04 Sep

Laura Carstensen: Age brings happiness

Laura Carstensen

Laura Carstensen of Stanford had spent her life researching the state of mind of the elderly.  She and other researchers working in the field have come up with some eye-opening insights, which run completely counter to the conventional wisdom.

Psychological Stability

Contrary to the popular image of “grumpy old man/woman”, older people seem to be psychologically more stable!  Human brain seem to become more stable with age.  If an elder person is depressed, they are most probably suffering from what started when they were young.

 

Older Brains are Stable

Also, people who are neurotic seldom learn to become happier with age.  They often start from such a low baseline that any improvement in the inner happiness simply doesn’t muster enough force.

By the way, women of all age seem to be reporting more psychological distress than men.  It is not clear if this is due to self-denial that most men are known for.

Experience more Positive Emotions

Older people experience more positive emotions.  There are lesser threats in their lives and lesser uncertainties.  With age, sources of anxieties start decreasing, either because they have been resolved or because people learn to live with them.  Contrary to the popular wisdom, youth, it seems, is the most miserable period in one’s life!

More Positive Emotions

After about mid sixties, the number of positive emotions being experienced by a person seem to come down with age.  Part of it has to do with age associated impairment of health.  If so, with modern anti-ageing techniques, the dip will be postponed by a decade or two. Does it mean that the increase (in positive incidences) will continue for another decade or two is a different question. If the answer is yes, then age-extension programs will yield some of the happiest human societies we have seen till today!

Ignore Negativity

Older people emotionally disassociate themselves from negativity!

There is a module in the brain called amygdala, which lights up (becomes active) when people encounter emotionally charged stimulus.  When researchers put younger and older subjects in a brain scanner and showed them emotionally positive and negative pictures, something very interesting came out.  The amygdala of younger subjects was activated when they encountered both positive and negative stimulus.  Older people had much bigger spike for positive stimulus than younger people, and they ignored the negative stimuli!

Emotionally Ignore Negativity

Older people have learnt to ignore the negativity.  At the same time, they have learnt to appreciate positive emotions better.  No wonder they are happier!  This has become more obvious through another experiments conducted by the researchers.  They showed younger and older subjects pictures of positive and negative faces and measured the amount of attention they paid.

Positive Bias

 

Older ones paid poorer attention to negative faces and paid better (than younger people) attention to positive faces.  It is as if the elders have become really good at ignoring negativity!  It may not always be a good thing (what good can it be if one ignores all atrocities in the news paper).  At least, it, makes them happier!

Emotionally dense Social Network

With time, emotional life of people becomes richer and more complex.  As people get older, they tend to retain the emotionally close and meaningful relationships and the casual relationships fall off.

Social Network of Older People has much more meaningful realtionships

With age, people become more selective about who they socialize with.  The riff-raff, not-so-close, meaningless relationships dwindle in numbers.

In Laura Carstensen’s words, as people grow older, they tend to

  • Live in the moment
  • Know what’s important
  • Invest in sure things
  • Deepen relationship and
  • Savor life

From the teachers of positive psychology and the science of happiness, we know that these are sure recipe for lifetime of happiness.  Add to this a more stable brain, no wonder that people are much happier as they grow older (of course, we are only talking about healthy individuals, who are also financially self-reliant).

Even anecdotally speaking, when I look around, I see that everyone I know, including myself, is much happier now in the middle ages than we were in our twenties or thirties.  Carstensen must be on to something here!

To learn more about Laura Carstensen’s work, you can watch this Youtube video or read her book A Long Bright Future.

26 Aug

Naked self-portrait: Simplest life extension tool

Naked Self-portrait

Most of us have a huge inertia when it comes to working out and eating right.  Even though we have heard millions of times that eating right, sleeping well and shaping up will add one or two decades to your life, and more life to every year, we never got around to doing them.  There is a simple one minute exercise that will break down your inertia: Get yourself a naked self-portrait!

Are you not convinced that you have body image issues?  Here is a bunch of questionnaires (not-free) that will help you get a scientific self-calibration (but let me assure you, getting a naked self-portrait is lot cheaper, and easier, than dealing with these questionnaires).  If you think you weigh too much or too little, you are likely to have a poor body image.  If you are a perfectionist, guaranteed that your self assessment will be worse than how others assess you.  If you were out of shape during your formative years, you are likely to be carrying the cross throughout your life.

Feeling bad about your body is not some fancy thing for the pansies.  It sits in the core of your self-image and dictates everything you do, it is part of our personality.  For a starter, it dictates what you wear, who you hang out with, the places you go to and the things you do.  It transforms your life.  Body image is a much stronger force than we give it credit for.  Unfortunately, in most of us, it is too subtle a force that it remains under the radar.  Hence, we go through the life without feeling compelled to do anything about it.

