Positive Age Stereotyping

December 27, 2012

We have all heard that “we are what we eat.” It turns out “we are what we think” as well.

A recent study on age on age stereotyping suggested to me that I should update a blog of several years ago on the beneficial effects of a positive attitude in retirement.

One of the great determinants of successful retirement is our ability to maintain a positive attitude and positive self image. Retirement brings many changes and we need to be able to adjust to them and control them to the extent to which we are able. Beyond the transition from full-time employment, over time there will likely be changes in finances, health, relationships, housing and other aspects of life. A positive attitude and positive self image can help us take advantage of opportunities and “roll with the punches” if need be.

The most recent study followed several hundred adults age 70 and over during a ten year period and assessed their likelihood of recovering from a period of disability in relation to whether their views of old age were stereotypically positive or negative. The study showed that people with positive views were significantly more likely to make a full recovery.

Other studies have had similar results:

The Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement is a 20 year study that examined, among other things, the attitudes of people 50 and over toward aging.  The study found that people with a positive attitude about growing older lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with a more negative attitude.  Positive attitude was a better predictor of longevity than healthy cholesterol level, regular exercise or not smoking!

The University of California San Diego School of Medicine did a study of people aged 60 to 98 regarding, among other things, their perceptions of whether they were aging successfully.  The researchers found that optimism and the ability to cope successfully with life’s challenges (attitude) were actually more important to a positive perception than physical health.

A study at the University of Texas looked at whether there was a connection between attitude and increasing frailty as people became older.  The researchers found that people who had a positive attitude were significantly less likely to become frail.  The researchers were not able to determine why that is the case but the lead researcher, Dr. Glenn Ostir said: “I believe that there is a connection between mind and body and that our thoughts and attitudes/emotions affect physical functioning and overall health, whether through direct mechanisms, such as the immune function, or indirect mechanisms, such as social support networks.”

And consider the “placebo effect.”  People who take a placebo and think they are going to get better frequently do.  It is the power of thinking positively.

Consider also all the motivational speakers – corporate, religious, athletic, military, political etc.  When you cut through to the core of their messages you more often than not you arrive at building and maintaining a positive attitude and positive self image.

So, if a positive attitude is a good thing to have, how do we go about getting one?  Some people seem to be blessed with a “natural” positive attitude to “look on the bright side” and “see the glass as half full” rather than half empty.  But if we are not one of those people what do we do?

Attitudes are forged in our thoughts, so we want to change or enhance our attitude we need to begin with how we think about situations and relationships.  Think about your attitudes toward how you spend your time, how much you are learning, your close friends, your neighbors, your health, your diet, your income, your happiness or other aspects of your life. Then reflect on how a more positive attitude with respect to those situations and relationships could have a beneficial effect in your life.  Consider how you might articulate that more positive attitude.  Write it down and repeat it to yourself every day, several times a day and look for ways to make it real in how you behave when you are by yourself and with others.  This is called positive affirmation and it is one of the most powerful ways to change attitudes.

Other things we can do:

  • Have a plan for what you want to accomplish in life; don’t let things just happen to you.
  • Take care of yourself physically and mentally.
  • Be positive in your speech.
  • Smile frequently.
  • Look for the good in situations and people.
  • Feel comfortable “in your own skin.”
  • Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
  • Think of what you have rather than what you don’t have.
  • Laugh out loud and find humor in daily life.
  • Take time to help others.
  • Communicate.  Don’t hold things inside.
  • Manage an internal critic by focusing on ways to make things better.
  • Stay engaged with life – intellectually, socially, physically.

“Yes, a positive attitude really does make a difference.” –  Michael F. Roizen, MD

R. Kevin Price


© 2008-2012 R.K. Price