Open Age ran an art competition in April asking ‘ What does ageing joyfully mean to you?’. The standard was high as there are many talented members who take advantage of the range of art classes available. A good number of these classes continued online during the pandemic. I even had a go at the art for iPad course and found it hugely satisfying and fun, despite my severe lack of artistic merit!
I had the difficult task of judging the many varied competition entries. It was tough, but the watercolour pictured above was the very worthy winner. I loved the brilliant portrait of this positive, vibrant older man, clearly ageing joyfully somewhere in London – I’d love to meet him! Many congratulations to Gill D’Ambrosio. You can see more of Gill’s lovely work on Instagram @gill.dambrosio and on her website. Her prize? A signed copy of ‘How to Age Joyfully’ – my book is much better than my artwork, I promise!
So, I thought it timely to write a few words and remind ourselves…
‘What a wonderful world’…we inhabit
Each ‘bright blessed day’ (to quote that great song), I’m grateful for our beautiful, diverse planet, filled with incredible creatures – us included.
During the pandemic I think we’ve all truly valued nature, our green spaces, being outdoors and the good it’s done us. There’s nothing like deprivation for appreciating what we’ve previously taken for granted. Certainly this has been true for me.
Nature takes care of us
Research shows that spending time in nature has mental health benefits, helping with problems of anxiety and depression. It can improve mood, self-esteem and confidence, decrease stress and anger, and relax us. And being in the sun is beneficial, if you follow the necessary precautions. (As someone who’s had a brush with skin cancer, I strongly encourage you to protect yourself and avoid sunburn).
And if you walk, or do other exercise outside, you’ll be adding the physical health benefits. Meet up with others and these social connections will further contribute to your ageing better.
It’s our turn now
2021 is a key year for action on climate change and many would say not before time. For example, there was the USA’s global climate summit on Earth Day and Glasgow are hosting the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.
‘There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done…‘
From ‘The Circle of Life’ by Tim Rice & Elton John in The Lion King
Most of us know we need to and can take steps, however small, to help preserve our global home and its inhabitants. I’m increasingly aware I should be doing more. This was brought home to me very recently when I did the World Wildlife Fund’s environmental footprint quiz . I was surprised by my disappointing score.
I’m trying to do my bit
Most of our waste is recycled into almost as many multicoloured boxes as we have pieces of furniture. And I’m delighted to have discovered a chemist that recycles empty ‘blister’ pill packs – these used to fill up most of our wheelie bin!
I try to remember to turn off lights and the taps while brushing my teeth standing on one leg (for improving balance in case you’re wondering). I try not to overfill the kettle, nor leave the TV on standby.
Plastic bags are history, apart from the odd freezer and sandwich bag. Our huge collection of plastic bags, dating back longer than I care to admit, is put to good use in my constant war against moths. I don’t feel in the least benevolently disposed towards these creatures ravaging my jumpers, particularly as, so far, they seem to be winning our battles.
Relevant charities have had my support, including ‘adopting’ two manatees from ‘Save the Manatee’. Manatees are my favourite animal ever since I saw them up close and totally fell for them. Perhaps it’s something to do with their plus size, slow movement, friendly nature and whiskers? And they have such kind eyes.
We also gave up owning a car during the pandemic, although I confess, that was largely due to our Skoda being 19+ years old. Sadly it never got to enjoy a well deserved ‘retirement’, but at least it can be recycled.
In future, we’ll probably take more staycations and fly even less than pre-coronavirus. This is probably the biggest contribution we can make. Less air travel and my (and others) discovering more of what my own country has to offer, have been positive outcomes of this pandemic. Hopefully this will continue.
But there’s a limit!
But doing all we should, or could, is hard and, frankly, I’m not up for it. I don’t know about you, dear readers?
For example, this weekend in a newspaper, I read a Green Guide on how to be more eco in your home. It contains some admirable and achievable suggestions, such as banning single use plastic water bottles, never using wipes, and washing towels less often (I do – mainly through laziness). But I draw the line at making my own plant-based milk (or drinking it), giving up toothpaste that’s in a (plastic/metal) tube, stopping streaming video programmes, buying 96 eco brand loo rolls, or swopping to reusable toilet rolls! (I’ve done my time using terry cloth nappies – remember those? – and that experience, and smell, stay with me).
