I recently had a birthday. I didn’t commiserate or wish to be a different age; I just thought about getting older. At such times it’s helpful to keep aging in the context of spirituality and sanity. Thus the wise words of David: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12); and this paraphrase from his son, Solomon: “Remember your Creator, while you’re as young as you are” (see Eccl. 12:1). Notice the two guiding verbs: number and remember.
This is good advice for the more than 70 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964,* as well as for those generations born before and after. What can we do to improve both the quantity and quality of our lives?
North American poet Samuel Ullman wrote: “Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust, bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.” How we grow old is far more important than how old we grow.
Literature and research abound with counsel about how to age successfully. I have crafted five principles that summarize how to improve the quality of our lives as we press toward the goal of graceful aging.
1. Prevention. Adopt the elegant mind-set that detects and prevents problems before they occur. Perceiving potential challenges and taking steps to avoid or to lessen their possible negative impact is the hallmark of wisdom. A reckless, feckless path will lead to misery and mess. Avoid vice, immorality, and sloth to embrace such good habits as annual flu shots and routine diabetes and cancer screening. These are simple but quintessentially wise acts.
2. Routines. Initiate skills and habits that manage stress and enhance emotional intelligence and health. Cultivate healthy hobbies and recreational activities. Acts of service, volunteering, and helping the unfortunate are known elixirs. Participation in sports, games, group activities, trips, and wholesome interaction are a tonic to the human spirit. At the top of any list is winsome interaction with family and friends.
3. Energizers. Other gifts include the eight universal, natural remedies as enumerated by Ellen White: “Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness [temperance], rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power—these are the true remedies. Every person should have a knowledge of nature’s remedial agencies and how to apply them” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 127).
4. Snags. Avoid destructive, debilitating, demoralizing life suckers. They include, but aren’t limited to, smoking, illicit drugs, alcohol, excessive junk food, TV addiction, stress, meanness, impatience, sleep deprivation, a promiscuous lifestyle, lazy thinking, and a disregard for commonsense wellness habits.
Ellen White identified in the life of David another snag to avoid: “I was shown David entreating the Lord not to forsake him when he should be old, and what it was that called forth his earnest prayer. He saw that most of the aged around him were unhappy and that unhappy traits of character increased especially with age. If persons were naturally close and covetous, they were most disagreeably so in their old age. If they were jealous, fretful, and impatient, they were especially so when aged” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 422).
5. Superlatives. Four powerful concepts can be implemented to facilitate positive change in the graceful aging process: (1) resilience—the ability to bounce back from adversity and setbacks; (2) initiative—a mind-set to create and act when there is a need or desire; (3) productivity—the truth that we can be productive and contribute no matter how old we are; and (4) providence—trust in the guidance of God and in the circle of His love and care.
Former United States first lady Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” Let’s be a perpetual work of art, regardless of our age or stage.
* Beginning in January 2011, more than 10,000 baby boomers per day turned 65, a pattern that will continue for the next 19 years (newsmax.com/Newsfront/RetirementCrisis/2010/12/27/id/381191).
Delbert W. Baker is a general vice president of the General Conference. This article was published March 22, 2012.