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PAPERWORK: You're never too young to age wisely

Lonny Cain
Lonny Cain

You don’t need to be old to think old.

That’s my message for the day. Not for all you old boomers, God love ya.

No, this advice is for the younger.

Ahhh, to be young again. That’s a moan you hear often from the older.

But let's put a little twist on that wish. For the younger ones.

I guess I should begin by defining young vs. old.

It’s kind of a state of mind thing. By that I mean, I state to myself that I will start jogging again.

Then my mind says no and reminds me of my knees.

So … you see it’s an aging thing. Not an exact age thing. It can come at any age. In fact (brace yourself), it starts when you are born.

At some point in time, we all slow down ... with some things. Then most things.

Now, some old folks know how to deal with this. Something that should be shared with the young.

I’d better explain. By now most of you know I get these random thoughts from others, from things they say and do.

In this case, I was inspired by reporter-writer John Leland after reading his piece for the New York Times in December 2017.

The headline was a grabber: “Want to be happy? Think like an old person.”

About three years ago Leland began following the lives of six New Yorkers over the age of 85.

He wrote about them over time.

“The series of articles began the way most stories about older people do, with the fears and hardships of aging: a fall in the kitchen, an aching leg that did not get better, days segueing into nights without human contact,” he wrote.

“They had lived through — and some were still challenged by — money problems, medical problems, the narrowing of life’s movements.

“But as the series went along, a different story emerged.”

Leland saw a pattern in how the elders viewed their lives.

They focused on positive over negative. On things they could still do and were still rewarding.

“Older people report higher levels of contentment or well-being than teenagers and young adults,” Leland concluded.

Leland noted the experts call this perspective the paradox of old age.

“As people’s minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better,” Leland explained.

“In memory tests, they recall positive images better than negative; under functional magnetic resonance imaging, their brains respond more mildly to stressful images than the brains of younger people.”

To appreciate the depth of this simple advice, you need to meet the people Leland followed.

Hear their words. Know their pain and how they deal with it.

He takes us inside their lives in his series but then wrote a book: “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old.”

“For three years, visiting them has been a lesson in living, and a rejoinder to the myth that youth is life’s glory, after which everything is downhill,” Leland wrote.

“Their muscles weakened, their sight grew dim, their friends and peers gradually disappeared. But each showed a matter-of-fact resilience that would shame most 25-year-olds.”

Hear the simple thoughts of Ping Wong, 92, from a nursing home, where so many elderly end up.

“I like the life here much better than young times,” she told Leland.

“Young times we only have time to study and make money. I couldn’t remember when I was young, what we were interested in talking about. Nothing. Only today’s lunch or today’s outing. That’s all we were interested in when we were young.

“We seldom talk about bad things. We keep ourselves happier. Try your best to keep your mood up. I’m getting old. I want to live a peaceful life here. No arguments, and we can talk with each other without any difficulties.”

Yes, life changes a lot when you lose the muscles. Your world shrinks. There’s more pain and loss.

Maybe that’s why the good days, good moments, the bits of fun, the laughing seem so much more precious.

Why you clutch those moments when you can.

And realize that should have been the plan all along.

Leland says this lesson was clear… in the words of those he quoted.

“So it went with all of them,” he said.

“Their message was so counterintuitive that it took a long time to sink in. But finally it did: If you want to be happy, learn to think like an old person.”

LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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