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Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom; Witty, Wicked, and Wise Reflections on Well-Lived Lives

Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom; Witty, Wicked, and Wise Reflections on Well-Lived Lives

Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom; Witty, Wicked, and Wise Reflections on Well-Lived Lives by Dr. Lois Frankel. 

Dr. Frankel is a psychotherapist, executive coach and now a documenter of women’s unique lives. The women included were septuagenarian to nonagenarian, with a few centenarians; some are from an earlier time and are deceased; others very much alive. The book opens with the Hasidic Proverb, “For the unlearned, old age is winter. For the learned, it is the season of the harvest.”

This is a treasure trove of wisdom from women who revel in their season of harvest. Full of life stories, memorable quotes, gentle advice, insights and inspiration, the book’s text is complemented throughout by the artwork of Lisa Graves- photos of contributors, photos of nature, and charming drawings.

Perhaps the best way to introduce this book is to share some of what the women interviewed said:

  • “Do a good deed and throw it in the flowing river, never expecting anything in return” – ZN, Republic of Georgia
  • “If life gives you lemons…look for the vodka”- JM, California
  • “Change is the one constant. Don’t waste your time looking for stability. Stay open to whatever happens” – EM, Pennsylvania
  • “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” – EL, Scotland
  • “Chi ha tempo non aspetti tempo… simple Italian phrase that means ‘lost time is never found again; do not postpone what you can do now’.” – ND, France

A beautiful homage to the wisdom and ongoing relevance and vitality of elders.

Waiting for the Weekend

Waiting for the Weekend

My dad chopped the end of his index finger off in a metal bending machine when I was eight. He was a blue-collar guy and worked in a factory. His job was cutting and bending sheet metal that would end up in box folding machines. It was hard, messy, dangerous work.

JRyder dad and brotherThe index finger plays an important role in gripping a golf club and there was a strong possibility my dad wouldn’t be able to play golf again. That was bad news because his passion was playing golf on weekends. 

He was a model employee; he did impeccable work and was well regarded in the workplace. He neither loved nor hated his job. It was just a job, the place he went Monday through Friday to get him to the weekend. After recovering, he was excited to discover he could still play. In fact, his game actually improved after he lost the finger.

Many years later when he retired everyone thought he would spend his days on the golf course. We were wrong. A few weeks into it he took a new position doing what he’d been doing most of his life – bending sheet metal. No one could believe it until he explained that his new position was not about bending sheet metal, rather it was about contributing to and helping expand the game he loved. You see, my dad was now manufacturing golf clubs.

A mentor once told me there are three pathways available in a working life; a job, a career, and a calling. While jobs and careers are plentiful, very few people are called. At 65 years old my dad found his calling. I know if he was still around today, he'd be asking people this challenge question—

What can you commit the rest of your life to accomplishing that would enhance the quality of your life and the lives of others?

If you’re so inclined, hang out with this question for a while. Create lots of ideas and possibilities. Stay with it and look to be called.

 

After completing 40 years as a creative director and educator in advertising, Julian Ryder founded The Right Brain Project—a creativity education and training firm helping leaders build creative cultures within their organizations. He is also an activist with The Hunger Project and ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. When not working, you’ll find Julian playing golf, skiing, or surfing.

 

Becoming a Volunteer

Becoming a Volunteer

 

A Social Quid Pro Quo

About ten years ago I started thinking about retiring. I lived in Mexico and was teaching university students online, having already stepped back from the most active elements of my career working as a consultant for large organizations. A few years later, I moved back to the US and slowly wound down my teaching work. It took me a few years to go from “thinking about it” to making it official, but for the last three years I have been fully retired.

At first it was kind of nice; I had no serious responsibilities. I had no clients to call, no student papers to correct, and no research duties. Life was good…for a couple of months.

However, after catching up on my reading list and binge-watching Game of Thrones, I started to get bored. I started to not have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I would lie there and think about what I had to do that day: Let’s see…coffee, read the local paper (bad news), surf the net (more bad news), and walk my dogs (the high point of my day). I started to wish I had kids and grandkids. Maybe I could offer some sage advice about something or nurture a sick child. Anything to make me feel like I was being of value as I had when I felt my clients and students held me in some regard. I had no real friends nearby so visiting them was out of the question.

I had lived in this state of mind for a few months when I started to realize it was affecting my mental health. I was starting to feel depressed...

Fortunately for me, my wife was beginning to wind down her career and that helped give me some much-needed social interaction. But still, I needed to be needed–like I was when I had a career.

