She who binds to herself a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But she who kisses joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise –William Blake
Are we more capable of cultivating joy and bliss as we grow older ?
Is it true that in the last third of our lives, we are most likely to feel life’s deepest sorrows and also enjoy more moments of joy?
In Women Rowing North, Mary Pipher states that contrary to cultural stereotypes, many older women are deeply happy. A 2014 Brookings Institute study on happiness and age found that people are least happy in their twenties, thirties, and early forties, and steadily gain an appreciation for life as they age. Indeed most women become increasingly happy after age fifty-five, with the peak of happiness toward the very end of life….. The United Kingdom finds the happiest people are women aged sixty-five to seventy-nine.
The happiest time is right …here! How do we expand our identities at this particular stage of life in order to find more satisfaction, joy and well being. Mary Pipher explores ways to lower levels of anxiety, depression; a road map in a sense, to prepare for what life throws our way. She is prescribing a formula for everyday joy and meaning. “Women in their sixties and early seventies are crossing a border,” she writes. “And everything interesting happens at a border.”
Here are five important insights from Mary Pipher’s latest book that may help us cultivate joy as we age.
With heartfelt appreciation for my students, Chris See our class schedule below! Rainbow photo by Jane Moody
5 Insights into Cultivating Joy
1. See the most of what you have in front of you
We all want to be happy, but many of us don’t put this desire at the center of our lives. We think that if we are successful, rich, or well liked, happiness will follow. But to awaken our natural joy, it’s essential that we consciously prioritize our intention to be happy.
Joy and happiness depend on how we deal with what we are given….Our growth requires us to become skilled in perspective taking, in managing our emotions, in crafting positive narratives, and in forming intimate relationships. We develop the skills of building joy, gratitude and meaning into everyday. By learning these lessons we cultivate emotional resilience.
“Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops of it on yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
2. To fight despair, take action Volunteering, activism, even taking care of grandchildren can offer purpose and dilute the taint of despair. Especially when we act together, we can create power out of thin air.
Conversely, even if we have been life long extroverts, most of us enjoy some solitude as we grow older. One of the secrets of happiness is having a host of activities that we can enjoy when we are alone. …When we use our skills for self nourishment and to foster deep connections with the people who remain in our lives, loneliness transforms into solitude.
None of us has the responsibility to singlehandedly save the world, but we can all do our best under the circumstances.
“Happy people have found a use for themselves like a good tool.” – Barbara Kingsolver
3. Reframe the narrative Part of what allows us to deeply appreciate our lives and savor our time is our past despair. In fact, it has great value as a springboard for growth. There is an ancient and almost universal cycle that involves trauma, despair, struggle, adaptation, and resolution. This is a deepening cycle that prepares us for whatever comes next. It opens our hearts to others and helps us feel grateful for every small pleasure.
Another practice for welcoming joy is to spend time experiencing gratitude moments—welcoming feelings of gratitude and joy into body and mind. Take time daily to recall that which you ‘re thankful for.
I have a new life now. I have new priorities . What would make me happy today?…we can all honor our pain and then move toward something more joyful. We can focus on our resilience and remember our joys and sorrows. We can craft stories that tell us we are loved, strong, resilient, respected, worthy, generous, forgiven and happy. We all have such stories if only we can uncover them.
We can also learn to alchemize loneliness into solitude. We can reframe the time we spend alone as positive time and find more ways to enjoy ourselves. We can listen to music, read ,watch movies , engage in creative pursuits, and enjoy our pets.
By using our memory , we can visit all of the people of our past.
“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” – Maria Montessori
We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living. – Thich Nhat Hanh
4. View death with less fear The older we get, the more we deal with death. A death positive movement is making hospice more accessible and accepted as is the idea of telling the whole truth to patients who are dying, keeping them informed of what is happening to them. More people speak about and prepare openly for the end of life. While every death is sudden, it doesn’t have to be feared for ourselves or for those we love.
The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life by Kate Butler is about coming to terms with our deaths and becoming less fearful about it. People are afraid of death and dying because they fear being alone and in pain. They wonder about spending the valuable resources of their own energy, time, and finances fighting something that ultimately can’t be fought. Especially as we get into our seventies and beyond, the author makes it clear that many of the high technology solutions that work well for younger people cause more problems than the initial medical condition, thus depleting people of their energy, time, and finances.
“In the years I’ve spent listening to hundreds of people’s stories of good and difficult declines and deaths, I’ve learned one thing: people who are willing to contemplate their aging, vulnerability, and mortality often live better lives in old age and illness, and experience better deaths, than those who don’t.”
They keep shaping lives of comfort, joy, and meaning, even as their bodies decline. They get clear-eyed about the trajectory of their illnesses, and so they can plan.They regard their doctors as their consultants, not their bosses. They seek out medical allies who can help them thrive, even in the face of disappointment and adversity, and they prepare for a good death. They enroll in hospice earlier, and often feel and function better–and sometimes even live longer–than those who pursue maximum treatment. They make peace with the coming of death, and seize the time to forgive, to apologize, and to thank those they love. They rethink the meaning of “hope.” And they often die with less physical suffering, and just as much attention to the sacred, as our ancestors did.
But those who give up their power, hoping only to postpone death and never facing where things are heading, often ride the conveyor belt to its ultimate destination: a high-tech hospital room. And there, in a place where success is defined as not dying, they die.” –
From the book: The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life, Katy Butler
5. Forgive yourself When we experience a sad event it is natural to react to it with pain. The first arrow is the event. Our prolonged reactions to the event are the second arrows. It is natural to need time to recover. But we make it harder for ourselves when we second guess ourselves and feel guilty or ashamed. Instead we can work with and modify these emotions from the second arrow. We can have both the courage to accept our suffering and the skills to move beyond it. We can pardon ourselves and all those around us.
We also can say no when it serves you and instead say yes to your own needs. Our job now is to sort out what we truly desire and then go for it.
This may be the most important thing–that we learn to grant ourselves mercy. That we forgive ourselves, that we accept our pain, mistakes, and vulnerability, and somehow manage to love ourselves and our own lives. …And it is only when we grant ourselves mercy that we can extend this mercy to others.
“Forgiveness isn’t just the absence of anger. It’s the presence of self-love, when you actually begin to value yourself.”– Tara Westover
Three Hour Restorative Yoga Class With Chris Morton & Tracy Halliday
Saturday, August 10, 2019
Cost: $65 cash or check at time of sign-up
Let yourself be healed and nurtured from within during this three-hour program consisting of gentle, supported postures accompanied by breath awareness. Restorative poses are poses of “being” rather than “doing.” By supporting the body with props, the body and brain become quiet and relaxed. In this relaxed state, physiological changes occur which help to restore health and reduce the effects of chronic stress. Prior yoga experience is helpful but not required.
A Fall book group will meet to discuss Kate Butler’s book, The Art of Dying Well and The Five Wishes. Dates and times to be announced.
ANAHATA YOGA @ AJNA YOGA Studio 190 State Street Newburyport
6 Week Summer Session July 8 – August 24, 2019 (No classes the week of 7/29–8/3)