As I’ve found, giving back is as rewarding to the giver as the receiver; our earth needs our help and not just on one day a year. I will continue to do my best to follow Desmond Tutu’s inspiring advice…
…and maybe, if I try a bit harder, I’ll improve my score on the Footprint Quiz by Earth Day 2022!
On Friday 9th April, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, died peacefully at Windsor Castle, a couple of months short of reaching his 100th birthday. For so many of us, his strong, supportive partnership with the Queen had existed throughout our lives. They had been married for 73 years. A real love story.
His death is a great loss to his family, friends and to the nation; but to have lived to 99 and enjoyed a life devoted to public service (including in the Royal Navy in the Second World War) is something to celebrate. Prince Philip achieved a huge amount for a range of charities, supporting more than 800 organisations, and, most importantly, created the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in 1956. Now in 130+ countries, the awards have transformed so many lives, empowering and equipping millions of young people from all backgrounds to develop skills, confidence and resilience – my children included. (I was lucky enough to meet him some years ago).
The Leo Tolstoy quote neatly encompasses these two steps. And research has shown that having ‘a reason for being’ and helping others are important for health and well being, and enable us to live a happier, more fulfilled and even a longer life. Prince Philip was such an excellent role model.
At this sad time, it is perhaps timely to highlight these two ways we can help ourselves make the most of our lives.
Another favourite quote of mine is from the 26th US President, Theodore Roosevelt, (1858 – 1919):
It’s never too late
Prince Philip only retired from public life at 96. So, it’s never too late to do ‘what you can’, however small or large, for someone less fortunate than you. During this pandemic many have done exactly that. Let’s hope it continues once we return to our ‘new normal’ – whatever that means!
‘Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.’
Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), Roman Emperor, Stoic philosopher.
Hello again. Just in time to wish you joy and happiness over this festive and, for many, religious period.
Sorry to have been out of touch for a while but life suddenly became extremely busy with voluntary duties, talks on ageing joyfully and the book, and my usual weekly activities. Bad time management no doubt. But now I have more time, I’m proposing to start a newsletter shortly and hope you’ll sign up.
There is hope…
Here in the UK, the sun is shining (some of the time), it’s going to be hot (OK, only for a couple of days), vaccinations rise daily, lockdown restrictions are easing and the end is in sight – hopefully! Now these are powerful reasons to celebrate. For us, meeting our children over the Easter weekend will be a joy, and feasting on chocolate eggs another pleasure. I will try to show restraint…
Spring has arrived
Although losing an hour’s sleep (when the clocks went forward) is never welcome, it is in a good cause and signifies the long-awaited arrival of Spring and Summer.
‘There is no time like spring
When life’s alive in everything’
Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894), poet
Walking around the streets, as blossom after blossom appears, certainly cheers my soul.
..this time reminds Jewish people of their escape to freedom. Freedom from oppression, discrimination and inequality has been highlighted this last year. To quote the former Chief Rabbi, philosopher, theologian and author, Lord Sacks:
So, celebrate your good fortune and be grateful
…for being alive, your health, family and friends you’ll soon be able to meet, and the small but important things, including spring flowers, (overpriced) chocolate eggs, Zoom, creative activities, a good book, a boxset, cooking, running, dancing or whatever brings you joy.
In celebration of the UN International Day of Happiness 2021 (‘Happier/Kinder/Together’), I was thrilled to give a presentation at Open Age which was followed by animated discussion with around 30 members. The oldest attendee was a 92 year old member who attends a number of weekly exercise classes and is certainly ageing joyfully. How can one not be with Open Age to help us?
The event also launched the Art Competition ‘What does Ageing Joyfully Mean to You?’ which was inspired by my doing an Open Age ‘Art on the iPad’ course this term. Watch this space for the winner!
The ‘Here and now’ are important for a joyful life
I, and many far wiser than I could ever hope to be, believe we can live and age better by focusing on the present.
Why? I offer five reasons.
1. It’s the only reality!
2. It’s ‘the first day of the rest of your life’.
It’s a daily fresh beginning, giving you the chance to try again, to discover new things, friends, passions, take an initial step to achieving your dream, do better – or just enjoy life and be happy. Delighted that both Winnie the Pooh and the Dalai Lama agree.
I doubt you have seen His Holiness mentioned in the same sentence as ‘the bear of very little brain’ before!
3. It’s good for you
We cannot know the future. The past is history and we can, and should, learn from it. But, by living in the moment, and giving full attention to what you are doing now, you are less likely to worry about the future, ruminate on regrets, or feel guilty about past actions.
