What is Positive Aging?
The “positive psychology” movement, championed by Martin Seligman in the 1990s, has led the field of gerontology into a movement that author Robert Hill and many others call positive aging. Hill adopts the perspective that “happiness does not just happen.” It is our actions and our intentional behaviors that affect the quality of our lives.
In his 2005 book Positive Aging, Hill lists some of the key ingredients of successful or positive aging: taking control of our lives, being active in our communities, being engaged with others, building close relationships, and seeking meaning and purpose. He writes, “At the individual level, it is about individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent and wisdom.”
A recent article in the Atlantic on the germinal work of Dr. George Vaillant at Harvard—titled “What Makes Us Happy?”—reported on the famous 72-year study of 268 men who entered Harvard College in 1937. This important study has reinforced many other researchers’ conclusions that (1) close, long-lasting, and meaningful relationships are key to positive aging, happiness, and a sense of well-being in our later years, and (2) engagement in purposeful activities that have meaning to us are essential to positive aging and the sense of a life well lived.
Elinor Greenberg's studies on adult women’s development are consistent with these findings, but they also reveal women’s more holistic and cyclical life patterns. As she writes, since we are living longer and healthier lives, we must now find and use new developmental models in order to reinvent that lengthening period of our later lives, over age 60, that she terms “the third third” of life. Although the three thirds of life are essentially equal in length, many of us will live beyond age 90, making the third third of life potentially our longest period.
--Adapted from Elinor Greenberg's blog on embracing positive aging.
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