A year of living positively: ageing happily.

On the edge of another year, I am reminded of my late mother’s Hogmanay phrase: “Well at least I’ve made it through another year!” Such Hebridean ‘positivity’ was reflective of many folks in my upbringing who as they aged felt that life was about survival and simply getting through the tick of time until the seconds ran out in the sand of the hourglass. But of course, our annual celebrations of the chronology of our calendars should be more than simply a feeling of triumphant survival they should also be an invitation in the dark depths of winter to use the turning of the years as an opportunity to re-orientate our living and our loving. A New Year gives us the chance – but for a moment – to start and continue as we mean to be throughout the days and months ahead, to create a year of living positively and to age happily rather than inevitably.

Earlier this year an 85-year Harvard University study found that the number one thing that makes us happy in life and which helps us to live longer is not exercise or healthy diet, the money we have or do not have, it is not our status or career, but rather it is the positive relationships we have. More than anything else the source of happiness and that which makes us live longer is the relationships we nurture and develop. As I watch the television adverts for diets and gyms, the emphasis on getting your holiday sorted or changing your job, all of which seem to be the currency of this time of year, I see very little about how we can better nourish our social health or what the Harvard academics called our ‘social fitness.’

Another Harvard study of 14,000 adults over the age of 50 found that the people who had the highest satisfaction with aging had a 43% lower risk of dying from any cause over a four-year period compared with those who were the least satisfied. ‘The study also found that people more satisfied with the aging process had lower risk for conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease; better cognitive functioning; were more likely to engage in physical activity and less likely to have trouble sleeping; were less lonely and depressed; and were more optimistic with a greater sense of purpose.’

So there is a huge connection between health and wellbeing as we age and the possession of positivity around age and ageing. As we edge our way towards another year it would be societally and individually beneficial for us to challenge the stereotypes of age which dismiss ageing as inevitable decline, which spout the mantra of ‘demographic timebombs’ and perceive older age as all about cost and deficit, and something we need to somehow  control and manage.

These two studies about positive ageing and social fitness show why social care is so critical. Yes, we have to be clinically well and yes, it is important that people are cared for and supported. But we are not units on a chart, statistics on a sheet of paper detailing delayed discharge, avoidable hospital admission or A&E waiting times. These three areas of focus are the myopic concerns of those who fail to grasp that it is only through an adequate and well-resourced social care system that the ‘social fitness and health’ of our citizens can be protected and enhanced. Getting out of hospital faster will benefit us clinically but if we end up being lonely and isolated behind four walls and a front door shut to the world and devoid of contact, then our social, emotional, and psychological health will soon result in our re-admission to a hospital ward. If we simply invest in a reactive emergency health system and not in preventative, upstream social care and relationship building in our communities – then we are simply prolonging the suffering of the patient rather than renewing life.

I have many aspirations for 2024 but the over-riding one is that we address the political and societal failure to recognise the significance and priority of social care. Which means that we at last recognise social care and all it provides as a major economic driver for a society that claims to focus on the wellbeing economy, that we nurture and sustain businesses and organisations that are rooted in local community and many of which are led by women and which through entrepreneurship and innovation are talents beyond our nation. This is what a foundation economy should be all about.

And yes part of all this elevation of social care as a sector means that we begin to seriously address the endemic ageism, age discrimination and negative stereotypes around older age.

So, 2024 should surely be a year of living positively being aware of the importance of a positive attitude to ageing and  recognising its root at the heart of happiness. But 2024 has also to be a year of recognising that social fitness is intrinsic to societal and individual wellbeing and that it does not happen without economic investment and political priority. Put simply 2024 has to be the year of social care and a celebration of all the dramatic life-enhancements it can bring. It should not be about how do we get through another year, it should and must be about positivity and progress for all.

Happiness is such an individual concept, but I think the depth of self-value and relationships are at its heart. The Scottish poet Stuart A. Paterson beautifully expresses this in his poem entitled: Happiness.

I’ve made my own Museum of

Happiness, which isn’t built of brick

or stone or wood, its walls the thickness

of the day, a flapping tongue of canvass

held in place by rope & peg to stop

it flying off & joyously away

up into everywhere in time & space.

I’ll carry it around with me to pitch

beside the sea, in a field or by

that river, a billowing rickety marquee,

a travelling show of personal delights

performing one night only & forever.

What sights! What wonders! See those things unseen

except in meanwhiles, vivid dreams,

smile, laugh & gasp & live a lifetime

somewhere in between the daily grind

of minutes into hours, be amazed

by happiness’s alchemy

transmogrifying days of certainty

to joyous, raucous aeons of impossibility.

Step right up, pay nothing, be called in

to watch the carnival of you begin,

the show to beat all shows where nothing’s

out of bounds & every good thing goes

around & comes around again, not down

or out & you’re the hottest act in town,

the permanently top display, the troupe

of you booked solid every single smiling day.

Happiness by Stuart A. Paterson – Scottish Poetry Library

I hope you enjoy the ‘carnival of you’ in the days and weeks ahead.

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Last Updated on 30th December 2023 by donald.macaskill