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Happiness in the Time of Covid? Part 2

Inspirational 100 year old ‘Captain Tom’ Moore who’s raised over £30 million for the NHS

Older people are not despairing!

Part 1 reported that ‘Perennials’ are bearing up much better than others during this pandemic. But why?

We are the most vulnerable but..

I’m not a Pollyanna  I know that the risk of a severe illness, or worse, rises with age. This virus relentlessly discriminates against the elderly; older people have suffered enormously, lost their lives, or watched a loved one do so.

And many who’ve escaped the virus have still been badly affected due to their personal circumstances. Uncertainty is extremely stressful. Each one of us one has suffered loss of some kind. Many did not see their grandchildren, who bring huge joy to their lives, for months. Loneliness and isolation have increased. And older people have fewer years ahead than behind them, so time is more limited and precious.

But despite 2020 being such a tough year, I still believe…. 

…most of us are relatively lucky

We have a great deal going for us, including the ‘U Curve of Happiness’ (covered in my last blog) that found we become happier in later life.
We are more resilient, increasingly grateful and appreciative of the ‘here and now’. We gain a greater perspective of what’s important. Our good, bad and ugly life experiences have taught us much, including acceptance of what we cannot control and the fact that even the bad times come to an end.

As well as these advantages helping us to cope, I think we’re luckier – even with Covid and our greater vulnerability – than those in midlife or younger. You may disagree, or have other views, but here are my thoughts as to why.

● As fewer of us over 65 are working (although not always through choice), we have less anxiety over careers and job security, and fewer financial difficulties than those now working reduced hours or unemployed – all the more serious if there’s a family to support. 

● Most older people have not had their education affected or had the stress of combining home schooling, working from home and perhaps also caring for elderly parents. Despite the joys of increased family time, coping with young children 24/7, often in far from ideal conditions, is challenging. It’s far easier being a grandparent.

● We’ve missed family and friends, hugs and touch, a holiday, our hairdressers, going to the pub or eating out, culture and more. But I think deprivations have generally had a worse impact on younger generations – well, maybe excepting hairdressers!

● With less responsibilities (especially if retired) and more free time we’re able to do more of what we enjoy, including bingeing on biscuits and Box Sets, decluttering, or simply slowing down and having an afternoon nap.

● Lockdown enabled us to take up, indulge, or return to, hobbies and interests, from gardening (if lucky enough to have one), DIY, and creative activities, to cycling and walking. Of course, physical activity is great for both physical and mental health, and we do need to nourish and give to ourselves too. Self-care is very important, especially now, so being a little selfish and spoiling ourselves shouldn’t make us feel guilty. Bring on a daily slice (or two) of cake!

Stunning Kew Gardens – a haven of peace and beauty these past months.

Starting to ‘sing’ with Open Age (happily for others, I’m muted); doing Zoom ballet classes and dancing in my local park; creating this website; enjoying our small garden and larger, uncrowded Kew Gardens; and watching all three seasons of the TV series ‘The Marvellous Mrs Maisel’ with a glass, or more, of wine; all these, and more, have brought me joy. There are also many things I’m grateful for, such as my family, keeping well, reconnecting with old friends – and not queuing at the Post Office for missed deliveries, as we’re always at home.

● Far more older people are embracing digital technology for the first time and are now able to communicate with friends and family, access services, watch cultural events, or take part in online activities. For example, members at Open Age have reported how much online classes have contributed to their wellbeing. This is unsurprising as lifelong learning has been shown to improve happiness, purpose and being engaged in life.

Open Age has gone online with 100+ hours of weekly activities from dance, art and languages to lessons on using Zoom.

● We may also be less anxious as we probably have more control over our daily lives. This makes it easier to take precautions to protect ourselves from this virus. A great many over 70s have been doing just that. I’ve had the ‘freedom’ to become a screen-addicted hermit, even if a pretty reluctant one!

Perhaps this helps to explain why our stress and anxiety levels have been lower and our contentment higher.

And we’re being kinder to each other! 

Many believe, me included, that we’re becoming a more altruistic, caring society. There’s been an increase in gratitude and empathy, some having experienced loneliness, unemployment, or poor mental health for the first time. Since Covid’s arrival, communities are becoming more connected and this has benefitted many older people.

Younger people have volunteered and helped the elderly and vulnerable, many of whom live alone. People living in the same street have discovered each other, whether through clapping for carers, WhatsApp groups, or in other ways, and are providing practical support. Charities and other organisations are adapting their services and reaching out to those that need help, even if it’s just a friendly voice at the end of a phone. And many, not in the first flush of youth, have been doing their bit, or even a huge amount, for others – Sir Tom being a prime example.

