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Essentials of Aging Heroes

Aging heroes are those who go ahead of us. They include the increasing number of elders who are actively engaged in society. One common attribute of aging heroes is they make a difference by sharing their expertise and life experiences with others. We have invited our blog contributors to look around their communities, their families and friends and share those individuals that they identify as aging heroes.

But this week, I invite you to consider how you can be an aging hero. Are you a person who actively participates in and enjoys life? What common characteristics do you see in yourself and admire in your heroes’ lifestyles, relationships and behaviors? Do you actively pursue your passions? Are you engaged with others? Do you celebrate the wondrous nature of advancing years?

Blue Zones of Fulfillment

Dan Buettner, National Geographic writer, noted that elders living in “blue zones” — five specific geographic areas around the world where a significant number of people live very long lives and enjoy their aging status — are viewed by members of their communities with the same awe and respect as rockstars. In a recent NPR podcast, he also identified other specific behaviors and activities that improved the quality of life and longevity of elders within these five zones.

Buettner’s most recent book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, Lessons from the World’s Happiest People, caught my attention. Research and scientific studies have narrowed their focus to identify more specific characteristics of aging heroes.  The importance of healthy lifestyles, behaviors and relationships was explored. Beginning with a simple question — “What is happiness?” — Dan shared stories and the life maps of three different aging heroes across the blue zones whose lifestyles vary. Narrowing his happiness criteria, Dan defined three basic strands — the “three P’s” — of happiness: pleasure, purpose and pride. Braided together, he shared stories and suggested ways to explore how to boost happiness and increase the positive nature of people’s lives. These are types of characteristics that help me identify my aging heroes.

Pleasure, Purpose, Pride

First, finding pleasure each day is important. What brings a person joy? There are certainly a variety of diverse responses to this question. And yet, isn’t that what allows each person to celebrate their gifts and passions? I experience great joy in watching one of our Parkvue residents, a former church musician, become animated as she sings in worship.

Next, what is your purpose? What gets you out of bed each day and challenges you to learn and grow? As we enter spring and summer, what is important to you? How do you know that your life connects with others? What are the ways that your passion connects with meeting the needs of the world?

I admire the commitment of our residents at Parkvue who continue to volunteer and share their gifts within our community.  One resident has been planting a flowerbed outside the dining room window. Another resident has invited people to discuss current events. This past week, a new resident began gathering people to begin a weekly pinochle group. Each person celebrates a variety of gifts generously shared by aging heroes.

Looking at the map of your life and the third strand of pride, what brings you the greatest sense of accomplishment? Have you had a great career? Have you developed a specific talent or craft? Have you parented children or mentored others who continue to make a difference?

Everyday Abundant Living

Another Parkvue resident who lives with memory loss proudly shared two books that she had written. Resident musicians enjoy opportunities to share their talent with others. Members of our community look forward to a monthly hymn sing led by a retired music teacher. Another resident loves to quilt and generously gives completed projects to friends and family.

How might we encourage other elders to identify and share their gifts? One challenge is to make time each day to reflect and appreciate one’s individual happiness strands. May all elders celebrate their specific talents, enhance their life map and continue to make a difference in the lives of others. Traveling mercies, grace and peace to all on your aging journey!

About Rev. Catherine Lawrence

Rev. Cathy is a registered nurse and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She is a lifelong learner who loves to read and enjoys nature. She is the mother of two adult children and has one beloved grandchild.

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