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Conservatism and Ageing

It seems to be conventional wisdom that ageing leads to conservatism: the ageing process makes people more conservative. While there’s some evidence to suggest that oldies may become more conservative in the sense that their attitudes and values become more resistant to change, there’s none supporting the notion to link age and conservatism.

Even in the sphere of politics, political preferences don’t seem to change with age. Churchill got it wrong when he’s supposed to have said, ‘Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains’. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ll know that older and younger generations have always clashed about values. So, it could be that it’s not a person’s age that is important when it comes to political preference, but rather which generation they belong to. It is very difficult to tell whether it is getting older, being born at a certain time, where you’re born, education, lifestyles, and so on that causes people to have different political preferences.

There is, however, some pretty compelling evidence (Psychology Today) that people become more exaggerated versions of themselves when they age. It could be that people are a bit like wine: the good ones get better with age; the not-so-good ones never improve.

The journal cites three main reasons why conservatism may be linked to older age.

1. Personality. A review of 92 scientific studies showed that intellectual curiosity tends to decline in old age, and that this decline can explain age-related increases in conservatism and a desire to stay put.
2. Judgment. A review of 88 studies in 12 countries shows that older people are more likely to make categorical judgments about events, things, or people. This often involves acting in more prejudicial ways because in older age preserving old knowledge can be more important than acquiring new knowledge.
3. Familiarity. Studies have shown that, in older age, conservatism is positively related to self-esteem.The implication is that remaining open minded when you are old may cause not only counterproductive uncertainty, but also insecurity and self-doubt.

Linking age and conservatism is a bit like trying to push a piece of string up a hill. Individuality guarantees uniqueness, so personality and political orientation will never be identical for any two individuals. And conservatism is a ‘fat’ word meaning different things to different people.

Read this if you want to live longer

Aussies love their sport. Whether it’s le Tour, the Olympics, or the world Tiddlywinks Title, residents of The Land of Oz have become lounge-chair experts across a wide variety of sporting pursuits.

Even if you’re not into sport, you’ll still need these two musts.
1. You must make sure that you always have something to look forward to, and
2. You must make sure that you replace events with others as soon as they’re completed.

Having something to look forward to is an important part of living a longer (and hopefully better) life. Even though it’s more than 10 years since The Berlin Aging Study, one of its major findings is just as current, and relevant, as it was back then. The Study identified that one key characteristic of people who lived to be 100 was that they had some reason to get up‘n’at’em the next day – and the next – and the next. And that something to look forward to need not be major, life-changing events. So, if cycling or track and field are not your cuppa tea, just make sure you choose something else. As long as the event has meaning for you (and doesn’t harm anyone else, of course), that’s all that matters. A holiday, a family outing, a night out, gardening, hugging the grandkids, all qualify: what might be one person’s hot button might be a turn off for another.

No one can tell us what should appear on our radar screen of big-deal events. Only we can decide what’s of value to us. What we do know, however, is that having something to look forward to can help to add years to our life. [Check it out for yourself. Death rates decrease leading up to a major event (Christmas, for example), then increase and after it.]

The challenge for all of us, therefore, is not only to ensure that we have something to look forward to but to also replace that ‘something’ after the event has passed. For the sports-lovers, after le Tour and Rio, there’s sure to be an up-coming event – the Melbourne Cup, perhaps? And for those for whom sport doesn’t get the juices flowing, there’s a plethora of choices.

Sam Walton reminded us it’s not what we drive, but what drives us that matters most. Always having something to look forward to helps to provide that drive.

Good Things About Growing Old

There seems like a new interest in ageing, particularly how to slowdown the ageing process. Whether we like it or not, we’re all growing old, so it’s best to be an active participant than an onlooker. Most of us can’t believe the calendar even though we know age is only a number. The good news is that there’s a plethora of research about ageing and related topics. Here’s a smattering of some of those published studies.

1. Happiness
We’ve thought for some time that happy people tend to live longer and in better health. Researchers at Stanford University followed the emotional health of 184 adults from 18-94 for 10 years. Researchers found that the older the participants, the happier they were.
2. Negative Emotions
A Gallup telephone survey of more than 340,000 people found that people in their 70’s and 80’s were troubled less by negative emotions than any other age group. Stress and worry, for example, declined from a high of age 25, and feelings of anger are on a steady decline from age 21.
3. Wisdom
Wisdom does not necessarily increase with age, but acquired wisdom doesn’t decline as we grow older. Researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Texas evaluated the answers of people aged 25 to 93 to fictional reports of political disputes. Some of the dimensions included things such as the ability to see other points of view, deal with change, deal with and resolve conflict, and reach a compromise. Those of average age 65, outperformed younger participants.
4. Marriage & Life Partnerships
Research reported in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationship stated that older couples in life partnerships reported greater satisfaction and more positive experiences with their mates than younger couples do. Even when they quarrel, ‘oldies’ show more positive emotions and affection than middle-aged couples. Those older people in life partnerships reported better health, quality of life, better ties with their children, and closer friendships.
5. Positive Social Relationships
While older people tend to have fewer connections than younger ones, oldies tend to have closer relationships. Older people have been found to be more altruistic (volunteering and other forms of giving) than younger people. The Journal of Aging and Health reported that one of the benefits of having an altruistic attitude was its contribution to mental health in later life.

