Over the years, I’ve found myself questioning, “what does it mean to ‘succeed’ as we age?” The term ‘successful ageing’ has been popularised and well discussed in the recent decade, and as women, it’s important to understand how to age successfully. That way, we can decide what we need to focus on at every stage of our life, and that includes helping the older adults to age and ‘succeed’ in their later life too.
However, with pop culture and the amount of money invested into the global cosmetic industry, one should question: Is successful ageing purely related to age and beauty?
Successful ageing is not simple
For most psychology terms, defining ‘successful ageing’ isn’t as simple as it seems. There have been many inquiries and debate in gerontology (the study of ageing), but one prominent model proposed that an individual who has aged successfully would have:
- Freedom from disease and disability
- High cognitive and physical functioning
- Active engagement with life
To summarise, successful ageing entails an individual to ‘succeed’ from physical, psychological, and social aspects. This certainly sounds like the image of a person who may look older, but also someone who had the privilege of doing everything they could earlier in life.
To summarise, successful ageing entails an individual to ‘succeed’ in the physical, psychological, and social aspects. This certainly brings about the image of a person who may look older but otherwise presented as someone who can do everything they could do earlier in life. To become an individual who can age successfully, all aspects of their lives have to be considered and balanced.
How can we age successfully?
Do women age faster than men? While many studies have shown that women indeed age faster than men, many do not deny that men and women will age differently. It is due to the ageing rate. Factors such as genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, and environmental factors greatly affect the rate and way of a person’s ageing. As such, these factors can be the determining factors that can largely be associated with the particular gender, which in turn contribute to the ageing process.
Both men and women can age successfully in an equal manner
How so? Successful ageing isn’t just about maintaining the physical conditions to be deemed feeling and looking younger. It’s more about the quality of life and psychological well-being.
For example, most older adults will experience some illnesses at some point in their life as they age. But if you’re able to cope with those difficulties, find ways to improve the quality of life, and then prevent future age-related stressors—that kind of ‘proactive adaptations’ to any problems you encounter would increase your rate of ageing successfully.
When I say ‘proactive adaptations’, it could be both internal (e.g. attitudes, personality, resilience) and external (social support). So if an individual can adapt to challenges faced with flexibility and resiliency, life satisfaction and meaning, positive emotions, valued activities—the self-evaluation of ‘success’ is more significant.
In other words, successful ageing does not merely mean physical health or the ability to be free from disability, but it is about the ability to cope with existing difficulties and allocating internal resources to gain resiliency.
To age successfully, anyone can start at any stage in their life
Besides physical health activities, psychological activities are equally important. Cognitive stimulations and activities, social interactions and engagements, personality traits that are resilient, adaptable, and optimistic—these are among the main factors that can assist an individual to age successfully for a more meaningful and enriched life.
So now, let’s take a step back and reflect on ourselves to see: what are the areas that we think we can start to work on so that we can age successfully.
Sam Jeng Mun is a senior lecturer and clinical psychologist at Taylor’s University. Besides being a lecturer in private universities for the past nine years, her professional experiences also include working in the government hospital, private hospital, and private practice. In her clinical practice, she mainly conducts psychotherapy, psychological consultations, psychological workshops and talks and psychological assessments for children and adults. She is passionate about building awareness about mental health and improving the level of mental health literacy among people.
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