In working with senior adults for over 30 years, I have met some amazing individuals. Successful, brilliant, hard-working, dedicated, strong, faithful, decent, funny, diverse, hopeful these are just a few words to describe the seniors that I have known. These adjectives apply not to superstars, but to everyday, ordinary seniors who have not just lived long, but lived well. These vibrant seniors share some common traits. If you ask them the secret to making the most of a good life, I believe they would come back with five important words of wisdom.
First, be positive. Seniors who make the most of life have learned to keep a positive attitude. Things have not always been easy, by any means. Still, wise seniors have learned that while we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. We can choose to be positive.
Second, be kind to those around you. Seniors know better than anyone that the best way to get over feeling sorry for yourself is to find someone else to help. You may not be familiar with the name, Stephen Grellet. Grellet was born in France, was a Quaker, and died in New Jersey in 1855. That is all we know about him, except for a few lines he penned that have made him immortal: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good I can do, or any kindness that I can show any human being, let me do it now and not defer it. For I shall not pass this way again.” Be kind to someone else.
Third, be thankful. Be thankful in all things. The best measure for determining how likely someone is to be happy is whether or not they have an attitude of gratitude. Thankful people are joyful people.
Fourth, let go of the past. In the early 1900s the top ten killers in the U.S. were all infectious diseases. By the 1990s, it is estimated that the top ten killers are all stress-related diseases. Hurts, injustices, losses, disappointments, slights all of us have experienced these and more in our past. When allowed, any of these stresses from the past can rob us of present peace and joy. Wise seniors have learned to let go, to forgive, to make peace with the past, and to be kind to themselves and to others.
Finally, reach up to something higher than yourself. Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the best known composers of all time. Bach had an interesting custom when he composed music. At the beginning of each piece, he would write the letters J.J. for the Latin Jesu Juva (Jesus Help Me!) and at the end of each piece, he would write S.D.G., Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone!). No matter what faith system you belong to, how wonderful it would be to start each day with Bach’s prayer to a higher power for help and to end each day with words of praise. Reach up to something higher than yourself. Wise seniors have not only lived a lot of years, they have learned to make the most of those years. From them we can all learn the ways of wisdom.