How do you define success?
Here are a few famous responses to this question:
- “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”—Winston Churchill
- “Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”—Jim Rohn
No matter the arena (personal, professional, financial), success is often equated with achievement. A successful lawyer wins the majority of the cases she takes on; a successful investment banker makes a lot of money for his firm.
Redefining the idea of effective aging
What happens when you apply the concept of success to something as complex and individualized as the aging process?
“There are several different definitions of successful aging,” says Dilip Jeste, M.D., Director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging and President of the American Psychiatric Association. “Traditional ‘objective’ definitions [of aging] have emphasized absence of physical and cognitive disabilities.”
Jeste and his colleagues recently conducted a study that turns these “traditional” definitions upside down.
After surveying more than 1,000 older adults, researchers discovered that, when it comes to aging, it’s not how fast you can run, or whether you can complete the New York Times crossword puzzle that makes you a success—it’s your attitude that really counts.
“The most surprising result we found was the paradox of aging—i.e., as physical health declined with aging, self-rated successful aging scores seemed to increase,” Jeste says. “Our findings showed that physical health was neither necessary nor sufficient for feeling good about one’s own aging.”
In fact, many seniors who were grappling with physical or mental decline said they felt that their overall wellbeing was increasing with each passing year.
How to gracefully get older
Once you’ve discovered what it means to age “successfully,” the question becomes: How do you do it?
Jeste’s recipe for effective aging includes three ingredients: resilience (the ability to adapt and persevere in the face of hardship), optimism (being able to recognize both the good and the bad in a given situation) and the absence of depression.
He provides a few strategies for approaching the aging process in a productive way:
Be logical: It’s important to strike a balance between pessimism and unrealistic optimism, says Jeste. For instance, if you have cancer, you won’t be able to cure yourself simply by thinking happy thoughts. Instead, seek out the treatment options that are right for you and remain confident that they will help you.
Keep reading to uncover three more strategies for unlocking the secret to successful aging…