Help Your Aging Parents to Age Positively

I think everyone wants their parents to live the fullest life possible as they age. Part of this means minimizing physical risks and maintaining good health; another aspect is mental. There is more and more research being done on the benefits of positive aging that can be useful to know to help your parents as they age. We can also apply these concepts to ourselves.

Bill O’Hanlon has looked at research in this area and found that people who have a more optimistic outlook are happier. It’s possible to change our outlook to be more optimistic. According to O’Hanlon, when people with pessimistic outlooks spent a week doing tasks such as identifying and writing down times in the past they were at their best, making a list of their personal traits, or expressing gratitude to those they never properly thanked, they continued to rate themselves as happier six months later.

You might share this research with your parents and encourage them to do one of these exercises or, you could ask them what they are grateful for, who has helped them along the way, what they are most proud of or what their best qualities are. You might see your parent in a new way when you hear their answers.

Having a sense of purpose is another important element to aging positively according to O’Hanlon. I’ve seen this time and time again in working with older adults. Research shows that goals related to money or status result in lower levels of happiness than having a life purpose.

Purpose and meaning can be large or small. If your parent lives with you something as simple as giving them responsibility for some task(s) in the household that is solely theirs can fulfill this need. A sense of being useful is an important part of meaning and purpose. For those that have medical issues that don’t allow them much independence, something as simple as taking the time to listen to others or keeping track of appointments for a friend with memory problems can be fulfilling. You might help your parent identify ways they can help others who have different physical problems than they do.

If you’d like to learn more you can go to Bill O’Hanlon’s site or there are several books on the subject: “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want” by Sonja Lyubomirsky; “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier” by Robert Emmons; “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert and “A Primer in Positive Psychology” by Christopher Peterson. This last one is a textbook but don’t be put off by this. It’s very approachable, humorous and provides you with a good foundation of what positive psychology is.

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