Einstein may have been right again when he said, ‘I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.’

Howya Travellin?

The endurance trial known as le Tour de France is the perfect reminder to test how you’re travelling in a much more important event called LIFE. During le Tour, lycra-ble guys pedal for days on end in the hope of victory for their team. The Life Wheel can help to make you a real ‘winner’

For thousands of years the wheel has been used as a symbol of progress and balance. Just like in le Tour, the aim is a wheel that provides a smooth ride: a rough ride should, and can, be avoided.

We know that adding years to our life and life to those years can be achieved by ensuring regular attention to the 7Fs – Food, Fitness, Friendships, Future, Fun, Finances, Faith. By maintaining a proper diet, exercising regularly, nurturing friendships, making sure you always have something to look forward to, having fun, keeping finances in check, and believing in something, a longer, better life can be guaranteed for most of us.

A Life Wheel provides an invaluable way of keeping our eyes on the way ahead. Here’s what you can do.
1. Draw a circle – freehand, traced, computer generated, or whatever.
2. Mark the circle into 7 equal parts by the addition of 7 radii emanating from one central point ‘zero’.
3. Name each radii as one of the 7Fs. Write the name at the wheel rim end of the radii.
4. See each radii as a 10-point scale with the centre being zero and the wheel rim being ’10’.
5. Record the numbers on each radii from zero to ten.

Mark on each radii where you consider you’re currently ‘at’ on a 10-point scale for that particular quality. If, for example, you consider that your diet is excellent, then you will mark ’10’ on the radii marked ‘Food’. If you consider that your finances are in need of considerable attention, then you might mark ‘2‘ on the 10-point scale for the radii marked ‘Finances’.

Now, join each of the marks (‘Xs’) you have made on the 7 radii. If the completed ‘wheel’ is full-sized and smooth, you can expect to have a long and healthy life. If, however, your completed wheel has flat spots, you can expect a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. You will have a clear picture of the area (areas) in need of attention.

Go on, give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Over 65s Beware!

In Australia recently many of us were exercising our right to vote. And now that the dust has (kinda) settled, you could be asking what was the fuss all about.

While it didn’t get much hot-air time in the election lead-up, but we oldies could be causing a problem. Australia’s population is ageing with ABS figures showing that the proportion of Australians over 65 years could increase to 25% by 2056. (In the US, more than 10,000 people every day turn 65.) An ageing population could be a threat to our economy and political system.

Our ageing population will place increasing stress on a variety of sectors, a decrease in the labour force, and a decline in the associated tax base. So, you don’t need to be Albert Whatshisname to figure out that increased expenditure coupled with decreased revenue makes deficit, debt, and possible economic downturn.

Two related things seem certain. People over the age of 65 are likely to take a pretty conservative stance to changing the current system involving their welfare and there is a need for governments to invest in a much more cost-effective and comfortable situations for this ageing group. Most oldies have priorities that often differ from those of younger generations – think climate change, crumbling infrastructure, youth unemployment, access to education. By their inaction, very few politicians seem too concerned that nothing much can be done about this divide without broader, more meaningful changes.

We all nod our heads in agreement that the interests of future generations are important to all in a democratic society. We know it’s the next generation that will be expected to pay the debt, cope with the inadequate infrastructure, experience declining prosperity, and pay for a hopelessly inadequate educational system. Yet, on what we’re experiencing at the moment, we’ll die waiting for a dysfunctional political system to make the reforms that might promote growth that will inevitably cause discomfort to an ageing majority. OK, it’s a global issue, but governments the world over are doing practically nothing of note to help. 

If it’s so that ‘politics is the art of the possible’, suggesting that all politics comes down to negotiation and compromise between the different factions and viewpoints that make up a body politic, there may be hope. Otherwise Plato’s idea expressed in The Republic (380 BCE) may become a reality within Australia: ‘It is for the elder man to rule and for the younger to submit’. Or maybe Sam Cooke sang it right, ‘A change is gonna come’.

