by Howard Cohen, LMHC
I believe being healthy, aging gracefully, having a comfortable lifestyle and taking care of your self are four important factors for being happy and satisfied.
The reality is we are all getting older. A little bit every day. Our bodies wear out, little by little. It’s a part of being alive that we are slowly winding down to our eventual finish. It’s something we have to expect and accept if we are going to get through this thing called life.
We have to try to eat right and minimize the intake of high cholesterol and high sugar foods. Moderation in everything is key: exercise, stress, partying, spending, activities, rest, and love. Sometimes, our genetics have other plans for us: illness, mental challenges, and negative behavioral patterns. There is only so much we can control. But, there are things we CAN control.
Plan on seeing your doctor at least once a year. Go to your dentist every six months for a cleaning. Take your medicine as prescribed. Exercise a little every day. Take a yoga or meditation class. Talk to family, friends or a mental health professional about your problems and don’t hold them inside. Augusten Burroughs has it right when he says, “When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.”
Aging gracefully is truly in the “eye of the beholder”. For some, aging means only that facial, physical and mental changes will ensue and they must be stopped with plastic surgery or tummy tucks. For others, the fine wrinkles and gray hair are merely a sign of maturity and the battle scars of living a full life.
I believe that your physical youth lasts for a time, but your youthful spirit and resiliency can last a lifetime. Everyone has their own philosophy on dealing with the aging process. I believe the healthiest way to handle it is to embrace it completely and accept the changes as they happen. Each of us is beautiful in the different phases of our journey, and we have much to appreciate as we go forward. With age, we have achieved a greater understanding, depth of character, and experiences from which we have learned many lessons. Getting older isn’t only about the gravity shift and navigating sicknesses, it’s about accomplishing goals, making a difference to others and feeling connected and confident. I hope when you think about aging now you will remember to take it in stride and wear it with grace and pride.
Now, we can talk about having a comfortable lifestyle. What does that mean to you? Did you think I was referring to money in the bank, a large home or an expensive car in the garage? I was thinking more about having an emergency fund and nest egg for the future, but mostly I was hoping for minimal amounts of stress, being in a job that you enjoy, spending quality time with those you love and expressing your creative side in some way.
I believe your lifestyle includes your career since we spend so many hours working for a living. For some of us, our career defines who we are. If we spend 25 to 30 years working at the same job or industry, then it’s hard to determine our own self-identity. We oftentimes are referred to as the banker or the mortgage broker, but not the person. What may be needed is an overall evaluation of our current work life with a possible transformation into a new and more flexible way to earn a living.
Being motivated and less rigid at work should provide you with the ability to express yourself, and more personal time to enjoy your family and pleasurable activities. In order to pursue your passions in your career, you may have to consider receiving less of an income at first, but eventually your newfound energy and freedom may bring you down a path of many options and financial possibilities. A happier and healthier lifestyle should reward you with many more years of living, loving and monetary gains.
All of these changes would be considered acts of self-care or what I would call “putting yourself first”. When you begin to consider your own needs first, you start to realize what is missing in your daily life. Worrying about things we cannot change and the fear of what may happen are saboteurs in being open to new endeavors and experiences. Our ability to be intimate with our partners may be affected by our lack of self-care and concern.
Here are a few ways to begin to take care of yourself:
1. Try to stay positive and upbeat. If you catch yourself being negative, send a firm message to your brain to cease and desist! You will get through this.
2. Get to bed at a reasonable hour and rest for seven to eight hours a night.
3. Try to be more carefree and less controlling of others.
4. Be open to the possibility that you can succeed and become more self-assured.
5. Take a yoga class or attend a meditation group. Learn to relax more.
6. Allow time for intimacy and love.
7. Stop making so many lists of things to do and do what you can. Try to be happy with less.
8. Accept that you are getting older and accept your limitations.
9. Accept, accept, accept and forgive, forgive, forgive!
A big part of creating a “happier you” is being grateful for what you have been given and not focusing on what you don’t have. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to make a gratitude list. Laura Shin, author with LearnVest.Com, writes, “As with any new habit, start small: Decide that every day, starting today, you’re going to write down five things you’re grateful for. Eventually, you can make your list any length you want, but to start, set a goal of coming up with at least five things a day. There are only two rules to getting gratitude right: First, pick a place to keep all your lists so it’s easy to refer back to them—and chart how you’ve changed. You can use a journal, a Google document or even a notepad program on your phone.
“Second, when writing your list, make each item a full sentence that begins, “I’m grateful for __” or “I’m grateful that __.” This way, it’s a complete thought, and you’re not just listing things or people, but actively associating them with giving thanks.
“Other than that, it’s up to you. Your list can be composed of specific things—Honeycrisp apples with almond butter, cabs, an upcoming trip to Iceland, or abstract—courage, perspective, and help in all its forms. It can be about small things—funny things people write on your Facebook wall, or big ones—friends and their love. Just go with what comes to you. Also, consider sharing your list with others. Each morning I email my list out to a few like-minded friends, and we share our gratitude lists with each other.”
Take a few minutes now and write down what you are thankful and/or grateful for and you’ll see you have many talents, resources, abilities in your back pocket and people in your corner.
I’m grateful to Susan Wood at Natural Awakenings magazine for allowing me to share my thoughts and become a published author!
I’ll end this article with an “enlightened” proverb. Besides discovering that lightning was a powerful source of energy, Ben Franklin had also recognized the power of words and ideas. In one of his most famous of phrases, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” he reveals to us the importance of having a healthy routine and self-care. I hope this article is the light switch that inspires you to create a brighter and happier journey!
Yours in personal change and growth, Howard M. Cohen, LMHC, 2312 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, [email protected], 954-980-9628, CohenCounseling.com. See ad page 51.