Tuesday morning is always a favorite time for me– I’m happy to be back in my little salon again after an interesting weekend, with a cup of coffee in my hand and a new interesting conversation to anticipate. This morning the conversation turned to aging, and a person’s reaction and relationship to it.
My first client was a realtor, in a people-intensive profession like mine. She confided some interesting observations to me. “I’ve noticed something about older people” she said. “They seem to be either ‘Lively older people’ or ‘Cranky old people’. I haven’t met many people in the middle.” This prompted an energetic salon discussion, with everyone in the room weighing in.
“I watched both sets of grandparents age” said my blonde assistant. “When my paternal grandfather retired, we couldn’t get him out of the house. He just sat on the couch watching tv and complaining about the world, and my grandmother. He seemed to get grayer and smaller, shrinking in on himself, not really living. Then he died. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents are exactly the opposite. They have more friends than I do. They’re always going to dinner parties and on cruises, really living their life. They both still drive and they’re in their eighties. And they always seem to be smiling.”
Aha. Smiles. The big secret to aging well. Forget ‘aging gracefully’—we all fight aging a little (or a lot) and we don’t necessarily do it with grace. What really gets us through this life is consistent and inexhaustible cheerfulness. We need to make smiling part of our daily spiritual practice. We need to stay cheerful in spite of the lines on our face and the pain in our joints.
If you’ve ever had the honor of meeting real Tibetan monks, their consistent cheerfulness is a defining feature of their persona. Standing in their presence, you get the feeling they know something we don’t.
Oscar Wilde once said, “Don’t complain about getting older— it’s a privilege denied to many.”
We’re alive right now, this minute. That in itself is a joyous miracle. But also, there is a physics principle: “The observer affects the experiment, always.” In other words, your cheerfulness creates a life to be cheerful about. And conversely, crankiness creates things to be cranky about. This has nothing to do with what actually happens to us—It’s more our attitude about what happens to us that determines our quality of life.
And best of all, smiling is contagious.