How to Age Without Growing Old

By Sean Grover, LCSW

When the late-great Grandma Grover turned 85 years old, she received an upsetting notice in the mail; she was ordered to surrender her driver’s license. She was regretfully informed that, due to her age, she was no longer eligible to drive.

Exasperated, she wrote a letter the motor vehicle department director. He flatly rejected her. So she called the mayor of her small town; he was sympathetic but unmoved. Finally, she sent a fiery letter to the governor of her state. Two weeks later, the governor fired back with a challenge: pass a driver’s ed course and a road test, and she could keep her license.

In record time, Grandma Grover completed a driver’s ed course, aced her road test, and in less than two months, was back behind the wheel of her 1972 Chevy Nova.

The whole experience, however, left her a bit perturbed. When I asked why, she appeared exasperated:

“My goodness, it was so embarrassing.’

“You got your license back.”

“Yes, but they put me in a class full of old people!”

Five years later, at 90 years old, Grandma Grover could still be seen cruising her neighborhood, waving to friends, white driving gloves and all.

As I grow older, Grandma Grover remains a shining example of how to age without growing old. Take a look around and you’ll see a tremendous disparity among folks in their latter years. Why do some people remain young in spirit despite their age, while others grow old before their time?

There are certain conditions that would seem to make aging easier. Good health definitely helps and financial security doesn’t hurt. And yet many healthy, well off people spend their golden years despondent and alone, while others with more daunting financial and medical challenges, fare better emotionally.

The other day while on my way to my office, I spied an elderly woman shopping in the farmers’ market. She was scrutinizing the produce, her face a tight fist of discontent. She complained bitterly to the salesman and seemed truly miserable in every sense of the word; the kind of person who compels small children to hide, and even smaller children to wet themselves.

The scene upset me deeply. Did aging do this to her? Did growing old suck the joy out of her life?

When I shared the disturbing scene with my wife, she simply shrugged it off. “How do you know she wasn’t always this way?”

It was a revelation. I had it all wrong; I was looking at growing old backwards. The body ages, no doubt. But the issue isn’t about age. Rather, it’s how we choose to live, every day, every moment. Over time these attitudes and outlooks increasingly manifest in our behavior. In other words, for better or worse, we become more our core self. In our golden years, the balance comes due on our way of being and is reflected in all aspects of our life.

Growing Young

How do you keep from growing old before your time? Glad you asked. In studying older folks who live vibrant lives, I’ve found some key qualities:

Passions: Chose activities that excite you, energize and motivate you keep you living in the moment.

Relationships: Intimacy is the fountain of youth. In fact, research has shown that people who enjoy positive relationships with friends and family actually live longer.

Altruism: Helping others is the express lane to cultivating a greater appreciation for life; it will also give your self-esteem a healthy boost.

Fun: Playfulness is not restricted to the young. Enough Said. (See Humor Deficit Disorder)

Faith: Shop around, attended services, classes or lectures. Find a faith that best reflects your personal values. A spiritual practice is an endless source of rejuvenation.

Are You Up for the Challenge?

In the end, we can’t stop the aging process. But ongoing self-improvement and an expansive state of mind trumps an aging body every time. Improve how you live; cultivate a youthful spirit. You’ll add joy to your day, and years to you life.