This last phase begins at 100 years of age and lasts death. But that’s for my siblings and me. For younger readers, these divisions will probably change; some scientists believe that we are adding 6 months to our lives every year! Just in case that will be true in your case, start making plans and saving a lot of money for your increased life span.
By the time we become centenarians, we should have learned to control our life attitudes pretty well. That will have happened through countless changes in our lives: marriage, possibly divorce, moves, betrayals, forgiveness, shifting family dynamics, unsolicited social forces, stressful work, lack of work, loneliness, retirement, losses and illness. Truth be told, the very fact that centenarians have learned gratitude, self-control and resilience is one of the major reasons that they have lived so long. Learning how to cope with all of the losses, changes and disappointments mentioned above is the greatest secret to adult resilience, which in turn is what makes some people live longer than others. We do not see aggressive people, explosive people, or people who hold grudges live to be anywhere near one hundred years old; we see people who have taught themselves to be at least a bit philosophical, and who have learned to replace bitterness with gratitude.
We all have a chronological age and we have a biological age. You know about that: your biological age is based on things like your blood pressure, your blood sugar level, your cholesterol level and your body fat. But your chronological age is nothing more than how many times your body has revolved around the sun since the day you were born. Growing old is the passing of time (or suns) and aging is very likely our attitude in regard to the cultural limitations that we assimilate.
There are uncountable reports and articles out there about “successful aging” and even strategies to learn about aging. We have touched on successful aging in posts 7, 8 & 9 in this series, and know it has mostly to do with preparation. However, you should know that successful aging is usually defined like this:
We need to take note that the absence of disease is only one-third of the definition of successful aging. We mustn’t settle for only one item on the list!
Not too long ago, Forbes magazine reported that the majority of active centenarians say they do not feel their chronological age, and on an average, they report feeling 20 years younger. There are other studies that report that centenarians generally do not fit into any stereotype, retain a bit of healthy defiance, and keep their curiosities sharpened. That just goes to show that people who reach the age of 100 and are still enjoying life have not paid too much attention to their biological aging and the restrictions that society often tries to put on aging. They have instead just grown old naturally and without too much thought, but with plenty of planning. We already know that only about 1/3 of aging is genetic, and the rest is up to us.
Reaching one hundred is a great equalizer. By the time we get there, we have already known for a long time that money doesn’t buy happiness. Admittedly, it does buy comfort at this age, but comfort can never substitute happiness. When we reach 100, it doesn’t matter too much if we arrived there in a lower income group, a middle income group, or an upper income group. What matters is that we arrived there wiser than we have ever been before.
There is absolutely no scientific proof that happiness decreases as we age. If we have planned and shaped our lives well, we will be happy at 100. We know that the Long-Lived Elderly phase is our last chance to get things right. That means developing our warm-heartedness and expanding our feeling of inner peace. According to the Dali Lama, developing our warm-heartedness creates inner peace. Inner peace goes hand in hand with spiritual well being. You don’t need to belong to an organized religion to strengthen or develop your spiritual well being; of course it can be done through prayer, but it can also be done through meditation or something like nature walks. Whatever works for you. Developing spiritual well being during this phase is something positive that we can do not only for ourselves, but also for those around us. Inner peace is the ultimate form of contentment, and it is the main thing we can teach – through example – to all those surrounding us at this phase in our lives.
Generally speaking, older women are the largest demographic in the world, and women from my generation and on down should do something useful with this second adulthood we have been given. At the very least, our Long-Lived Elderly phase will be a time to make our lives meaningful if we weren’t able to do this when we were younger. Some of us might even become supercentenarians, which is 110 and older. And there is less to worry about if we do, because the aging process usually slows down for people in this phase! There are not too many supercentenarians living right now, and 90% of them are women, but we might all be gradually be headed to such a life span. After all, in Roman times, 30 years of age was old!
However, this last phase, Long-Lived Elderly, is the phase in which we must prepare for death. It is inevitable, but we can certainly shape our direction as we journey towards it. We will get frailer, and a lot of our mechanisms will decline, but we can keep our attitudes strong as weakerwe put the finishing touches on our lives.
My siblings and I had a good example, here is our mom, less than a year before she died, showing off a lily that she planted.