Mind Over Matter In Old Age

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 24, 2014

My last day of work was 10/22/13, at a job I started in the previous century on 11/14/77.  It’s been one year not working, and the time has flown by like Boeing jetliner.  When I retired I had big plans to write a novel, but the urge has diminished. The fantasy of writing doesn’t completely go away, but my discipline to work mostly has. My days pass by so fast that I wonder how I ever found time for a forty-hour work week. And like a butterfly, my memories of being a caterpillar are fleeing fast. It’s really strange to live by flitting here and there, wherever my whims entice me. Maintaining a positive mental state while deteriorating physically is now my chosen career. The job requirements are learning to master mind over matter.

Being happy pursuing piddly activities is a great skill to acquire. I hang out with friends, read books, watch television, play music, write blogs, mess with my computers, shop for used books, cook food, do chores, and that seems to be enough. I now live in a different mental world where I work to maintain my health by not getting mentally old. The daily goal of getting old is to avoid being old. Luckily, I have a naturally happy nature, and I don’t get bored. I’m well suited for retired living.

I’m constantly learning new things, mainly because I love documentaries and nonfiction books, and I love browsing the Internet for fascinating news stories, like “What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?” from this week’s The New York Times Magazine.

New York Times

 

The article starts off,

One day in the fall of 1981, eight men in their 70s stepped out of a van in front of a converted monastery in New Hampshire. They shuffled forward, a few of them arthritically stooped, a couple with canes. Then they passed through the door and entered a time warp. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan welcomed guests on a black-and-white TV. Everything inside — including the books on the shelves and the magazines lying around — were designed to conjure 1959. This was to be the men’s home for five days as they participated in a radical experiment, cooked up by a young psychologist named Ellen Langer.

Ultimately, what this experiment reveals is feeling younger means acting younger.

The men in the experimental group were told not merely to reminisce about this earlier era, but to inhabit it — to “make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years ago,” she told me. “We have good reason to believe that if you are successful at this,” Langer told the men, “you will feel as you did in 1959.” From the time they walked through the doors, they were treated as if they were younger. The men were told that they would have to take their belongings upstairs themselves, even if they had to do it one shirt at a time.

In the end, the men,

At the end of their stay, the men were tested again. On several measures, they outperformed a control group that came earlier to the monastery but didn’t imagine themselves back into the skin of their younger selves, though they were encouraged to reminisce. They were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had “put their mind in an earlier time,” and their bodies went along for the ride.

The article goes on with more details about additional experiments, and they remind me of how I like to time travel by returning to things I loved back in the 1960s. I always thought when old people returned to the interests of their youth they were merely being nostalgic. Maybe we’re rejuvenating. Maybe wanting to write a novel is taking me back to when I was young and wanted to grow up to write a novel. I’ve often wondered if I’m too old to do something so young. If this research is right, writing a novel will make me young.

Although it doesn’t appear that I’ve done that much in my first year of retirement, I do feel like I’ve learned a lot. It’s a strange new life living without a job to define my days. I absolutely love being retired. It feels like I’m back in college preparing for an exciting career. This time of constant reflection reminds me of the 1970s and all the New Age philosophies I studied. The journey is the destination.

JWH

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