Then one day I stumbled onto an article in the local paper written by someone who was a local “Master Gardener”. I figured if you were a master gardener then you must have a degree in botany or horticulture or something. But I was interested, and a blurb at the end of the newspaper column gave a web address for the organization, so I checked it out.

The first thing that caught my eye on the Master Gardener website was that they had something called the helpdesk. The helpdesk would diagnose your plant problems and give you possible solutions. Cool! The second thing I noticed was that they were looking for volunteers to join their organization. I wondered what it would be like to volunteer as a master gardener, so I inquired.

Long story short: I didn’t spend ten years thinking about this opportunity. I signed up, got interviewed and accepted, went through the formal training (quite extensive), and started doing my volunteer hours. Now, I am one of the people who mans the helpdesk.

Three things of value have come out of my master gardener experience. First, I am learning so much about plants and gardening, always been a casual interest of mine. Second, I have developed a new social network with a variety of interesting people with distinct backgrounds. Third, I am being of service to my community.

If you are a senior, and retired, volunteering is a great way to make friends and serve others in your community. It’s a great way to put some meaning back into your life.

Why Volunteer

Social participation. In a previous blog I discussed the relationship between loneliness and depression. I advocated for developing and maintaining a social network to stave off loneliness. Volunteering is an excellent way to do that and at the same time create the feeling of satisfaction that comes with being of service.

Research has shown that active and productive engagement in society is a key element in successful aging. When seniors increase their levels of social participation, we have a reduced rate of suicide, better physical health, reduced mortality in general, and higher levels of psychological well-being. Research has also shown that volunteering can help prevent depression.

Being of service. Even if your social life is robust, and your primary focus is not on expanding your social network, you can reap the psychological benefits of being of service to individuals and your community. Being a master gardener volunteer, I get to help people solve problems with their plants, develop and deliver library talks on a variety of gardening related topics, and establish a network of new friends in my community.

Another way I volunteer is by writing blogs for Love of Aging that, hopefully, inform seniors of things they can do in their lives that can support their successful aging.

Researchers have looked directly at the health benefits of volunteering as we age. One study concluded that for seniors, volunteering has a negative relationship with mortality; seniors that volunteered had a 44% lower rate of mortality than seniors that did not volunteer.

Another study showed other significant positive results for seniors who volunteered: Older volunteers reported a wide variety of benefits to the people they served, themselves, their families, and communities. More than 30% reported that they were “a great deal better off” because of volunteering, and almost 60% identified a benefit to their families.

Being of service to the community not only helps the members of the community that are being served but also those that are being of service.

Types of Volunteer Service

There are a large variety of volunteering opportunities available to seniors. One way to get our head around them is to organize them into different models. Here is an example of five distinct but overlapping models for understanding the nature of a specific volunteering opportunities:

Formal. These types of opportunities tend to be more formally organized and involve the delivery of services. These roles tend to be more strictly supervised and more highly structured.

  • Volunteering for the library cart in a local metropolitan hospital
  • Delivering meals to older adults through services such as Meals-on-Wheels
  • Providing activities and outing support in an aged care facility
  • Volunteer driver for a service organization
  • Volunteer animal care giver for organizations such as the ASPCA
  • Volunteering in tourism, museums, large charities and emergency services

Informal. Non-formal volunteering occurs in a variety of community settings. This type of volunteering is done in local communities and centers around specific social needs.  Volunteers work in unfunded, less structured settings.

  • Volunteering for a neighborhood group
  • Running the snack bar for a community sporting or recreational group
  • Coordinating the sale of merchandise for a self-help group
  • Volunteering for a specific hobby group
  • Providing services or support through a mutual support group

Governance. Governance volunteers serve on boards and management committees. They provide leadership and direction for the organization.

  • Secretary for the local soccer club
  • President of a service club, such as a local chapter of the Kiwanis
  • Serving on the board of an NGO

Social action. Social action groups are similar to non-formal groups in that people come together around a shared interest but differ in that social action groups have an interest and passion for bringing about defined changes.

  • Volunteering for an environmental group
  • Political lobbying
  • Getting out the vote
  • Volunteering for a community action group
  • Lobbying for change for a specific target group of people or cause

Projects. Project work is for people with specific periods of time available and are seeking out volunteer opportunities with clearly defined timeframes. These opportunities typically involve high levels of volunteer involvement over a short period of time. The idea is that the volunteer has a specific set of skills that can be brought into an organization for a specific project.

