We love the Candid Camera episodes when kids explain what they think big ideas mean. It’s a kick listening to their confusion because it’s understandable - they’re kids. But if we still believe the Statue of Liberty is, as one sweet child said, “a lady in the bath ready to wash under her arms”, we have some updating to do. When we don’t, as re- searchers are finding out, we’re greatly affected. Studies are showing that what we think and believe as children and on into adulthood influences our life experience. So if as children we thought of old people negatively - slow, no longer useful, dotty - and we never updated those beliefs, we might end up living life that way. Apparently we are not only what we eat, but also what we think and believe.
So what happens when we believe positive things about aging? Becca Levy of Yale School of Public Health, in a study of people over 50 says they lived an average of 7.5 years longer. She also says, it’s not just what we tell ourselves in our minds or are ex- posed to in the media, but also how we take care of our bodies. When Levy showed se- niors words associated with aging in a negative or positive context, and then asked them to perform physical tasks, those exposed to negative words performed worse than those exposed to positive words.
This is important on so many levels. If we look at Masaru Emoto’s work, Messages from Water, none of this comes as a surprise. He exposed water to both positive and nega- tive thoughts, froze it and then looked at the crystals under a microscope. Positive thoughts produced beautifully formed crystals, negative ones were jagged, shattered and sharp. Here’s the thing, even if your bullshit meter is going off right now, don’t you just know, from your own experience, that you feel better when you’re around more pos- itive things? Does it really matter if it can be proven or not? You know, inside of you, and if you don’t, try it out. Buddha said, don’t take anything I say as fact, take it home, try it on, see if it fits. What we think about aging is so different than what aging is really about.
Old is not even the same thing anymore. Our grandparents’ old is not our old. Baby boomers are not and have never done it the same as any generation before them. For some it wouldn’t be possible even if it were true. Many 50 and over are still raising kids,
working full time, caring for their aging parents or starting second careers. The Sand- wich Generation hardly has the time to get old, sit in the rocker, drink lemonade and shoo young kids off the porch. The lemonade sounds good though, doesn’t it?!
Times are different - the “lady” is not washing her underarms and we need to refresh the page. For some people old age stinks, just like it does for some in middle age, teen age or any other age and for some it’s a walk in the park. For most, many, it’s some combi- nation in between. What’s important is not to push it away in denial - as if with the right cream or exercise regime we’re going to avoid the whole thing all together, but to em- brace, discuss, marvel and sometimes, yes, bemoan what we are experiencing.
The first step is just to notice. What are the ideas we’re carrying? What thoughts do we surround ourselves with? What diet of information are we being fed? When we notice with an open mind, not to judge ourselves, but to get curious - hmm, what ideas have I been digesting about my life, about my future? Just see. It’s fascinating. How are older people depicted on television, in movies, advertisements and do these images reflect who you know yourself to be?
The research shows, whether it’s Levy’s standard science, Emoto’s more alternative methods or centuries and centuries of great thinkers like Aristotle, Lao Tsu or Benjamin Franklin - the research shows that how we are on the inside matters. We’re not only af- fected by what’s on the outside, WE affect! Which is great news - because it means it’s up to us. Not whether we die or not, not whether we age or not - but how we do it. Our choice. Not because that’s what some half hour sitcom models, but because we exam- ine our beliefs and decide whether they still fit. Even if we only affect a little change, and research shows we affect so much more, why not tip the scales in our favor?