Seven Characteristics of Optimistic Older People
Not everyone age 70 and beyond is senile and miserable. Drawing from the lives modeled by my aunts and great-aunts, my visits to nursing home residents, stories told and written (some referenced below), it is encouraging to observe that some older folk remain healthy in mind and spirit despite their physical decline. They highlight the positive elements in life's struggles; they make people laugh; they prove themselves likable.
While we comfort those who succumb to the pain and suffering of the various old-age diseases, we may also be comforted in the company of those who infect us with their positive attitudes.
Listed below are seven of the character traits usually found in these sunshiny older folks.
-- highly trained or skilled in a particular activity
The term "accomplished" usually conjures up lists of academic degrees and accolades, and many older people can produce such. However, many others are self-educated, having knowledge and skills which may not even be taught in the classroom. They used their time wisely, learning and becoming experts in their fields of interest.
For example, there are many Caribbean calypsonians who learned songwriting and rhythm from each other and emerged as social icons because of their sterling performances. Among them, The Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco from the island of Grenada) born in 1935 is known as the Calypso King of the World. He has received many awards including the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2015.
Whether they learned by formal or self-taught methods, older people who accomplish their goals are usually happy with themselves and pleased to share their victories with the world.
-- able to adjust to new conditions
It does not take a far stretch of imagination to visualize people age 70 and over relocating, even migrating; changing jobs, starting new businesses several times in their lives. Some changes may have been desired while others may have been caused by unfortunate situations like financial difficulties, or natural disasters.
Those who develop the habit of adjusting in stride become the individuals whom younger people seek out, to learn from them the skills of overcoming. When they have "been there and done that" and survive with positive lessons to share, they make good friends for people of all ages.
-- friendly, good-natured, or easy to talk to
Of all the older folk known to me, past and present, my maternal grandmother was the most affable. Her pastor once told me, "When the burdens of my ministry begin to feel heavy, I go sit at the foot of your grandmother's bed and we talk. When I leave, I am ready to take on the world."
In her 70s and 80s, her soft voice and her sweet encouragement attracted people to her. She received visitors from several other churches besides the one she attended, and everyone in the village called her Granny. Whereas my cousins and I avoided some of our older relatives whom we thought were too grumpy, we often fought for space to sit beside her.
There are many grandmothers like mine (grandfathers too) who cheer up their visitors, who inspire with old stories, who share jokes and laughter, who make the young ones feel that there is always reason to be happy. These are the people who influence us to celebrate their lives instead of mourning their deaths; and our memories afterwards are mostly positive.
-- feeling or showing gratitude or pleasure
"Seventy years are given to us!" So it says in the Bible Psalm (90:10) titled the Prayer of Moses. In a later verse (14), he adds:
"Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives."
People who recognize this promise of 70 years feel privileged to attain it. They often express thanks for the abilities they still have instead of those they may have lost. They are grateful for the extra years after 70 and like the psalmist, they hope that singing will be an easy way to demonstrate their appreciation for the rest of their lives. Even when they lose volume and pitch, they may still try to sing. Does this remind you of anyone?
-- very enthusiastic or passionate
Meet George Dawson: A Man With a Passion for Life
Passionate about life itself, George Dawson declared in his book title that "Life Is Good." Born to slaves, he always wanted to learn to read. He got that opportunity at age 98, co-authored his biography and published his book at age 102, died at age 103 in 2001.
Jim Arruda Henry has a similar story. He learned to read at age 92, wrote and published his book "In a Fisherman's Language" (fishing stories he was anxious to share) at age 98 and died at age 99 in 2012.
The passion of some older people may be to build a fence, see a foreign country, or skate on ice. Whether they downplay their passion until they become sure of support or they pursue their passion openly and consistently, their interest keeps them alive and positive. They always have something to work at, and their sense of purpose becomes infectious.
Mark Twain (1835-1910), on his 70th birthday was the epitome of confidence and positive outlook in older people. His entire birthday speech is in this tone.
"The seventieth birthday! It is the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit and look down and teach- unrebuked."
These sentiments could have been as confidently expressed by my former college professor who still has his humor and mentoring skills in tact; or by any of the older people we know who have gained a sense of dignity and authority from decades of experience. What may sound like conceit is just confidence solidified by time.
-- inspiring awe
Neva Freed Morris (1895-2010) purchased a 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis when she was 90 years old, and drove until she was 95. She had an "80-year accident-free driving record" said her youngest son, who believed that her secret was her passion for fast cars. She enjoyed singing, especially, "You are My Sunshine."
Her story is beyond awesome, but so are all the stories mentioned in this article, and the many others which will not get published. There are many older people who inspire us with their smiles, their compliments, their gestures which give our spirits a lift.
Because of the strength and wisdom they receive from their struggles to become who they are, even a "God Bless You" from an older person is awesome.
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© 2017 Dora Weithers