  • Volunteering to oversee the plan and construction of a new building
  • Running or assisting at a specific event
  • Redesigning the website for an organization
  • Volunteering to write a marketing plan for a community group

Volunteer Opportunities

Ready to stop thinking about it and volunteer? If you type into your web browser “volunteer opportunities” the search results will be overwhelming. There are thousands of opportunities out there. Here are ten examples from one website I found:

1. Animal Rescue Shelters. Local animal shelters almost always need volunteers. There may be administrative opportunities or working with the animals like dog walking.

2. National Parks. You can help maintain trails, gather scientific information, and even act as a docent.

3. Food Pantries. Food pantries and soup kitchens can always use a helping hand organizing a local food drive, raising money, or simply handing out hot meals to those in need.

4. Habitat for Humanity. Brush up or develop home DIY skills while helping other less fortunate folks find shelter.

5. Local Libraries. Libraries typically need help organizing shelves and assisting patrons, and you may also be of help setting up and running public events, such as author signings and book fairs.

6. Art Museums. Get involved in the community by volunteering for family programs and children’s activities at your local museum. Once you build up your knowledge base, you may qualify to be a tour guide or event planner.

7. Political Campaigns. No politician gets elected without volunteers manning the phones, distributing fliers, raising money, and answering emails. This kind of work can provide you with valuable experience on many levels and can be applied to a host of different industries.

8. YMCA. You can volunteer to help both children and adults, strengthen your leadership skills by coaching a sports team, or pick up some valuable teaching experience by tutoring literacy courses.

9. Retirement Homes and Senior Centers. Offer to give a lecture or teach a class. Offer your services utilizing your set of skills

10. Red Cross. If you don’t feel like giving blood, why not greet and assist customers looking to do so? Your skills may make you a good fit for grant writing, performing clerical tasks, or managing other volunteers. If you’ve got the drive, you can draw on any number of talents to help the Red Cross

Win-Win

Volunteering can make you feel better and actually help you live longer. That’s a big win for the volunteer, but also there is a win for the organizations we support and the individuals we directly assist. Put yourself out there and meet people and support your community. It’s good for you and good for them.

 

EdLopez 300x300Ed Lopez, PhD, Love of Aging’s Science Editor is a retired organizational psychologist, university instructor and researcher. His research has been presented at international conferences and published in a peer reviewed journal. Ed is also a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

 

Loneliness, Depression and Sociability in Seniors

All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?

There have been very few times in my adult life when I really needed to cry. The one time that stands out for me I was stationed in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division. You might think that there is a lot to be emotionally distressed about when serving in a war zone and you would be right. However, I wasn’t crying because I was afraid, I was crying because I felt incredibly alone. I was far from home, living with a bunch of men I hardly knew, and I was not sure if I was going to make it back. I thought about my family and friends and how much I missed them. These thoughts all came together to create an overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Even now, 50 years later, I find myself sometimes being lonely. My wife and I have no children, and my wife is frequently away from home traveling on business. I can spend days in the house alone with my two dogs; reading, writing, surfing the net, gardening, and watching TV. Having been an academic, I’m used to spending a great deal of time reading books and journals. A very solitary endeavor.

To my advantage I don’t require a lot of social activity. I enjoy my own company and easily find ways to entertain myself. But the truth is, even a recluse needs some human interaction, which is why I’m always happy when my wife, who is very sociable, comes home. My biggest problem when it comes to feeling lonely is that I’m not very sociable. Sociability is important if we want to ward off loneliness. A lack of sociability can even affect our mortality, if it leads us toward depression.

Loneliness

Loneliness can be defined by two factors: one is our desired level of social interaction versus two, our actual level of social interaction. If you desire more social interaction than you have, you are at a greater risk of feeling lonely. The research on loneliness seems to be broadly divided into three areas: childhood and adolescence, early adulthood, and senior populations. In the younger groups, the variables that tend to get looked at are personality traits, social skills, and cognitive processes. For seniors, there tends to be more focus on longevity issues such as health, income levels, transportation, and social power.

Social power seems like a candidate for a lot of loneliness issues if we assume that being in ill health and not having transportation to visit others, which may result from reduced income, can cause us to lose control over our ability to interact with our social network. Regardless of the reasons, it is not a good thing to be lonely. Just the emotional experience of it is negative, but also, and perhaps most importantly, it can lead to depression.

