By Dan A. Longo, Ph. D
According to Pew research projections, by 2050 one in five Americans will be over the age of 65. This will put us at par with the three oldest nations; Japan, Italy and Germany. By 2030, Americans over the age of 65 will double to 70 million. Medical advances and higher standards of living have brought an unprecedented longer lifespan and it is only going to get better. Living longer - though undoubtedly a good thing - may come along with increased health challenges in our retirement years. These challenges present us with opportunities that test our coping abilities, and Wellness and Happiness may just be two of the most important keys to aging well.
Wellness is often defined as the absence of illness and is usually linked to healthy diet and exercising. Wellness, however, is not necessarily a state indicating the absence of illness, but rather our ability to embrace a positive approach to life. Happiness is not only a mood characterized by joy and cheerfulness, but also functions as an important protective factor in recovering from illnesses. Many research findings have found that happiness may increase longevity and functions as a protective factor in recovery from illnesses and behavioral problems such as depression. So how do we grow wellness and happiness in everyday life? Here is the short-list:
Be positive — practice being thankful for all the good things in your life and appreciating the glass is always half-full. Not only your mood will improve, but there seems to be a link between being positive and longevity. How much of a link? Some studies have found that people who are optimistic about aging may live 7.5 years longer than those with less positive attitudes.
Have meaning in life- use your strengths and skills to become involved with your community. Communities need individuals involved and there are hundreds of volunteering opportunities that will enrich your life and help your community.
Joyful relationships- reach out to family, friends and co-workers. Use humor to maintain cheerful and happy relationships and shrug off every day little nuisances.
Practice altruism- not only it is the right thing to do, but people who help others report increased happiness-it is a win-win. Altruism has been found to improve physical and mental health as studies on people who volunteer have found that they live longer. It is also good for adolescents! Young people who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem and aspirations than their peers who do not.
Smile- the jury is still out on the health benefits of smiling and laughing. Further studies with larger pool of subjects may clarify what role they may play in wellness and happiness. Nevertheless some studies have found positive effects on longevity, mood, and improved immunological system. Smiling in particular may release naturally occurring endorphins, which make us feel good.
Do not forget to vote- Okay, sadly there is no relationship between voting and happiness. But it may make you feel good just the same.
Dan A. Longo is a licensed psychologist and Director of Behavioral Health at Colonial Behavioral Health. Dr. Longo has over twenty years of experience in clinical and administrative practice in the inpatient and outpatient sector including public and private behavioral health providers. He has direct care experience in mental health, substance abuse, and forensic disorders. For the past six years, he has directed outpatient services for children, adult and geriatric consumers with a focus on strengthening recovery and community behavioral healthcare services. Dr. Longo has numerous publications on topics ranging from Mental Health, HIV, and Spirituality.