How you consider the prospect of growing old depends on your personality. Some people want to be forever young and do their best to stop the hands of time at any cost, while others embrace maturity and everything that comes along with it. Old age certainly has its fair share of both perks and drawbacks. Retirement sure sounds nice, but aches and pains are never fun.
Regardless of how you envision your later years, a recent study conducted at Flinders University has something for you to look forward to, besides grandkids and early-bird specials of course. The research team has concluded that older people are much more adept at practicing mindfulness and reaping its calming and affirming benefits. They theorize this is because the elderly are wiser than their younger counterparts and have more free time to perfect their approach to mindfulness.
Mindfulness becomes easier as we age
Look, no matter your age as you read this, mindfulness is a great way to gain some extra control over your life and increase wellbeing. But, the study’s authors say that the ability to appreciate the present moment and block out distractions actually comes quite naturally to older people, and certainly easier than it does for young adults.
“This suggests that mindfulness may naturally develop with time and life experience,” says behavioral scientist Associate Professor & study co-author Tim Windsor in a university release.
In all, the study included 623 people between the ages of 18 and 86. All participants filled out an online survey.
Make no mistake, the often-used saying “it’s no fun getting old” still holds an element of truth. Even the healthiest and most fit among us will see their bodies deteriorate as they move past the age of 65 and beyond. Fortuitously, mindfulness can really help older people deal with these inevitable developments.
“The significance of mindfulness for wellbeing may also increase as we get older, in particular the ability to focus on the present moment and to approach experiences in a non-judgmental way,” Professor Windsor explains. “These characteristics are helpful in adapting to age-related challenges and in generating positive emotions.”
The survey asked participants about their ability to focus solely on the present in a non-judgmental, purposeful manner. Starting with even middle-aged participants, older adults were better equipped to practice mindfulness and also seemed to benefit more from the practice.
For younger people, life usually moves at a faster pace. Those in their 20s feel like they want to conquer the world and achieve their goals, and that usually doesn’t leave a lot of room for quiet self-reflection on each passing moment.
Other mindful qualities assessed by the survey included acceptance, non-attachment, and the influence of those qualities on one’s overall wellbeing.
“The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life,” says lead study author Leeann Mahlo.
“We found that positive relationships between aspects of mindfulness and wellbeing became stronger from middle age onwards,” she concludes. “Our findings suggest that if mindfulness has particular benefits in later life, this could be translated into tailored training approaches to enhanced wellbeing in older populations.”
One of the main teachings of mindfulness is that every stressful situation, negative thought, and bad feeling will eventually pass. Nothing lasts forever. This is an especially poignant idea to keep in mind right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. It feels like we’re all running a viral marathon right now, but just like every other stressful or negative situation, it will pass.
The full study can be found here, published in Aging and Mental Health.