Even more unfortunately, in some of us, the body image misalignment is too strong an urge to ignore.  These people go great lengths to correct the misalignment.

  • Chelsea Manning, Kristin Beck went through great pains to transform oneself from being a man to a woman (Beck has a book in Amazon on his/her transformation)
  • Cindy Jackson has the world record for maximum number of plastic surgeries conducted on a person (Cindy has self-published a book on “How to: Cosmetic Surgeries”)
  • Valeriea Lukyanova calls herself the living Barbie and uses her looks to give you a ‘message from the space’ (don’t miss the slide-show; and the video will give you an insight into a mind that is very, how shall I put it, unusual).

Whereas we sympathize these people, or call them desperadoes, they consider themselves brave.  They are right.  They knew what they wanted, they worked hard for several years to get to it.  And they wear their designer persona proudly, even though it might open themselves to ridicule, sometime severe ones.  But this post is not for these brave souls, from Venus or not.

This blog post is for the rest of us, who have lived throughout our lives with this nagging feeling of not having a body that we deserve, a body that we are too shy to reveal, a body that must be covered with clothes in order not make us feel bad, get depressed or wanna fling it over the bridge.  Muster yourself enough courage just for one minute: Get yourself pictured naked!  And force yourself to look at it, really look at it.

For most of us, this one minute, no-money, exercise will make you start genuinely looking for ways to fix your body.  If your inner nag is like that of vast majority of the people (i.e you don’t have issues like sexual self-identify, anorexia, etc.), chances are that you will start to eat right and exercise.  Or at least, consider it seriously.

That will add 10 to 20 years to your life!  Not a bad for mustering whee bit of guts isn’t it?

03 Aug

Refusing Anti-ageing is accepting Death

All Roads Lead to Death

For life to sustain, several million things must happen in a particular order.  But death can occur in any of the million ways.  There lies the secret behind the apparent immortality of mortality.  Death doesn’t have any special status in the greater scheme of things.  We just need to jump too many hoops to avoid death.  I believe that the Universe doesn’t care if we live.  And that It doesn’t care if we die.

We all avoid death for one reason or other.  For some of us, it is the fear of the physical pain.  For some, it is the pending responsibilities.  Others can’t bear the tears of near and dear.  Some don’t want to die without seeing the wonders that the future has to offer (detour: Isn’t it interesting that many of our reasons to live are driven by what we mean to others?).  And then, there are people who continue to live because can’t find a good reason to die.  I always find it surprising as to how so many people claim that they are not scared of dying.  Whereas, these same people won’t hesitate to kill if their life is threatened.

Even though everyone is scared of dying, we always ridicule the people who went chasing after immortality.  We have stories and legends where the chasers of immortality always have sorry ends (but often, in our legends, heroes who chase the noble are gifted immortality).  These stories are not far from reality.  People who went chasing immortality, longevity or youthfulness always failed.  It is nice for us to think of them as desperate and greedy.  It probably justifies our own laziness.

When it comes to wanting immortality, vast majority among us take the defeatist attitude.  Nothing else explains why we are uncomfortable with the idea of immortality.  After all, if we have a good reason to live today, there is no good reason to not want to live tomorrow.  Or the next year.  Why should it be OK for us to accept death in fifty years from now, when it not OK to want to die today?

Granted, in our youthful swagger, it is normal for us to want not to live into the frailties of senescence.  But when senescence creeps on us slowly, it turns out that it is not such an unbearable thing after all!  Our justification of accepting death on the ground that ‘senescence is unacceptable’ appears baseless.  But given that I am one of those people who vehemently cry “keep me fit or give me death”, I can look at this group sympathetically.

Modern anti-ageing techniques, though they are far from perfected as of now, can easily add one or two additional decades of healthy living to most of us.  But surprising number of people think too low of taking it up.  It is perfectly OK for them if the death creeps on them slowly.  But wanting to jump on the anti-ageing bandwagon is too painful to them for two reasons: One, it amounts to accepting our desperation to want to live another day.  Two, reminds us that death is real.

For the people among us who avoid anti-ageing, state of default seem to be safe and non-threatening. Having taken an emotional decision not to act, we go around inventing false justifications as to why we chose default over action.

Don’t.

Take anti-ageing seriously.  It looks funny to you because it is positive healthcare.  Healthcare is usually focused fixing things that are broken.  In other words, conventional medicine is about coming from negative to zero.  Anti-ageing takes something that may or may not be broken and makes it better.  It is a process where the final destination is positive.

Anti-ageing alone can add thirty to forty years to your life, at the very least.  You can absolutely not come across any other single action that can add so many healthy years to your life. Period.