All this has been wonderful to see and experience; making social connections and giving to others is hugely beneficial for health and wellbeing. This is something really positive coming out of this global pandemic.

As Helen Keller said: ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’

Thank you

I’ve been humbled and uplifted to see so many achieving incredible things – maybe you’re one of them? As the Birthday Honours just published show, amazing contributions and sacrifices have been made during the last six months. (I feel privileged to have played a very small part in the awards process that recognises such phenomenal people). Grateful thanks go to all working to make this a safer, healthier, kinder and more equitable world to grow older in. 

To all 1.5 million NHS employees

And finally…

I hope we will learn from this period and create a positive legacy. Let us all continue to value and reward what really matters, including caring, connecting and contributing.

Now that would be something to celebrate in 2021 and beyond!

As Barack Obama said:

‘The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something…If you ….make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope’

And, if you do good things, stay positive, and have purpose and hope, you will become happier and age joyfully – whatever your age. 

Stay safe; stay strong; stay smiling .…and stay hopeful.

Joyfully (much of the time!),

Maggy 

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Happiness in the Time of Covid? Part 1.

What’s Happiness got to do with it?

‘Happiness? What planet have you been on these last six months?’ I hear the more restrained among you say.

I agree the words that most readily spring to mind are probably – anxiety, insecurity, inequality, isolation, illness, loss, uncertainty, stress…… no more or it will be ‘Wine & Chocolate Time’ again – my personal words associated with Covid!

Even rabbits are stressed!

Curiouser……

Life from my mid-sixties had probably been my happiest years so far. Then along came Coronavirus and our days were transformed, taking on a surreal, ‘Groundhog Day’ quality, especially for the more vulnerable. I expected to suffer hugely. No one has ever called me a home bird or Domestic Goddess.

What proved unexpected and curious is that I’ve remained pretty content, possibly even happy. (Or maybe I’ve just become institutionalised in our ‘bubble’?)

Like my design? (Cartoon by Sandra Boynton)

And this is even more surprising given the older you are the higher your risk of dying if you catch Covid19, particularly if you have other health issues. So, it would be reasonable to assume that I, at 69 an older person with underlying health conditions, would be (justifiably) depressed and anxious. I put my generally positive mood down to my optimistic outlook on life.

……and Curiouser!

But what’s even more surprising, is that I’m not alone. Ongoing research from the Mental Health Foundation has shown that ‘since mid-March people aged 55 and over, and particularly people age 70 and over, have been less likely to report stress as a result of the pandemic…[and] there were reduced levels of anxiety amongst this age group’. It is young adults that have consistently reported feeling the worst and coping least well.  

So, although happiness in the time of Covid is probably going too far, we older folk seem to have remained reasonably sanguine during this pandemic – at least until now. 

The secret? Get old!

I don’t know all the reasons for this greater equanimity but I do know research has discovered a ‘U Curve of Happiness’. Childhood is a time of happiness, but life satisfaction then starts to decrease (down to the bottom of the U) and only begins climbing up the other side from around age 50. Surprisingly it then keeps on rising until your 80s and beyond. I’m now travelling up the right-hand curve of the ‘U’.

Sorry if this comes as unwelcome news to those of you in your 40s, or even worse your 30s, but just think of all the decades you have to look forward to when you reach 50+! 

It would be totally understandable if the ‘U’ had, in these ‘unprecedented times’, already morphed into an ‘L’! But I believe possible explanations for the U curve, plus new factors, have resulted in we ‘Perennials’ maintaining our more positive mood, although I suspect it’s not going to be the same shaped ‘U’ as pre-Covid. I will say a bit more about this, and my personal experience of lockdown, in Part 2 in a couple of weeks time. Do hope you’ll take a look.

The eight steps can help us now

Interestingly, the far reaching effects of this pandemic (whether you get ill or not) have highlighted the value of the eight steps in ‘How To Age Joyfully’ to help us live well and keep our minds and bodies in reasonable shape. 

They are: 

  • staying positive 
  • eating healthily (we’ve recently seen all too clearly the dangers of obesity)
  • doing physical activity 
  • learning new things 
  • being connected 
  • giving to others and ourselves
  • being grateful
  • finding a purpose and having goals.

So….

