Remembrances of Things Past

Did you ever have the experience of returning to the house where you grew up? If so, did you have the experience that the house and its rooms were much smaller than they seemed when you were a child? Did you remember the backyard as very large only to discover, as an adult, how small it was?

There is a case study of a man who decided he wanted to visit the old neighborhood when he reached the age of sixty. He had several reasons for wanting to do this. For one, he had nostalgic feelings about the old place. When he and his friends got together, there was a tendency to reminisce about life back then. The theme was about the “good old days” and how those were the best times compared to the world now. He hoped to recapture memories of his parents and extended family. Maybe just turning seventy-five was reason enough for wanting to go back.

However, the outcome of his visit was not good. The old neighborhood was gloomy and narrow. The old friends no longer lived there; his parents and grandparents were gone. The neighborhood felt like an empty shell of what he remembered. He remembered that this was why he moved away and onward with his life. He returned feeling depressed and empty and vowed never to do that again. 

He realized those were not the “good” old days, but the “good” days are right now. Maybe, for some people, memories are better than reality. Indeed, the saying, “You can’t go home,” is true, at least for himself. If there is any concern about violating confidentiality, that man is me.

There are three reasons people visit their childhood homes:

1. They have a wish to reconnect with their childhood. Because many things from the past are forgotten, there is a hope that, by returning, they will recapture essential memories.

2. Some individuals going through a crisis or problem need to reflect on their past. They want to reevaluate how they developed their values and what led them to make their decisions.

3. Because of having lived through abuse and trauma or having suffered from some abuse or trauma, there is a hope that by returning to the site where these things happened, they can both find closure and leave with a sense that they have healed.

 People romanticize memories but soon discover nothing was romantic about the places in which they spent childhood. If they were happy there, they could not recapture that happiness. For those who experienced abuse and trauma, the visit brought back pain rather than closure.

Too much time is spent living in the past or worrying about the future. A consequence is that we cannot appreciate it now. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist teacher of meditation and mindful living, points out, we will never have this moment again, so live it, experience it, and be in the moment.

How many of us sit around during the holidays and listen to stories shared by your loved ones, such as grandparents or parents? Have you witnessed the emotions expressed by your loved ones? Listened to the details of the story? Even if you have heard the story before, you need to be an attentive listener because reminiscing serves a purpose in older adulthood.

The Stigma of Being Aged

The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”

Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”

I do that too,” laughed the little old man.

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”

The old man nodded, “So do I.”

But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems

Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.

I know what you mean,” said the little old man.”

Shel Silverstein

Encapsulated in this quote are some issues with which the elderly, such as those in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, must cope. For most, aging brings diminished physical strength and capability, loss of loved ones, feelings of no longer being relevant or connected to the real world, and fears of being ignored. The many unresolved conflicts and struggles earlier in their lives are also brought into old age. The result of this is that many older people become depressed. Many people who are younger and depressing attempt to self-medicate their problems through alcohol and drug abuse.

The aged can become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and it’s insidious because people believe that it’s not possible incorrectly. Therefore, they drink and abuse drugs secretly and alone.

For many years, it was the belief that psychotherapy could not work for the elderly because they are set in their ways and find therapy stigmatizing. After all, that was the attitude towards psychology when they were young. However, attitudes toward mental illness have changed, including among older persons. 

Today, many older people are more than willing to enter psychotherapy. They are seeking psychological help late in life. They want help on how to cope with age and their relationships with family and still unresolved issues from the past. In addition, some older adults want therapy to help them deal with the present and behavior. Psychotherapy works for the elderly because of wanting to be free of depression and relieve social isolation. Group therapy benefits those who feel alone and derives benefits from talking with others. 

It is essential to know that aged people are not necessarily miserable and sick. Today, more people not only live longer than ever before but remain vital and involved in life.

Examining some ways older people are stereotyped and stigmatized is essential.

The Terror of Death and Mortality

“Every day is a new beginning.

Take a deep breath,

Smile and start the day.” author unknown

The purpose of this blog article is not to be morbid but to remind all of us of the importance of living life fully.

Human Beings are unique in being self-aware and therefore understand the inevitability of death. That awareness presents us with an existential crisis. 

From the beginning of time, people have asked themselves the existential question, “If I am doomed to die, what is the point of my life?” It is a terrifying question, and different people have attempted to answer it differently.

