By Tara Watkins, LICSW
Who comes to mind when you think of someone who has aged well? What qualities or characteristics does this person have? Whatever unique qualities might surface when you ponder these questions, universally each person is mostly likely resilient, compassionate, and loving.
It is important to remember that aging well doesn't happen overnight, rather character traits are developed and nurtured over a lifetime of experiences. What traits should one try to develop? According to Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal co-authors of the book Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience, and Spirit, those who age well easily feel and express gratitude, finding the good in others and in events. From this place of gratefulness they are less frightened, less angry and more accepting of their situation. They are also more generous, finding pleasure in giving and helping to build relationships and community. Aging well individuals have learned to be patient and trusting, but not passive-allowing events to unfold more slowly, accepting other people's foibles and not rushing to judge or blame them. They are joyful, though not necessarily ebullient, so they find more to celebrate in the day, and feel more optimistic. When you are with them you may sense a certain equanimity, an ability to hold paradox, to be with both the sad and the happy, with the frightening and the pleasurable, and to take life in stride.
These character traits of gratitude, generosity, patience, joy and equanimity are vital to manifesting some of the behaviors that Dr. George Valliant, director of Harvard University's extended longitudinal study on aging, has identified as promoting aging well:
If you find yourself contemplating this remember
change is always possible, and is a process. There may be a sudden "awakening", but we must do the inner work to incorporate and integrate the new ways of thinking and being.
Recent work in neuroscience helps us understand how this change process takes place. When we cultivate new kinds of thoughts and behaviors, we are making changes in our brains that will eventually modify our habitual patterns of thought and action, yielding to new responses. Thus, no matter where you are in life, with practice it is possible to cultivate the qualities mentioned by Dr. Valliant.
Having a hard time figuring out how to start the process or perhaps find yourself hitting a road block along the way? The temple's Kesher social worker is available to help support you through this experience. Consultations are confidential.
If you found the article intriguing and would like to explore this topic in greater depth, Tara Watkins is hoping to start a book discussion group at Temple Emanu-El in Spring 2018 focused on Dr. Linda Thal and Rabbi Rachel Cowan's book in the Spring 2018. Please call 401-527-7772 or email email@example.com to let her know you are interested and she will follow up with further details.
Back to Kesher Program
Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or