeReimagined.org and Encore.org are ready to help you make the most of your third act.
4. Try not to brand yourself negatively
Always talking or posting about your latest ache or pain means you are dwelling on the negative, which can be a slippery slope to acting a lot older than you are. Practice having a positive mindset about your age by focusing on and being grateful for what your body can do.
5. Keep old friendships and form new ones
We are born as social creatures and our need for meaningful relationships doesn’t diminish with age. No age is too old to make new friends. A close network of friends to share life’s burdens with can keep you healthier and living longer. Long-term studies have shown that our social connections can even stave off heart attack, stroke and depression.
6. Challenge what you see on TV
Go to a dance club with your 40-something friends. Run your first 5K in your 50s. Start a business in your 60s. Or enroll in a class to learn a new skill at any age. Test your limits, try new things and talk about yourself with vitality and strength so you can feel that way, too.
7. Invest in your physical and mental health
8. Switch up how you celebrate your birthday
Christiane suggests that we stop celebrating milestone birthdays because “the milestone becomes a millstone.” Instead, she suggests having “a celebration of your worth….Celebrate triumphs and the moments when you didn’t think you’d make it and did.”
When you engage in life with a youthful mindset, it can open your life up to many exciting possibilities. You can challenge preconceived notions about your age and help change perceptions about getting older.
While family history and environment have an impact on overall health that is beyond our control, when it comes to aging, “belief trumps genes,” Christiane says.
Sandra Bienkowski is a regular contributor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.