A senior moment: It’s never too late to be happy

By Danna Downing

Each of us has some experiences or issues that may lead us to believe that the “die has been cast’’ and as a result we can never achieve a happy life. This phrase “the die is cast” has been popularized in part for its early use by William Shakespeare when he paints Roman Emperor Julius Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon River in Italy as an unavoidable and intractable step leading to the Roman civil war in the Roman Republic. It harkens back to games of chance involving dice where the throw of the die makes a decision irreversible and out of the hands of the player. All this implies that a person has no responsibility and no control over their choices.

It is also a dangerous and limiting way to operate.

When it comes to the aging process, there is good evidence that when older adults are actively engaged, it helps keep their lives both more safe and more interesting. The challenge then is to build skills that keep you informed about your choices and the resources that are available. This empowers us to better enjoy the last years of life as a time of contentment and learned happiness.

It is sad but true that the way a community looks at aging and the way some of our genes can create serious health issues, as well as other unexpected things over which we have little or no control, can derail our lives to the point it seems impossible to achieve peace and happiness. In turn, it can become tempting to lose hope.

For many of us, we are recovering from some type of trauma that has complicated our lives and causes us to feel helpless or have a wounded self-image. Having more time for ourselves in retirement affords a unique opportunity to reclaim and grow the control we do have over our lives. The path for achieving this goal includes large and small choices that help us direct and focus our energies in new and exciting ways.

“This kind of healing requires us to pay attention to all aspects of our life,” suggests Beverly Conyers, the author of “The Recovering Heart.” “And it can lead to holistic improvements for mind and body, “she adds.

We know that some persons do not have a high sense of self-efficacy or confidence to succeed. The good news is that each of us has the potential to build self-efficacy at any age. We do this by taking action, instead of avoiding challenges. We do this by not focusing on personal flaws and negative outcomes. Each unmet challenge reinforces a negative self-image. Each disappointment triggers the feeling of “I’m just not good enough.” Inevitably, these expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The actions that need to be taken will, of course, vary depending on individual circumstances. But, in general, helpful actions are those positive things (big and small) we do to build self-worth. For example, you are bored and just don’t know what to do with yourself. You find one little thing that needs doing and do it, being sure to give yourself credit for using the power of action to get through a rough time. In another scenario, you are feeling lonely and unlovable. You resolve to take a walk and smile at everyone you meet along the way. Such investments can prove to be downright magical.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines wellness not as the absence of disease, illness, or stress. Wellness is reframed as the presence of purpose, active involvement in satisfying work and play, joyful relationships, a healthy body and living environment, incorporating all the mental, emotional, intellectual, occupational, and spiritual components of living. It becomes a life-long process of becoming our best possible self. As long as we are willing to learn and grow, we can move toward our full potential and enjoy the richness of that journey.

For more information, go to https://store.samhsa.gov to download Creating a “Healthier Life, a Step-By-Step Guide To Wellness”. This resource is also available in Spanish.

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