While Dr. Laura Schlesinger continues to perpetuate stereotypes in society, Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, continues to break our stereotypical views of aging.
Carstensen has published studies that dispel the myth of the “grumpy old man”, showing that older people are, on the whole, happier than younger adults. Older adults also see the world with a richer emotional palette and tend to place less value in material goods, and more on relationships.
Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune explored this further in a recent article. Dr. Carstensen reports that this contentment with life continues even in the face of physical or cognitive decline. She calls this “socioemotional selectivity theory”.
This theory states that our appreciation of mortality and limited time leads to a shift in our priorities and goals–from the future to the moment. This is a type of mindfulness that has benefits for older adults as well as those around them.
This is why grandparents are so great with children–they focus more on process than outcome, and enrich the experience of the moment, which is where small children tend to exist.
Those of us in the early to middle adult years can learn a lot from our elders and begin to experience some of that richness even now, if we pay attention.