Can You Keep A Secret?

We’re told, there are three main types of people – gossips talk about others, bores talk about themselves, and perfect communicators talk about me.

It seems that there are many people of all ages who love to gossip. The School of Hard Knocks has taught us to keep in the vault (incubator) stuff we don’t want to share with others or for them to know about. If we had our time again, and we don’t, we most probably would not have
1. Told others – even friends – about an idea, or notion, or an area we hoped to explore next;
2. Sought reassurance from those people regarding the idea; or
3. Become so rapt about any idea that we thought it had to be aired with others.

There’s no need to be overly critical. After all, those people probably mean well: they’re just trying to protect us from any perceived heartache associated with failure. They consider it’s their ‘job’ (doing us a favour, if you like) to extinguish any enthusiasm we may have for what we considered was a brilliant idea.

The good news is, however, that there will be a very small group – not necessarily those whom we’d label ‘friends’ – who can amplify any inkling we might have. So, if we must let someone into our secret, tell them. As for the others, keep it quiet. You could, of course, consider trotting out a make-believe or pretend idea instead and let them dump all over that one instead. After all, there will be plenty of time for sharing with them later.

As we grow older, we recognise that bright ideas are not all that common (it’s a bit like common sense not being all that common). Even though others might be envious or not want to see us change, we must accept that others have our best interests at heart and want to protect us from disappointment.

It’s as Victor Hugo said, ‘An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come’. Keep the vault closed: don’t tell anyone who can’t support or help to improve on the idea.

So, the next time someone asks, ‘Can you keep a secret?’ or ‘Do you want to hear my bright idea?’, respond with something like, ‘If you want me to know, tell me. If not, don’t tell me’. It’s the ‘secret-holder’ who should be the one to decide whether or not your vault is sealed.

Life’s Challenge

All the great religions, the classic literature, the various models of human development, agree about one thing. Life is in two parts; suggesting that there are two major tasks or journeys for each human life involving completion of a first part and transition to a second part.

During the first part, the main task seems to be to build a strong container; the second is to find the contents for the container. The first task we take for granted and some never attempt the second task. It’s hard work.

It seems as if we have developed a first-half-of-life culture and could be excused for concluding that this is what life is really about. During the first half we invest so much blood, sweat, eggs, sperm, tears, and years that it’s understandable to imagine there couldn’t be a second task. We’ve gone about building a platform for our life that usually involves; establishing an identity, making a home, building relationships, having friends, being part of a community, feeling secure, and working at a career.

Then, usually with age, we discover that’s there’s more to being alive than all of these things once considered all-important. We can, for example, work our whole life in a job, engage in everyday life, then reach retirement age and ask, ‘Who am I?’ It’s as if we wake up one day and ask, ‘Is this all there is?’

Rather than meet the challenge, many people choose to say put, while others begin to pay increasing attention to what’s happening around them, trying to integrate the common-sense lessons of the first half. But the tough news is that there’s no available ‘how-to’ list: it’s up to each of us to find the container’s contents. There does, however, seem to be some essentials. I’ve come up with five, but that number could be easily increased or reduced. Here are my five.
1. Wisdom. Wisdom does not necessarily come with ageing, but, if you’ve lived long enough, you’ll know that with age comes experience that can’t be bought. Wisdom is usually derived, though not exclusively, from experience and the School of Hard Knocks.
2. Charity. Giving, particularly of oneself, seems to increase in the second half. We seem to become increasingly more charitable.
3. Authenticity. An exploration of what really matters as opposed to fast-food solutions becomes a principal motivation.
4. Integrity. Finding the task within the task may not be easy, but…
5. Lovability. To love and be loved becomes a key focus.

What Max Smart Knew About Ageing

Max Smart might have made famous, ‘missed it by that much’, but we, too, tend to use the term to express our feeling when we don’t succeed but go close. We might miss making it on time to catch a flight, missing the bus by just a few seconds, getting pipped at the post for a job that we thought was ours for the taking, or finishing a race just behind the competition. All qualify, and then we usually beat ourselves up about just missing out.

The opposite of missing something by that much doesn’t seem to get equal attention. We don’t seem to find people congratulating themselves after making a flight or a bus in the nick of time or even winning an election by just a few votes. We figure that it’s probably ‘good’ that it happened, getting there or making it by that much, but then our focus shifts to what’s next? And if there’s no crisis, we create one.