Those who are deeply religious deny there is an existential crisis because faith brings the achievement of an afterlife. For these people, life is not limited but continues for all eternity. 

According to Ernest Becker, in his book “The Denial of Death,” most people put the notion of death out of their awareness and go about living without thinking about their mortality. However, sometimes the fact of death breaks through to their conscious minds. When that happens, they become temporarily terrified until the crisis passes and they achieve a new balance. What causes mortality to break through to consciousness? The death of friends, relatives, and loved ones confronts even the greatest deniers that life is finite.

Depression and Anxiety

Some seem to have difficulty denying the fact of death. Among these are individuals who struggle with panic and anxiety disorders and various types of depression. Today, we can look at many of the causes of these disorders and find such factors as chemical imbalances in the brain, traumatizing childhoods and adulthoods, and such problems as neglect, abuse, and addictions.

Because of a better understanding of the causes of emotional disorders, we have significantly improved treatments with medications and more precise types of psychotherapies.

Yet, we overlook the importance and even reality of each person’s existential crisis. I believe this crisis lies at the roots of depression and anxiety, besides those factors already mentioned. If this is true, what can we do about it besides medication and psychotherapy?

We each need to find meaning in our lives. As Irvin Yalom, MD states in many of his writings, meaning comes to us through interpersonal relationships.

Yalom states that the realization and knowledge that we positively influence others can provide a sense of meaning in our lives. However, many people do not realize that they have an enormous influence on the lives of others. Whether they are friends or family, they are essential to us, and we are important to them. There are also the relationships with those at work and those we casually meet while walking in the street, riding the bus or train, and shopping in the supermarket and clothing store. That is why loneliness is so deadly.

The pursuit of materialism is one activity many people engage in to fill themselves with a sense of gratification. However, though temporarily exciting, feelings of emptiness return. The unquenchable thirst for buying unnecessary items comes from a sense of meaninglessness, which then causes the feeling of inner emptiness.

 Each of us is unique, and we are loved and valued by the important people in our lives.

As John Donne said it centuries ago:

“No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Donne meant three things:

1. That none of us are isolated because we are all interconnected,

2. We are all aware of death,

3. One man’s death diminishes all humanity.

 

Aging and Learning From Life

Aging, Learning, Wisdom

This is too good not to share.
I asked a friend who has crossed 70 and is heading towards 80 what changes he feels in himself? He sent me this:
Humanity.

1. After loving my parents, siblings, spouse, children, and friends, I have now started loving myself.

2. I have realized that I am not “Superman.” The world does not rest on my shoulders.

3. I have stopped bargaining with vegetable & fruit vendors. A few pennies more will not break me, but it might help the poor fellow save for his daughter’s school fees.

4. I leave my waitress a big tip. The extra money might bring a smile to her face. She is toiling much harder for a living than I am.

5. I stopped telling the elderly that they’ve already told that story many times. The story makes them walk down memory lane & relive their past.

6. I have learned not to correct people even when I know they are wrong. The onus of making everyone perfect is not on me. Peace is more precious than perfection.

7. I give compliments freely & generously. Compliments are a mood enhancer not only for the receiver but also for me. And a small tip for the recipient of a compliment, never, NEVER turn it down, just say “Thank You.”

8. I have learned not to bother about a crease or a spot on my shirt. Personality speaks louder than appearances.

9. I walk away from people who don’t value me. They might not know my worth, but I do.

10. I remain calm when someone plays dirty to outrun me in the rat race. I am not a rat, and neither am I in any race.

11. I am learning not to be embarrassed by my emotions. It’s my emotions that make me human.

12. I have learned that it’s better to drop the ego than break a relationship. My ego will keep me aloof, whereas, with relationships, I will never be alone.

13. I have learned to live each day as if it were the last. After all, it might be the last.

14. I am doing what makes me happy. I am responsible for my happiness, and I owe it to myself. Just choose to be! You can be happy.
Happiness is a choice.

I decided to share this with all my friends. Why do we have to wait to be 60 or 70 or 80? Why can’t we practice this at any stage and age?

 

The Importance of Finding Meaning in Life: An Existential Crisis

Life is all about love.

“What’s it all about Alfie?”

Dionne Warwick

“As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above

Alfie, I know there’s something much more

Something even non-believers can believe in

I believe in love, Alfie

Without true love, we just exist, Alfie

Until you find the love you’ve missed

You’re nothing, Alfie.”