We all share a natural anxiety about our personal and collective future. But I’m hoping to ‘hang in there’, follow my eight steps as best I can, and try to make the most of this challenging time.

After all, we are the lucky ones. Despite all the hardships we are still here and hopefully this world will emerge from this pandemic more compassionate, caring and equitable, if we all play our part. Did I mention I’m an optimist?

Well, as Sir Winston Churchill wisely said ‘I’m an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else’.

I hope you too can find some joy in these testing times. It is out there.

To be continued…

Stay safe; stay strong; stay smiling!

Joyfully, Maggy.

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You’re never too old to set a new goal!

You’ll see I’m aiming high from the start. There’s no time to waste at my age.

This exciting venture has unlimited potential, in theory anyway, given there are 7.7 billion of us alive and ageing. However, although hard to accept, I recognise not every member of the global population may be interested in how to make the most of our increased longevity and my personal musings on life before, during, and after Covid19 (assuming the blog – and I – last that long!). Time will tell whether anyone, apart from loyal friends and family, reads it. But, before passing final judgement, do consider giving a novice blogger a chance. Perhaps three blogs, before I’m out?

You're never too old to set another goal

Let me introduce myself and this blog…

What will it be about?

Age proud, not anti-ageing: more Zumba than zimmers! It will focus on ageing better, living well and adding life to our years, as well as years to our life. Plus it will probably include some random thoughts and subjective views.

dancing hedgehogs
What are the goals for this blog?
  • Entertain (life is often amusing)
  • Inform, and hopefully help readers live and age better in mind and body
  • Share some aspects of the day-to-day life of a 69 year old who’s very much up for all life has to offer (although life doesn’t always reciprocate)
  • Connect with, and learn from, readers (if any); and
  • Have fun!
What’s my dream?
  • Become a blogging ‘voice’ for ‘Perennials’  (a far nicer name for older people than ‘seniors’, ‘the elderly’, ‘wrinklies’….)
  • Help replace the negative narrative of ageing with a realistic, more positive portrayal, publicise and celebrate what older people can and do achieve, and promote what needs to be done so we can all live our best life
  • Invite role models and experts to be guest bloggers to share their wisdom and experience on ageing well. Any offers or suggestions?
  • Perhaps join the growing number of older YouTube stars with millions of fans; and, as a result…
  • Become a  “Proselytising Perennial for Proud, Positive and Purposeful Ageing” ( a #PPPPPA!), and make a difference to the lives of older people.

With luck, and by actually walking the talk, I should have a few decades to accomplish all this.

And, visualisation being a powerful tool, I’ll keep dreaming…..

As Walt Disney said: ‘If you can visualise it, if you can dream it, there’s some way to do it.’

And he won 22 Oscars. Just saying.

Why bother?

The older I get, the more convinced I become of two things.

  • We should do what makes us happy, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. I believe this blog is worth doing and having a purpose makes me happy. Also, I love writing.
  • Wonderful things can happen if you’re Passionate, Positive and Persistent. Like becoming a published author with my first book ‘How to Age Joyfully; Eight Steps to a Happier, Fuller Life’ at the age of 68!

But in the unlikely event that, despite my three ‘Ps’, nothing takes off, at least I’ll have tried something I’ve wanted to do. It will be disappointing and frustrating but OK.

Dame Judi Dench, the 85 year old actress, so inspires me with her attitude to life:

‘I don’t want to be told I’m too old to try something… Let me have a go. Let us all have a go’

I’m truly honoured she’s written the Foreword to my book.

Why me?

Next birthday, I’ll celebrate embarking on my 70s and my eighth decade.

Having …
worked for 37 years in the public service ✔
volunteered in prisons ✔
been married for over 40 years ✔
brought up two children ✔
had periods of ill health and retired early ✔
became addicted to Twitter ✔
learned tango and ballet in my 60s ✔
became involved with various charities ✔
suffered the loss of parents and close friends ✔
researched and written a pretty successful book ✔and more…

 ……I believe I’ve accumulated sufficient lived experience and knowledge (from experts in health and ageing) to be able to blog with some credibility about the vicissitudes of life, both my own and more generally.

So, I hope you’ll join me…

….as I look at life and ageing through optimistically tinted, but hopefully realistic, lenses, and share what I’ve discovered makes for a joyful life. Believe me, it’s not rocket science!

Thanks for reading this, if you have, and look out for Blog no.2, entitled “Happiness in the Time of Covid”.

 Stay safe; stay strong; stay smiling!

Joyfully, Maggy.

cat and cocktail