Learning to Live Without Regrets During our Senior Years.
There are many things that naturally come with age: wrinkles, forgetfulness and a variety of health conditions. It can be easy to sit around, counting up the negatives involves with getting older and the many regrets you have for things left undone.
But mounting evidence suggests that seniors and boomers who maintain a positive attitude and choose to focus on the good things in life are not only likely to be happier, but also healthier. Thinking positively can help to reduce stress, which is a contributing factor in many health conditions, including heart disease.
Numerous studies conducted over the last 50 years provide evidence that positive thinking, combined with proper medical treatment when applicable, can help to improve health. It is commonly referred to as the placebo effect, or the power of positive thinking. In her book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, Dr. Lissa Rankin also surmises that the opposite also is true. She calls it the nocebo effect and says that negative thinking can have the opposite effect on our health.
In addition to better health, staying optimistic as we age helps to strengthen our relationships with others, improve our ability to cope with unexpected situations and allow us to make better decisions.
Anatomy of a Negative Thinker
Negative thinking doesn’t just affect our physical and mental health. It can fracture our relationships with family and friends, who do not wish to be dragged down by a constant state of negativity.
According to Dr. David Burns, a psychologist and author of The Feeling Good Handbook, there are 10 thought distortions that are known to lead to negative thinking, which in turn can lead to depression. They are:
- Thinking in terms of absolutes – also known as black-and-white thinking – that includes using the descriptors of “always or never” and “all or nothing” when describing life events;
- Catastrophizing a bad mistake or outcome by turning it into a lifelong pattern;
- Focusing on bad events instead of good events;
- Ignoring the positives while allowing the negatives to hold too much importance;
- Making assumptions about people and the future;
- Minimizing and/or magnifying simple issues to create a crisis situation;
- Using emotions instead of reason when characterizing people;
- Using “should” statements such as “I should be able to retire comfortably by now”;
- Self-labeling in a negative manner, such as calling yourself disparaging names; and
- Blaming others while overlooking your own responsibility for situations.
We all know or have met someone who has fallen victim to this type of thinking. For some, it’s a hard habit to break.
Regrets Hinder Positive Thinking
While it’s normal to have some regrets as we look back on our lives, dwelling on them can lead to the kind of negative-thinking patterns we discussed above.
Among some of the most common regrets of older Americans are related to their education, their career, romantic relationships and parenting.
Where education is concerned, seniors and boomers either look back and regret that their didn’t get enough education or chose the wrong path during the education, which in turn can lead to regrets about one’s career choices as they age. Without the right education or motivation, many people do not pursue a career which they truly love.
Romantic relationship regrets can include feeling you’ve married the wrong person, failing to put more effort into your marriage or relationship with a significant other or doing something to ruin a romantic relationship.
Lastly, many seniors and boomers have regrets where parenting is concerned. Some may wish they had spent more time with their children when they were younger, or formed better relationships with them. Others may worry they don’t do enough to help their children, even as adults.
Seniors and boomers who are having a hard time overcoming their regrets in life may wish to consider speaking with a therapist, who can help them work through and overcome them.
Overcoming Negative Thinking
Learning to replace negative thinking with more positive thoughts is not an easy task and requires a lot of determination and effort.
A March 2013 issue of the journal Psychology of Aging states that older adults have a better chance of staying positive, partly due to the fact that they have a longer life with more life experiences from which to draw.
Those who are able to think positively know there are tricks to the trade. Some of the best ways to keep an optimistic outlook include alternate thinking patterns and practicing gratitude.
Alternate thinking is an exercise that involves making a list. If you are plagued by a troubling thought or experience, write it down on a piece of paper. Then, in a separate column, write a list of more positive experiences or good decisions you’ve made in life.
Practicing gratitude also is a great way to think more positively. We all have bad experiences in life. If you find yourself dwelling on the negative, take a few moments to make a list of all of the things for which you are grateful in life. Repeat this practice every day and pretty soon you will find yourself able to look past the negative experiences you have and focus solely on the positive. Volunteering your time with a charitable organization also is a great way to foster feelings of gratefulness. Seeing how fortunate you are in comparison with others who may not be as lucky can help put things into perspective.
It’s also important to make sure you are spending time with the kinds of people who will help to foster good thoughts, rather than reinforcing negative feelings. If you find that you currently do not have any friends who fit this description, then it may be time to make some new ones.
Do you have tips and techniques you have used to help let go of life’s regrets and direct yourself toward more positive thinking? Please share them in the comments section with us.