What is life all about? It’s all about love. This popular song from 1966 expresses it all. In his searing book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl has this realization when he is a prisoner in Auschwitz during WW II. During one of the daily marches in the freezing cold during the early morning hours, it comes to him.

The song refers to romantic love, but I believe there is more to it than that. It is also important to love life, family, neighbors, and fellow human beings. But, do we love our lives and fellow people? 

Besides the dreadful Pandemic, there is an epidemic of mass shootings in the United States. Why is this happening? The answer to this question is complicated. In part, the answer lies in how we raise our children. There is also the problem of poverty and racism in the United States. Then there is the easy availability of guns to everyone because of the lack of gun control. Finally, we have to ask if people find any meaning in their lives.

People feel alienated and disconnected. The great 19th-century sociologist Emile Durkheim called the feeling of meaninglessness “Anomie. This term refers to a society losing its norms and values. What develops from this lack of norms is a disregard and violation of the law. Ethics and standards of behavior and belief disappear.

Anomie is connected to existentialism, in which people feel lost because they believe their lives are meaningless. The famous existentialist writer, Albert Camus, wrote a novel existentialist novel called “The Stranger.” In the opening scene, the main character states, “Today his mother died…or was it yesterday…I don’t know.” How could he not know? Because his life and that of others have no meaning. He is in the state of Anomie. Later in the book, he shoots an Arab man and is brought to trial. The prosecuting attorneys are more concerned that he does not cry than about the death of the murdered man. Again, the reason for this is that life has no meaning.

Thought about this way, there should be no surprise that mass shootings and violent crimes exist. For many people in this modern world, life has lost any meaning.

This does not mean that everything is hopeless. Positive Psychology teaches us that people can build meaningfulness into their lives. An excellent psychology website devoted to positive psychology is “Greater Good.” “Greater Good” explores the “science of a meaningful life.” What they do is publish the latest findings regarding a meaningful life. For instance, one research report found that compassion and kindness help build an inner sense of morality and a moral self-concept. Basically, kindness, generosity, and compassion make us happy. Included in this is gratitude because it helps build stronger relationships.

Children must be trained to show these positive characteristics and behaviors. In this way, children need to learn cooperation and service to less fortunate people.

The central concept is vitally important for building relationships with others and society. This connectedness could overcome Anomie.

Human beings are the only beings who can question their own lives. The most extensive quest in an individual’s life is to find meaning and purpose. The questions about the meaning of human life are as old as humanity itself.

Meanings are at the core of our experience and also at the core of whatever we do. It is only through meanings that we make sense of our existence. In life, we find meaning through a sense of purpose which makes life worthwhile. Viktor Frankl (1978) aptly pointed out that a firm sense of meaning is essential for optimal human development. Jerome Bruner (1990) put it more bluntly, noting that without meaning systems, “we would be lost in the murk of chaotic experience and probably would not have survived as a species” (p. 56).

Meaning in life is not just a theoretical construct. Still, it bears human health and well-being (e.g., Jung, as cited in Jaffe, 1970) asserted that the absence of meaning is related to psychopathology.

  Yalom (1980), in empirical research, confirmed earlier clinical observations that living without meaning, goals, or values provokes considerable distress (Yalom 1980).

While pondering what makes life meaningful, several perspectives in the literature are found that cover philosophy and existential psychology. To plan a single definition of meaning, one may ask what the essence of meaning is? But a single generic answer to this question is not possible to find. The meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning the specific meaning of a person’s life at the moment (Frankl, 1970). Frankl speaks of the uniqueness of meanings, a quality of a situation, and life since life is a string of unique situations (Frankl, 1970). Frankl postulated that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives (Frankl, 1970).

Meaningfulness serves several vital functions in human lives (Frankl, 1992). It provides a purpose for our lives. Then it furnishes values or standards by which to judge our actions. In addition, it gives us a sense of control over the events in our life. Last, it provides us with self-worth. When people cannot find meaning for any of these functions or lose or outgrow their once-loved meanings, they become distressed. Many emotional problems result from a failure to find meaning in life. They can be resolved only by finding something to make life worth living (Frankl, 1992).

Do You Wish Your Life Away?

Do You Wish Your Life Away?