Loneliness and Depression

When I was studying psychology at UCLA back in the 1970s, I recall hearing a professor refer to depression as the common cold of psychology. By that he meant that we all get sad or down or even depressed at various times in our lives, but things change, and we recover and move on. As we age, we may have bouts of depression that are more difficult to recover from. This is especially true when we experience a sense of loneliness.

There is a mountain of research on the relationship between the cognitive states of loneliness and depression. Some of these studies seem to have conflicting results. The one thing that is consistent in these findings though is that loneliness and depression are highly correlated , especially in older adults. That is to say, if you are experiencing loneliness you are much more likely to experience depression. I believe, however, that even though there is a strong correlation between loneliness, aging, and depression, this does not mean that as we age, we will automatically get depressed.

So, what counteracts loneliness? Certainly, one important way to ward off loneliness, and the resulting potential for depression, is that thing I rely on my wife for: being more sociable.

Sociability

The American Psychological Association defines sociability as: “Sociability is the need or tendency to seek out companions, friends and social relationships.” As we age it becomes more difficult to maintain our social connections. We may lose our spouse; our children may move away; and we will lose friends due to the normal rate of mortality for our age group. One certain way to ward off loneliness in the wake of these circumstances is to work at being more social. Sociability is important in seniors because it can help keep us from feeling lonely. If we have a fulfilling social life, we are much less likely to feel lonely, and hence depressed.

Improving Social Interaction

So how do we maintain our social network when we can’t drop by to visit our family and friends? How can we enhance and maintain our already existing social structure?

First, the answer is to actually be sociable. Yes, I know that can be difficult if you’re a bit reclusive like me or even if you want to develop and maintain new friendships but feel awkward trying. The thing is, you need to make an effort to stay in touch with the family and friends you already have. Invite them over. Host a game night. Establish weekly or monthly get togethers, so being together becomes routine and you have something to look forward to. I have found that it’s better to have an occasion in the calendar, and then move it if something gets in the way, than to schedule nothing.

To increase your sociability, you may also need to make an effort to meet new people. Where do the older people in your community meet? Is there a senior center nearby?  Where do the locals play bridge? There are groups for everything. Find the people who are interested in what interests you. I joined a gardening club and became a Master Gardener.

Second, you have to find a method that will allow you to achieve your social goals. This becomes more difficult as we age. We may not have transportation to actually go visit friends, or we may be dealing with health challenges that keep us from getting out at all. We may even be self-quarantining in the face of a pandemic.

I don’t think there is a perfect substitute for shaking hands, hugging, or kissing family and friends, but if it is just not possible to be with them physically, then technology can help.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle article described a series of social apps that can help us stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. Among the apps discussed, I think two have the greatest potential for helping us stay in touch with our social networks. The first one is FaceTime.

The trusted FaceTime app, available for all Apple devices, connects you to friends and relatives from all over the world, and it couldn’t be easier to use. Once downloaded, your contact list will show you who’s already using the app, and from there the route to a smiley, live face-to-face conversation is very short. Marco Polo, available also on Android, offers the same mood-boosting closeness, but on your own terms; short video messages can be recorded, decorated with funny backgrounds and effects, and sent to anyone who needs some love.

Here is a link to a You Tube video for beginners on how to use FaceTime.

The second app which I have just recently begun to use is Zoom. Zoom is especially good for communicating with more than one person at a time. You can see dozens of people at a time on your computer screen and they can see you and talk at the same time. My wife and I recently hosted a virtual baby shower using Zoom with about twenty people online talking and playing games. Zoom can be a valuable tool for staying in touch with friends and family, and a basic subscription is free.

The star of the COVID-19 crisis, Zoom is a conferencing app that’s intuitive, easy to join and allows participants to share their screen with the rest of the group. The Basic option limits your meeting to 40 minutes a session, and doesn’t allow recording, but you can “host” an endless amount for participants. While meeting, your friends and colleagues can secretly message each other in the Chat window (hello, gossip!) or chat with everyone at once. Currently popular with workout-class instructors, Zoom is also perfect for a collective dance party.

Here is a link to a You Tube video on how to use Zoom.

So, there it is. The two most important aspects of sociability are to want to be social and to have a method for being social if your social network is not readily available to you. Working toward greater sociability, and thereby fending off depression, can help us feel better and live longer.

  

EdLopez 300x300Ed Lopez, PhD, Love of Aging’s Science Editor is a retired organizational psychologist, university instructor and researcher. His research has been presented at international conferences and published in a peer reviewed journal. Ed is also a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

 

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