It arguably seems that within Psychology, we are focusing upon phenomenon that is negative, or otherwise out of the ordinary. You may think of therapy for example, or mental illness…even aging, as subjects which cause concern. It is so focused on identifying people’s downfalls and how to avoid such conditions. In fact, many psychologists would say that there is an innate perspective within us to seek positive attributes within ourselves as well. “Positive Psychology” is a fairly recent term to this concept which was only recently coined in 1998. The APA Division 17 Section on Positive Psychology briefly define the field as “the study of human strengths and wellbeing”. To place this into perspective, you can imagine how there are factors that may cause us to age over time, but there are also powers within ourselves to help defeat the biological clock both mentally and physically.
Dr. Glenn Ostir, a researcher within the positive psychology field tells BBC News “I believe that there is a connection between mind and body–and that our thoughts and attitudes/emotions affect physical functioning, and over all health, whether through direct mechanisms, such as immune fuction, or indirect mechanisms such as support networks”. This statement may resonate with you personally, maybe as you have found yourself catching illnesses in the most stressful and worst timings throughout your life, as your personal life had affected your immune system. You may have also found that your work across different contexts may have been affected by disputes with friends, or generally having a lack of social connections. As positive psychologists would say, the very opposite of these statements can help you for the best. For example, if you are exercising and becoming more involved in your community, you will find your mental and physical wellbeing to improve exceptionally. Perhaps our answer is to not only focus on factors to avoid, but to seek the most positive actions we can for ourselves.
Speaking of a predisposition toward negative thoughts, we tend to only think about aging in terms of losses that may occur. You think loss of hair, loss of memory, loss of independence. What is less likely to be imagined first would be strengths such as “wisdom”, satisfaction with having raised a family, and long term goals that were achieved. Unfortunately, it is the losses which are most concrete and obvious to the naked eye. Along with that, they are more easily tested within research. Wisdom on the other hand is an example of an abstract attainment through aging. Wisdom is objectively definied as “rich factual and procedural knowledge, lifespan contextualism, relativism of values and life priorities, and recognition and management of uncertainty,” by Australian Psychologist. As you can see, this is a very situation sensitive, subjective, and individual experience that would be very difficult to test objectively. However, it is partially through wisdom that many older people learn to be more resilient to stress according to Australian Psychologist. Unfortunately, it may be difficult for older folks to look into this as those around them are focusing upon their losses.
With this insight, where can we go from here? It is apparent that our mind and body seem to be interconnected more than we think. If we can focus on the gains that we achieve while aging, we can upkeep our emotional stamina, and support networks as well. Meanwhile, these positive effects we are fulfilling onto ourselves can ultimately help immune system functioning and ward against physical illnesses. We need to be proactive about our health and not assume that aging is a natural phenomenon that we shall fall victim to. I encourage you to read my other blog entries if you have not already, on ways to get started on this journey toward self improvement.