“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living

The other day, I went into a local luncheon restaurant and ordered a cup of coffee and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. The young server smiled pleasantly and said, “Ooooh, I get happier as the time gets closer to 1:00 PM.” I was tempted to get into a short conversation with her about this but quickly surmised that she would react as though I was preaching to her, and I did not want that. However, this little interaction gave me pause for some thinking. After all, I asked myself, how often do all of us engage in the same thinking style as the young woman?

Aren’t we all guilty of wishing our lives away without thinking about it? At work, we watch the clock. We count the months and days until vacation. We hurry to wash the dishes so we can see our favorite television program. Once we reach retirement age, we convince ourselves that real life will begin.

Of course, the reverse of this also happens. How often do we engage in feelings and thoughts of self-pity about the past? How often do we make such statements as, “if only I had done this or that,” or, “If only I this event or that event had not happened,” or, “life has never been fair to me.” We “cry over spilled milk.”

The intent is not to be dark and cynical here. Quite to the contrary, my intent is to communicate the concept of embracing and living life to the fullest. That life is fragile because we never really know what may happen. It is essential to be living in the present moment. This way of thinking is a severe problem because none of us can guarantee that tomorrow will come, and we cannot change the past. Yes, each of us has our past lives, and each of us makes plans for tomorrow, next month, and next year. However, we overlook it now.

The great Buddhist teacher and expert on mindfulness and meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, expressed it best when he stressed the importance of focusing on this moment because we will never have it again once this moment is gone. Another teacher is our American, John Kabbat-Zinn. I highly recommend his many books for their simplicity and great wisdom about living our lives. Just do an Internet search for him.

One of the most self-destructive ways for us to destroy now is to be obsessed with work. This is also referred to as a “Type A Personality” who runs from task to task, never coming up from work to inhale and smell the fresh air. It is a heart attack to awaken these people if they are lucky enough to survive.

Are you mindful of your life and body? Do you take time to smell the roses? Do you live in the moment or dwell on the past while waiting for tomorrow? 

Perhaps it is time for all of us to practice mindful meditation.

 

Aging and Loneliness, A Deadly Combination

“One is the loneliest number”

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

Robert Browning

“One is the loneliness number that you will ever do.”

*The Beatles’ version is my favorite.

Aging and Socializing, An Important Connection

Two studies came to the same conclusion: as we age, socializing helps keep our minds sharp and, perhaps, even prevents dementia.

Study 1:

The first study was conducted by Dr. Karen Ertel, a post-doctoral fellow at this writing, at the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her team found that those socially integrated (socially active) had less than half the memory decline of those who were socially isolated.

Dr. Ertel’s team collected data from 17,000 Americans who were fifty years older. The subjects were studied for over six years.

Social activity included being involved in volunteer activities, interacting with neighbors and friends, and seeing children, grandchildren, and other family members. Interestingly, those who maintained social involvement also exercised, engaged in intellectual activities such as reading, and were careful about their diets.

Unfortunately, the death of a spouse presents older people with the risk of suffering and grief so much that they withdraw and become depressed. Widows and widowers gradually recover from the losses they suffered. Their ability to resume active lives depends upon the availability of a community to be involved with.

Study 2:

The second study was conducted by Dr. Valerie Crooks, director of clinical trials at the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

This study focused on women at least 78 years of age who were free of dementia. The subjects were studied from 2001 through 2005 and included 456 women and their social networks.

The findings were that those women with the most robust social networks were less likely to develop symptoms of dementia over the five years of the research.

The strength of social networks included such criteria as to how frequently the subject contacted friends and family, how often they confided in a friend or friends, and whether they had the type of friends that could be confidants.

Discussion:

Both studies clarify that remaining involved helps people maintain physical and mental health. In addition, social isolation has adverse effects on physical and mental health as we age.

Not Only Age:

Some state and restated by mental health practitioners and researchers that social isolation is unhealthy for people of all ages. The research shows that isolation is closely associated with feelings of depression. Of course, the question is whether depression causes isolation or isolation causes depression? It is tempting to suggest that it does not matter because helping people to socialize, regardless of their stage of life, goes a long way toward reducing depression.

We are social creatures and feel better when involved with other human beings. 

1. For the elderly, it is essential to remain socially involved to reduce the chances of developing either dementia or depression.

2. For younger people, it is equally important to have a circle of friends with whom they can talk, have fun, and engage in productive activities.