What have you learned from knowing so many centenarians?
call centenarians our living links to history. They’ve lived through
all of the history we’ve studied. To flesh out a little bit more
about, say, the Great Depression, we can listen to their stories. No
one knows what they know and no one really knows what it was like
except for them – and that is unique and awe-inspiring.
And then there’s also the joie de vivre. If I’m really having a bad
day, I call one of my centenarian friends and I feel instantly
better. Because I’m thinking, my gosh if Elsa can do that at 101, I
should just get over whatever my little deal is.
What can we learn from centenarians about healthy aging?
Early on, when I did my first survey of Arizona centenarians in
1988, I identified the five traits that active centenarians have in
common; I call it the Centenarian Spirit. And through my subsequent
surveys of centenarians, through two books, through knowing so many
centenarians, this list has held up: Love of life, which includes a
sense of humor and a healthy dose of self-esteem; positive yet
realistic attitude; strong religious or spiritual belief; personal
courage; and a remarkable ability to renegotiate life at every turn.
think the last one in particular is something we can all learn from
What does “aging with attitude” mean to you?
There was a wonderful centenarian in California who we asked, “What
would your advice be to people as they grow older or to younger
generations?” And he said, “Encapsulate the good memories and let
the others go.” Isn’t that beautiful and so simply said? Another
fellow in South Carolina said, “I try to be happy where I’m stopped
at.” Between the two of those I think lies the answer.
What can we do to counter ageism in our day-to-day lives?
don’t think we’re ever going to stop it, but we can mitigate it. The
first thing is always awareness, but the important thing is for more
of us who become aware to stop doing it, even if we’re doing it
unconsciously. It has a ripple effect.
There’s just no place for ageism in our society. There is plenty to
go around for all. There’s plenty for those who have contributed so
much, and I think we lose sight of the contributions of older
people, and I mean 85 and over. How would we like it if in 15, or 20
or 30 years from now we were treated as though our lives or our
contributions didn’t matter? If we don’t change it now, we are going
to have a rough go of it ourselves when we reach that age.
we can’t change it, then shame on us.
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