Can you imagine yourself at 100 looking back on your life? What are the things you remember—the blessings, the highlights, the tragedies? Any regrets? What are your goals for the future; your concerns? We are co-creators of our lives. Whatever happens, we can choose how we respond.
I attended a century birthday party this weekend for Eleanor Carlson; born in April 1916 when the average price of a house was $5000 and a car: $400. Think of all the history that a 100 year old has lived through. As I was compiling a timeline, it occurred to me how much of what we remember is bad news—wars, assassinations, and disasters. Even the bright spots of the last 100 years generally had misfortune mixed with success: the space program and putting men on the Moon; the 19th amendment in 1920, granting voting rights to elevate women from second-class citizenship; vaccines, antibiotics, and medical procedures accounting for Eleanor’s longevity and the decline of diseases that disabled or killed; the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a bright spot in an ongoing struggle for racial equality. Even television, computers, mobile devices, and the Internet have even been a mixed blessing; creating more connectivity but perhaps less connection; leading to more information and more sedentary lifestyles.
History book tend to focus on days that live in infamy with unfathomable deaths. Eleanor was born before the United States entered the first World War 99 years ago (6 April 1917). The Great War, the “war to end all wars,” was the first time combat was fought on land, sea and in the air. She was a teenager when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. Hitler in Europe and the bombing of Pearl Harbor in ’41 led to two-front World War II and ushered in the nuclear age with the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan. History records atrocities like the Holocaust, mass murder in concentration camps. Wars have continued during Eleanor’s lifetime; a way we learn geography: Korea, Vietnam, the Soviet Union, Iraq, Afghanistan, and countries indicted for fomenting terrorism. The formation of the United Nations in 1945 has been more symbolic than actual with attempting to preserve peace through international cooperation. Terrorism and mass killings seem unpreventable. Technological progress has also created more advanced ways to kill people.
Aging is inevitable, but aging well doesn’t happen without your efforts. Most of us have no idea about how many years we’ll get. The secret to aging gracefully is actually no secret. Thriving takes a little luck and a lot of attention to habits; the cumulative effect of actions we take throughout life. There are things we can control: a healthy lifestyle, planning for financial security and engaging socially. Our habits pay compound interest over time–for better or worse.
So if you want to flourish at 100 or any age for that matter, there are things you can do. We can’t control our genes; only behaviors. The pillars of aging well are time, connections, money, and meaning. Make investments in living: move more; sit less; eat for nourishment without gorging on calories; consume more plants less animals; continue learning, make friends with people who share your healthy tendencies; you don’t want to outlive all your friends. Cook more. Financial security alone will not lead to quality of life, but that stability is a comfort and safety net. Every day you live, you’re creating your legacy.
While there are no guarantees on living a century, much of life’s quality depends on you. Act now. Turn off the computer or put the phone in your pocket and go for a walk.
Congratulations, Eleanor, on your first 100 years! Here’s to the next century.
© Joan S Grey, 8 Apr 2016
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