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Your mindset is key to successful aging

Enjoying his retirement. (Photo: Flickr/torbakhopper)

Your mindset is key to successful aging

Tom Musbach

By Tom Musbach on May 14, 2012

This is a guest blog post by Kevin Kappler, Ph.D., a psychologist on JustAnswer.

Is successful aging just a matter of understanding integrity and dealing with despair?

According to the eight-stage theory of human development created by Erik Erikson, the noted developmental psychologist who coined the phrase "identity crisis," the final stage centers on integrity and despair. During this stage we deal with growing old and possibly face retirement.

Many older people who have achieved what was important to them look back on their lives and feel great accomplishment as a sense of integrity. Conversely, those who had a difficult time during middle adulthood may look back and feel a sense of despair. In this article I would like to focus on ways to deal with that sense of despair and how to encourage a feeling of personal integrity which is so important as we get older.

Look back: What do you see?

When we have stopped working in a career or a lifetime job, we face defining ourselves by not what we do and how much we make but who we are and how we relate to others. It is very important at this time of life to be accepting of the person whom you've become and understand how much your presence has a bearing on other people, preferably encouraging them to deal with the idea that things get better as we get older.

Despair is often a feeling that we have not achieved what we would've liked. It has a component of regret and a tendency to blame -- usually ourselves. The longer we dwell in despair, the bitterer we can become. To deal with despair, we must face the fact that we've had tremendous challenges in life and learn to appreciate the things that give us pleasure and a sense of personal identity.

Find the opportunities

Growing older, we begin to realize how much more important experience is over ambition. This is a time in your life when you know a lot about what may happen and have the opportunity to integrate that into your lifestyle in a positive and healthy way.

Aside from physical aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, this is an opportunity to reach out to others and form lasting relationships. A sense of personal integrity helps immensely because you know who you are so clearly.

This is a time of life when personal reflection is very helpful. Somebody once asked D.T. Suzuki, the noted Zen master who helped introduce the West to Buddhism, "Why do you meditate?" He replied, "So I can enjoy my old age!" That is the essence of personal integrity.

Aging brings you to a time in your life to reconcile your regrets, appreciate what you do have, and enjoy the wealth of experiences that have brought you to where you are now.