Missing something by that much can be a dangerous trap; a reminder of how we’ve failed, and how close we’ve come to winning. It rarely leads us to prepare more, to avoid the experience and feeling next time. We just insulate ourselves from the next, inevitable failure.
The important thing to remember is that the universe (and surprisingly few others) couldn’t give two hoots. In fact, as far the universe goes, it doesn’t even know we exist. Far better, it seems, is to celebrate the wins, mourn the losses, then get back to doing whatever we do. It’s all about going forward.

Optimism beats pessimism any day of the week. Old age (or any age) is certainly no time for pessimism. We know that, all things being equal, optimists outlive pessimists. We can enable an optimistic response by keeping things in perspective by asking
1. What’s the worst that could happen? And if we can live with that worst-case scenario, there doesn’t seem like any need to worry about something over which we have little or no control and can live with.
2. Does my response carry the meaning I want to convey? It’s the golden oldie that Epictitus brought to our attention a couple thousand years ago: it’s not what happens to you but how you respond that matters most.

Missing by that much can be tough only if we let it be.

The long and the short of it

Always having something to look forward to is one of the recognised ways of adding years to our lives. And no one can rule what that something is. Sometimes, however, short-term views can get in the way of a long-term ones that can hinder living a longer, better life.

So there are sometimes when taking longer-term views can be a better alternative, particularly If you’ve lived long enough. Chances are you will have found that:
. In the short term, there’s never seems to be enough time; yet in the long term, ‘things’ seem happen that eliminates any need for worry or concern.
. In the short term, we may think that we can fool anyone; yet in the long term, someone always finds out.
. In the short term, we might be impressed by the amount of time we’ve saved by taking short cuts; yet in the long term, we spend most of our time ‘paying’ for taking those short cuts.
. In the short term, decisions seem more urgent: yet In the long term, most decisions seem easy to make.
. In the short term, we tend to panic and obsess on emergencies and urgencies; yet in the long term, emergencies soon lose their urgency.
. In the short term, gaining attention might seem like the BIG deal: yet in the long term, doing things our way is a more important quality.
. In the short term, hoping that there will always be someone else who will clean up any problems occurring because of our actions (or inactions); yet in the long term, taking responsibility for what we do (or don’t do) is the way forward.
. In the short term, it might seem easier to go with the flow; yet in the long term, steady as she goes has much to recommend it.
. In the short term, trying to tear people down may seem like the way to get ahead; yet In the long term, building relationships that last is much better way.
. In the short term, seeking the approval of others might be appealing; yet in the long term, spending time with people we love and doing work that matters to us is what really matters.
. In the short term, ‘selling our soul’ might have some appeal; yet in the long term, ourselves and the environment in which we live must take pride of place.
. In the short term we might consider that old-age wisdom is not for us; yet in the long term, life’s experiences has much to recommend it.

Common Sense Ain’t Common

Try this test of your common-sense ability.

Suppose you’re a judge on a panel making parole decisions for selected prisoners. You are aware, and proud of the fact, that you’re acting in the best interests of society by making certain that a prisoner has earned parole and is ready to rejoin the society he ‘left’. You start considering applications at 9.00 a.m., stop for lunch at 1.00 p.m., then continue ‘til 5.00 p.m. The question: Would there be a better, decision-making time in favour of the prisoner seeking parole?

If your answer is when you’re feeling ‘good’ – safe, comfortable, well-nourished, etc.– take a bow. Surely, that’s common sense?

There’s research to support your common-sense position. A 2011 paper by psychologists Danzinger, et al. (NewPhilosopher, March 2016) reported that the likelihood of a prisoner being paroled by a panel of judges declined from 60% immediately after breakfast to 0% just four hours later – only to be boosted right back up again immediately after lunch. (Apparently the judges were dumbfounded by the results.)

Common sense, you might conclude. After all, doesn’t everyone know that proper nutrition is vital to performance? When people haven’t eaten for a while and are feeling hungry, they’re likely to rely on mental short-cuts (cut corners), emotional impulses (be quick to ‘judge’), and opt for a steady-as-she-goes state in relation to decisions (if the prisoner stays behind bars, the majority will be safe). A common-sense response might be to avoid making important decisions on an empty stomach (when you’re feeling hungry): we think with our body, not only our brain.

If common sense is so common, why is it that we often behave quite differently? Why do some bosses, for example, allow employees to work through their lunch break so that they can leave early, even when common sense dictates that people benefit from the break and the associated sustenance. So, too, the need for, and benefits of, a good night’s sleep is considered common sense, yet it seems that what constitutes ‘good’ is not commonly held.

Common sense is just not common. It seems that what some regard as being ‘common sense’ is not commonly held. Common sense doesn’t even increase with age and life’s experiences: we might know what we ‘Shoulda done’, but we didn’t.