Being ‘mindful’ is good for wellbeing, for example, mindful walking (being aware of your body, your breathing, and what you can see and hear as you take each step), mindful eating (focusing on the taste, look and sensation of your food), meditating or doing a jigsaw.
So, find your ‘flow’ – the concept of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – to help you find happiness and productivity. In essence ‘flow’ is a state of complete absorption in an activity, especially creative ones, being challenged and becoming totally lost in the moment. I recommend dancing! For more on ‘flow’ see here.
4. You’ll notice and appreciate many wonderful small things
And, as we’ve discovered over the last year, focusing on what’s real and happening now can provide much happiness and comfort, from birdsong and a cloudless blue sky – to a piece of chocolate cake!
5. And a good day today can help towards a better tomorrow
If you try to make today the best it can be for you, and hopefully those around you, then you’ll be helping to create a better future. One small step, one day at a time.
As Albert Einstein, the theoretical physicist who lived to 76, said
‘Life is a preparation for the future and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none’.
Two cautionary notes
Nevertheless, it’s wise to give some thought to your future, what you want to achieve and how. Living fully in the ‘here and now’ does not mean ceasing to dream of, and plan for, good tomorrows. And it’s no justification for hedonism or failing to consider the possible negative consequences of your behaviour. Living in the present is one key ingredient in a recipe of behaviours and actions for a happier, healthier life. ‘How to Age Joyfully’ (my book!) and/or other sources can tell you more.
Secondly, if each day is a real struggle, and your mental health is suffering, do reach out, perhaps to friends, family, helplines, charities, or, if necessary, professional services – whoever is best placed to help you.
May you live today, and all your ‘todays’, to the max and to the best of your ability. This day won’t return – unless you’re in the film ‘Groundhog Day’! And nothing in life, including tomorrow, is guaranteed. So relish and revel in each and every day you are given.
From ‘Smile’, lyrics by Geoffrey Parsons and John Turner
The music of this famous song was composed by Charlie Chaplin, and featured in his 1936 film Modern Times.
Lyrics were only added in 1954, and ‘Smile’ was originally recorded by Nat King Cole. The message is simple – to keep smiling even in the worst of times and ‘maybe tomorrow you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.’ It’s a wonderful song of hope and staying positive in difficult times which strikes a strong chord right now (excuse pun). We’re suffering so much sadness, anxiety and grief from this terrible Coronavirus, but vaccines are now giving us hope for the future.
Smiling is good for your health
Studies have shown that smiling improves your mood (your brain releasing endorphins and serotonin), reduces stress, boosts your immune system and reduces blood pressure. There is even evidence that smiling can increase longevity.
Research has also shown that forcing a smile has health and mood enhancing benefits, your brain being unable to differentiate between a fake and the genuine article! The quote from 94 year old Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, says it all.
And it benefits others too
Smiling can also affect others positively. When you smile at someone they often mirror the action and smile back. A connection is made and you both feel better.
As Mother Teresa said, much more eloquently:
Or, if Winnie the Pooh is more to your taste, then:
All Smiles are not equal
There are various types of smile (about 17 types have been identified, many having nothing to do with expressing happiness), and some cultures interpret a smile differently.
The ‘gold standard’ is called the Duchenne smile which is the genuine expression of positive emotion and difficult to fake. A Duchenne smile happens when the eyes are also involved. Or, being technical, when the zygomatic major muscle lifts the corners of your mouth at the same time as the orbicularis oculi muscles contract, (lifting the cheeks and forming wrinkles around the eyes).
But nowadays when we are – or should be! – wearing masks for much of the time, many of us (me included) really miss seeing people’s smiles. We need all the joyful interactions we can get, even at two metres distance.
A minor consolation is that it’s still possible to detect a true smile from the eyes – and face mask emojis have been created that demonstrate it!
(The original smiley face icon was created in 1963 by Harvey Ball. He received $45)!
Maybe this blog has raised a smile and, if so, I’m delighted. But do try to find someone or something that makes you smile each and every day and not just on World Smile Day – 1st October 2021 is a long time to wait! 😊
Lovely surprise to see my book and blog get a mention in the Civil Service Retirement Fellowship’s Staying at Home Guide , the second of 2021. This excellent national charity’s newsletter also features other great charities including Independent Age.